Kagurazaka is one of the most attractive and interesting enclaves in all of Tokyo. Its name in kanji, 神楽坂, literally translates to “God Music Slope”, referring to kagura, the spiritual music traditionally dedicated to Shinto gods. Located at what used to be the outer edge of Edo Castle, the gentle slope that still runs through Kagurazaka today was once filled with the sounds of music emanating from the Imperial Court.
Today, this is one of the few remaining areas of Tokyo where you’ll find exclusive geisha houses hidden off the main street and kimono-clad women shuffling through narrow cobblestone alleyways. It’s also the best place to experience a taste of France, as it has the largest concentration of French restaurants in Tokyo, and a vibrant French expat community. You’ll even hear the strains of accordions as they pipe Parisian music through speakers on the street!
Join us after the jump as we take a stroll through the area and reveal why a visit to Kagurazaka should be on your list of places to see in Tokyo.
We start our journey at Kagurazaka shita, at the bottom of the slope, outside Iidabashi station. At the busy intersection here you’ll find the Canal Cafe, a popular spot for cake and coffee, or even a light Italian meal.
The outdoor terrace here is one of Tokyo’s best, situated on the old moat of Edo Castle. You can even rent a row-boat for 600 yen (US$5.88) per 30 minutes.
Heading back out to Kagurazaka shita, you’ll see the place is bustling on a weekend. The main road is a car-free zone from 12-1 pm every day and 12-7 pm on Sundays and public holidays.
The gentle incline takes you past a wide variety of stores, from fast-food outlets to traditional Japanese sweet vendors, game arcades and kimono shops.
There are plenty of traditional Japanese dining options in the area.
If you’re looking for Chinese food, you won’t be disappointed with the steamed buns at the Kagurazaka branch of Gojuban.
The buns here are enormous, and come in all sorts of varieties, from chilli prawns to custard and even mozzarella. You can buy them hot or take them away cold for heating at home.
The buns are about three times as big as the plastic one that holds your notes down!
It’s time to get away from the main street and venture off into one of the narrow cobblestone alleys.
A great place for a quick stop is the Cafe-Creperie Le Bretagne. This was the first creperie to ever open in Japan, with specialist chefs sent to Japan from France in order to serve up authentic Brittany-style crepes made from buckwheat flour called galettes.
We ordered two of their specialitiés for 1,680 yen ($16.46) each. The Maraîcheré was a delightful serving of zucchini, tomato, egg, Swiss Gruyère cheese, and artichokes from Brittany. The buckwheat galette tasted very similar to soba, and had a great crunchy texture which went well with the soft, creamy filling.
We also tried the Brocéliande, with egg, fresh asparagus, and smoked Atlantic salmon. The earthy flavour of the buckwheat was a great contrast to the fresh flavours inside. Both these galettes were absolutely delicious and we’ll definitely be coming back for more.
Fun fact: buckwheat flour contains vitamin P, which is essential for the absorption of vitamin C. That means we need to wash this down with a bottle of cidre, right? Made with apples from Brittany, the tartness rounded out the meal perfectly.
Feeling refreshed after our healthy meal, we headed out to explore the cobblestone alleyways in earnest. Location scouts often use these backstreets in movies and television dramas due to their picturesque and timeless appeal.
At the end of one of the winding streets, you’ll come across some beautiful wooden sliding doors.
This is where you’ll find the Wakana Inn. Opened in 1954, this has been a famous writers’ retreat for decades.
The traditional ryokan has accommodated many famous writers over the years, including film director Yoji Yamada. The inn is still in operation today and is a great place to stay if you’re travelling to the area. There’s even a fantastic Japanese-style restaurant right next door!
Venturing out to the main street again takes us by famous French bakery, Paul, and several other interesting shops.
Further up the hill, there’s Akagi Jinja, an incredibly unusual shrine designed by the acclaimed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Kuma’s previous works include the Suntory Museum of Art in Roppongi and the Japanese headquarters of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.
The shrine was built together with a grand, modern-looking complex and opened to the public in 2010.
There’s even an on-site cafe for visitors and residents.
In a new take on ancient traditions, omikuji, the white paper fortunes usually tied to branches of sacred trees, are now tied around a concrete pylon.
The glass walls, warm wood and modern lines make this an incredibly unusual site of worship, even by Japanese standards.
Just around the corner from here is a great little coffee place from New Zealand. It’s one of the few places in Tokyo where you can get a flat white.
Aside from serving up great coffee from their Synesso machine, they also have New Zealand treats and organic drinks to melt the heart of any Kiwi in Tokyo.
Heading back down the hill, we make our way to Honta Yokocho. With over 50 restaurants, this is one of the best streets for dinner.
One of the most popular establishments along this street is Hajime no Ippo, one of Tokyo’s original garlic restaurants. Seating just 20 people, this place is often booked out weeks in advance.
After dark, the area becomes even more beautiful, perfect for a romantic post-dinner stroll.
While the sights and sounds of the area have a distinct French flair, a stroll up and down the gentle slope and through the winding alleyways reveals a lot more than the guidebooks suggest.
For a quick recap of the trip, check out the walking map below. If you’re looking to while away some time in a relaxing part of Tokyo, this is definitely the place for you!
All photos © RocketNews24