Historical atmosphere of Tokyo’s Kagurazaka district
Let’s go back to the year 1600 when Tokyo was called by its former name, Edo. At that time, bukeyashiki samurai residences lined the streets of the Kagurazaka which was considered a “Hana-Machi” (“Flower Town”) because of the large number of o-chaya (tea houses) that held banquet parties for warriors and wealthy merchants, and also because of the okiya residences of the geisha with their beautiful dances and shamisen performances.
Things eventually changed with the ebb of time, but traces of Kagurazaka’s rich history can still be found here and there throughout the district. Look! Just take a walk down some of the alleys that stream out from the main street and you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into a time slip back to traditional Japan!
You can find lots of shrines and temples on the main street, so it’s well worth a stroll!
A long time ago geisha visited high class traditional restaurants to perform their song and dance, and so today you can still find many high class traditional Japanese restaurants as well as high class French restaurants in the Kagurazaka district. For those who may think, “Ummm … doesn’t that sound a little exclusive?” please don’t be shy.
The long sloping street from which the district gets its name (“saka” means slope in Japanese and becomes “zaka” when added to the name making, “Kagurazaka”) stretches from Idabashi Station to Akagi-jinja Shrine and has lots of restaurants you can casually enter to enjoy some “tabe-aruki” (tradition of eating while walking and sightseeing) treats while exploring the area. Many of these famous stores have great reputations for their delicious goods and you can also find many stores offering specialty gourmet treats. So, since you’ve gotten hungry from your adventures, let’s get something to eat!
The face may be scary, but it’s delicious! The unique taste of “Peko-chan Yaki”
First while starting to climb the slope from Idabashi Station, immediately on the right you’ll arrive at the Fujiya Kagurazaka store.
Peko-chan is the girl mascot for the nationwide cake and sweets store, Fujiya. The company was established in 1910 so there are some families in Japan that have loved Fujiya for three consecutive generations! And they love Peko-chan, too! Needless to say, Peko-chan is a familiar face in Japan. Isn’t she cute?
Of all the Fujiya stores around Japan, this store in Kagurazaka is the only one in the country with a very special limited edition treat. That treat is the Peko-chan Yaki that is cooked right at the front of the store!
What? Actually, she’s kind of creepy. Get a whole bunch together and they can look pretty scary! However, fans who love Peko-chan for being “kowa-kawaii” (abbreviation in Japanese for “scary but cute”) come from all over the country to this very special store. Fujiya’s original Peko-chan Yaki has a soft cake-like dough covering with chocolate and anko (sweet red bean paste) hidden inside. With the regular menu as well as additional seasonal and monthly menus there are always 21 different flavors of Peko-chan available. Peko-chan maniacs won’t be able to relax until they’ve tried them all!
It’s time to eat! Sorry, Peko-chan. Down the hatch she goes! The fluffy soft dough and the sweet top-grade bean paste are an awesome match! What you just tasted was the Kiwami Koshi-An (Super Bean Paste) grown in Tokachi, Hokkaido off the limited edition menu for 200 yen. The freshly baked piping hot Peko-chan is super delicious, so be sure to eat it right after purchasing. It also makes for a great “tabe-aruki” treat to enjoy while exploring the area on foot.
Fujiya Kagurazaka Store（不二家 神楽坂店）
Address：1-12 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂1-12）
Opening Hours：10:00 – 21:00 (10:00 – 20:00 on weekends and holidays / 10:00 – 22:00 on Fridays) *Changes slightly according to the season
Holidays： Closed irregularly
Long lines even on weekdays! Fresh mini niku-man
With your Peko-chan Yaki in hand let’s start climbing up the slope of Kagurazaka. Soon you’ll see the sign for “Gojuban.” Established in 1957, this is the long-standing Gojuuban Kagurazaka Main Store that offers Chinese food and Chinese dumplings! This is a super popular restaurant that draws long lines at the front of the store even on weekday afternoons.
The showcases in front of the store are packed with giant pork “niku-man” dumplings stuffed with a variety of ingredients as well as giant “an-man” bean-jam-filled buns. The sheer size and amount of variety can be overwhelming, but there are also many mini versions that are perfect for your “tabe-aruki” walking food tour.
The mini niku-man is only 190 yen, but it’s still a substantial size of a man’s closed fist. It makes you wonder how big the other niku-man are. Anyway, this is the perfect size for tabe-aruki. When you order at the counter you will be served a juicy niku-man fresh from the steamer by hand. The flavor is that worthy of a long-standing Chinese restaurant. The buns are filled with so much meat juice you’ll definitely be tempted to buy another!
