Tokyo Neighborhood: Narrow, Back-Alleys of Kagurazaka
To describe the town of Kagurazaka, Tokyo requires a bit of imagination and yet they are all familiar in a way. Think of Kyoto’s Gion District (if you been there), then remove some Japanese restaurants and replace it with Italian and French ones, keep the mysterious narrow, bendy back alleys and the Geisha performance houses, maybe built some high rise building to tower over the remaining Edo-style houses- the result is one of the Tokyo’s best and yet, once again less explored neighborhood.
The same analogy is what actually makes exploring the streets of Kagurazaka a worthy effort- the mere fact that it is located in Tokyo and yet, you can play hide and seek among the narrow streets and maybe, on a lucky day spot a Geisha walking around.
Arriving at Iidabashi Station (reachable by JR Chuo Sobu Line & Tokyo Metro), there are many exits points towards the district of Kagurazaka, but I will suggest to start the trip by taking the exit towards Ushigome Bridge.
First, what I like the most about this particular spot is the effort from Japan Railways to ensure that the station itself blend in to the traditional atmosphere of the area, despite the high rise condominium in the background and the RAMLA arcade shop on the side.
Setting aside the wide selection of French breads and wines available at Kagurazaka slope, my fascination with the district lies on the back alleys of Geisha-Shinmichi area.
Used to be a home of 700 Geisha’s but now down to 30, imagining of what it used to be is quite easy, with old houses and narrow stone steps, you could almost hear the clicking of Geisha’s geta sandals against the paved road.
To complete the day, a coffee break at The Canal Café close to Ushigome Bridge is recommended. It is a good spot to view the green canal area, Ushigome Bridge, the moat wall across and JR Chuo-Sobu Line train as it moves in and out the station.
During the late 19th century, considered as the prime era of Kagurazaka, it was mentioned that most novelist, artists and even a former prime minister often visited the area because of the familiar and celebrated “hanamachi” (geisha district) appeal. These days smart women and men often roam around the same streets but they are mainly students of the nearby Tokyo University of Science or the occasional tourists like me reminiscing what the district used to be.
Another district worth exploring, another reason to love the city of Tokyo.