A few days is simply not enough to absorb Tokyo’s delights, but there is a handful of key reas that are must-sees:
Harajuku, a key youth oriented area along with the even hipper Uru-Harajuku and neighbouring luxury shopping boulevard Omotesando
but it’s worth wandering into the winding back streets, too, to discover cute cafes, vintage clothing stores, and shops selling bric-a-brac from the 50s. Further south, you’ll find a spray of funky bars – soul and jazz bar Shu, which specialises in authentic Louisiana gumbo, and a bar called Ef with no sign and room for only six – it’s recognised only by the orange banquette visible through the door.
Few of today’s hipsters can remember the area’s dark past. Rumour has it that, during the Tokyo air raids of the second world war, many people drowned themselves in the river, giving rise to stories of ghostly screams in the night. What is certain is that the waterway was contaminated with factory waste and swarming with mosquitoes until the late 80s. After government efforts to clean up and revive the area, young entrepreneurs and designers from nearby fashion district Daikanyama decided to take advantage of the convenient location and low rents. Nakameguro has been picking up commercially since the mid-90s, and has recently gained attention from Tokyo’s coolest artists, musicians, and designers.
Too much attention for some. The last year has seen the arrival of two new retail and living complexes, with more on the way. Construction is rife, so visit soon, while the area retains its bohemian feel.
- Melinda Joe of bento.com, a bi-lingual guide to restaurants, bars and events in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
- Tokyo streets don’t have names. Addresses indicate ward, district within it, plus 3 numbers for sub-district, sub-section of that, and building number. Buy a city map and ask for directions.
This gallery exhibits some of the exquisitely crafted products that are on sale around the corner, at the high-end home accessory shop of the same name. The shop itself is laid out like a museum, with products beautifully displayed around a white wooden sculpture depicting a placidly smiling face. One shelf is lined with elegant, hand-carved chopsticks and chopstick rests; on another sits a set of spoons cut from pieces of a gilded porcelain plate.
- Aobadai 2-16-7 (+3 3770 3401, kakitsubataweb.jp). Shop: 1-13-11 (+3 3770 3400).
A paper lantern in front of a pebble-lined walkway marks the entrance to the hidden lunch spot which serves healthy Japanese home cooking – tofu and vegetables simmered in spicy miso, or chicken meatballs stewed with Napa cabbage – and speciality teas. The daily lunch special comes with a main, three side dishes, soup, and your choice of gokoku-mai (a blend of white rice plus five grains) or brown rice. Drinks and desserts like green tea flavoured cake are served until 6pm, after that, it’s open to members only.
- Aobadai 1-15-10 (+3 3464 1615, aoya-nakameguro.com)
Follow the enticing spicy aroma to Red Book, a tiny cafe serving tasty curries and dirt-cheap beer all day long. Choose from buttery chicken curry, keema curry with ground beef, or one of their daily specials. The sea-green walls scream Bangkok, while the single chandelier and squat maroon velour bar seats seem lifted from the French Quarter in New Orleans. But the tattooed, fedora-wearing clientele is pure Tokyo.
- Kamimeguro 1-3-2 (+3 3710 3438).
Follow the road beneath the train tracks heading south from Nakameguro station, and, after seven minutes, you’ll see the sign. No words, just a picture of a glass of red wine, half full. Inside, this quiet little bar is relaxed and comfortable. Soul and R&B play in the background, and the friendly staff will gladly recommend a wine for you.