Gojuuban Kagurazaka Main Store（五十番 神楽坂本店）
Address：Omiya Bldg. 1F, 4-3-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂4-3-2 近江屋ビル1Ｆ）
Phone Number： +81-3-3260-0066
Opening Hours：11:30 – 22:30 *Changes depending on the day of the week
Holidays：Open all year round
Super delicious butcher shop croquette! Danshaku meat croquette饼
Now we’re just getting started! Next is Kagurazaka’s popular butcher shop, Onoya Butcher Shop.
What’s that? Did you just ask what we’re going to grab for a snack at a butcher shop? This spot is known for its fried side dishes, so that’s what we’re going to go for. This store is particularly popular among locals who buy sides to go with their dinner at home.
The Scotch Egg with a hardboiled egg tucked into the minced meat inside was recommended, but after lots of thinking we instead went for the Danshaku (Baron Potato) Meat Croquette for 140 yen. This, my friend, is craftsmanship! The crispy deep fried coating crunches without the overbearing taste of oil. The juiciness of the meat soaks into the potato inside making for a wondrous balance between the two main ingredients. The saltiness is so perfect that you don’t even need sauce to enjoy this amazing treat.
Onoya Butcher Shop（大野屋牛肉店）
Address：6-8 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂6-8）
The No. 1 most popular traditional Japanese sweets shop! Mame-Daifuku’s perfect sweetness
Now it’s time for dessert. Heading further up the hill from Gojuban you’ll come to the modest little entrance of the traditional Japanese sweets shop, Baikatei. This shop has been focused on using only the highest quality of ingredients since it’s opening in 1935 and produces Japanese sweets that are sumptuous for both the tongue and the eyes.
What you should get here for your tabe-aruki tour is the most popular treat in the shop, the mame-daifuku which is a soft round rice cake with sweet beans for 220 yen. This treat is made without any preservatives or additives, so they can only be eaten on the day they were made. The mame-daifuku has a conservative sweetness which makes for a pleasing mild taste. This is “the” treat of Japanese simplicity.
Though the treats of Baikatei may not be perfect for gobbling down mid-stride in your tabe-aruki tour, they are each small works of art and are the reason for this shop’s grand popularity. In summer, you can also find limited edition treats fashioned after goldfish bowls that provide a refreshing break from the heat. Eating them right away may seem like a waste, but you can also go ahead and put them in the refrigerator in your hotel to enjoy as a dessert after dinner!
Address：6-15 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂6-15）
Opening Hours：10:00 – 20:00
High volume Kagurazaka Cream Puffs
By now we’ve made some pretty good progress up Kagurazaka! On the left side of the street at the top of the hill is the Kissaten Copain café which has a treat we definitely want you to try.
This special treat is the Kagurazaka Cream Puff for 250 yen! Inside of the crust is a double layer of whipped cream and custard cream making for a cream puff with volume to the max. Some may wonder if they’ll be able to eat it after looking at the picture, but the conservative amount of sweetness and the light taste allows you to gobble down this treat regardless of its daunting size. This is a definitely great treat for your tabe-aruki tour, but maybe it’s a little difficult to eat on the move. If you feel that’s the case then go ahead and take a break inside the café while enjoying some coffee or tea.
Address：Katsumura Bldg. 1F 6-50 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂6-50勝村ビル1F）
Opening Hours：7:00 – 21:00 (8:00 – 20:00 on weekends and national holidays)
Holidays：Open all year round
Famous store next to Akagi-jinja Shrine! Repeaters keep coming back for the stellar melon bread
Time to hold in our enlarged bellies and keep heading for the goal. Continue up to the top of the hill on the right side. Head down a small road on the right that has Akagi-jinja Shrine on the other side and you’ll soon find the bakery, Kameido.
What we really don’t want you to miss here is the melon-pan (melon bread) for 205 yen that often sells out before closing. This scrumptious melon-pan is coated with sugar on the outside and has a wonderful aroma coming straight out of the oven. The initial texture is crunchy almost like a cookie. Then in the center you’ll find hidden the sweet and soft dough! What? You’re full? For those who just can’t fit any more delicious sweets in their belly, go ahead and buy one and take it home for breakfast the next day. The cream-pan (cream bread) with rich cream filling is also quite popular.
Address：Kameido Bldg. 1F 6-39 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo（東京都新宿区神楽坂6-39亀井堂ビル1F）
Phone Number： +81-3-3269-0480
Opening Hours：7:45 – 19:00 (9:30 – 18:00 on Saturdays)
Holidays：Sundays and national holidays
Now we’ve climbed Kagurazaka and are completely full!
The hill called Kagurazaka is located right next to the Idabashi Tokyo Metro and JR stations. In total the hill is less than 1 km. Within this small place are packed tons of delicious restaurants and shops. With it’s fancy side of top-grade traditional Japanese restaurants and historical atmosphere on the one hand and working class affordable gourmet sweets shops on the other, there’s lots to enjoy on a trip to the memorable, Kagurazaka!