At the start of the 20th century, Kagurazaka was a fashionable hanamachi – a pleasure quarter where geisha entertained. Though there are far fewer geisha today (they're seldom seen by tourists), the neighbourhood retains its glamour and charm. It's a popular destination for Tokyoites, who enjoy wandering the cobblestone lanes or whiling away time in one of the area's many cafes.
Walk up Kagurazaka-dōri, turn right at Royal Host restaurant and then take the first left onto Geisha Shinmichi. This narrow lane was once where geisha lived and worked. Though it’s now home to residences and restaurants, the paving stones remain.
At the end of attractive side-street Honta-yokochō is Kukuli, one of several shops specialising in traditional craftwork. It has hand-dyed textiles (such as scarves and tea towels) with a modern touch.
Winding cobblestone alley Hyogo-yokochō is the neighbourhood’s oldest and most atmospheric lane, often used in TV and movie shoots. You'll see ryōtei here: exclusive, traditional Japanese restaurants (for which Kagurazaka is famous).
Award-winning, 80-year-old confectioner Baikatei turns out gorgeous wagashi (Japanese-style sweets). Watch the chefs at work, whipping humble beans and rice into pastel flowers, from the window in the back.
The ever-changing selection at Sada includes clothes and pretty accessories handmade in Japan. Some items are contemporary; others have a traditional Japanese feel, made with kimono material.
Take a rest on the terrace steps outside La Kagu, an old book warehouse, revamped by architect Kengo Kuma into a lifestyle boutique stocking a keenly edited range of fashion and home goods. There's also a cafe here.
Akagi-jinja, Kagurazaka’s signature shrine, only bears a passing resemblance to the traditional ones around the city. In 2010 the shrine, which can trace its history back centuries, was remodelled by Kengo Kuma, one of Japan’s most prominent architects. The result is a sleek glass box.
Set in a gorgeous home, half-hidden by a wooden facade, Kado serves delicious seasonal courses (try the firefly squid in a vinegar miso dressing); reservations recommended. For something light, the bar in the foyer serves dishes à la carte.
- Traditional shops
- Cobblestone alleys
Train JR Sōbu line to Iidabashi, west exit.
An Afternoon in Akihabara
Akihabara (Akiba to friends) is Tokyo’s otaku (geek) subculture centre. But you don’t have to obsess about manga (Japanese comics) or anime (Japanese animation) to enjoy this quirky neighbourhood. It’s equal parts sensory overload and cultural mind-bender. In fact, as the otaku subculture gains more influence on the culture at large, Akiba is drawing more visitors who don’t fit the stereotype.
Before Akihabara became otaku-land, it was Electric Town – the place for discounted electronics and where early computer geeks tracked down obscure parts for home-built machines. Akihabara Radio Center, a warren of stalls under the train tracks, keeps the tradition alive.
Vintage Arcade Games
In Akihabara, a love of the new is tempered with a deep affection for the old. Super Potato Retro-kan is a retro video arcade with some old-school consoles.
Maid cafes – where waitresses dress as French maids and treat customers with giggling deference as go-shujinsama (master) or o-jōsama (miss) – are an Akiba institution. Pop into @Home for a game of moe moe jankan (rock, paper, scissors) maid-style.
To get an idea of what otaku obsess over, a trip to Mandarake Complex will do the trick. It’s eight storeys of comic books and DVDs, action figures and cel art.
The modern avatar of Akihabara Radio Center is Yodobashi-Akiba, a monster electronics store beloved by camera junkies. But for all the modern conveniences Yodobashi-Akiba feels like an old-time bazaar.
MAAch ecute is a shopping and dining complex, crafted from the old station and railway arches of Mansei-bashi, selling homewares, fashion and foods from around Japan.
Hitachino Brewing Lab
Sake brewery Kiuchi has been brewing its excellent range of Hitachino Nest craft beers since 1996. Work your way from its white beer to the sweet stout while gazing across the Kanda-gawa from the terrace seating at this dedicated bar.
- Pop culture
- Retro cool
Train The JR Yamanote and Sōbu lines stop at Akihabara; Electric Town exit is the most convenient.
Subway The Hibiya line stops at Akihabara; take exit 3.