Jiyugaoka: A Guide To Tokyo’s Little Europe
Shop till you drop and eat to your heart’s content in Tokyo’s off the beaten path neighborhood.
While popular touristy spots like Harajuku and Asakusa are undoubtedly noteworthy destinations, perusing new places and spaces to see Tokyo’s less travelled parts is an incomparable adventure. One of those regions that both travelers and residents in Japan should explore at least once, is the posh and trendy Jiyugaoka, a cozy neighborhood located within a 10-minute train ride from Shibuya, yet away from all the touristy clamor of the city.
Unfairly omitted from most guidebooks, this lovely area often referred to as osharena machi by the locals, or “a stylish and sophisticated place,” is a hub of fashionable boutiques, trendy cafes and narrow paths that make you feel as if you’ve transported yourself to the streets of Europe’s most fashionable cities — and yet, it carefully incorporates an authentic Japanese touch.
Jiyugaoka: History & Background
Named after a local school known for its liberal education, Jiyugaoka — literally “Freedom Hill” — used to be a rural area on the southern end of Meguro, that started to develop in the 1920s after rail services were introduced. Although most of Jiyugaoka was demolished during WWII, the neighborhood was quickly rebuilt, modernized and currently ranks as one of the most desirable places to live in Tokyo. No matter what day of the week you visit Jiyugaoka, it exudes relaxed Sunday vibe with wide, pedestrian friendly avenues, fashionable boutiques, enticing craft stores and trendy cozy cafes.
Things To See in Jiyugaoka
With cherry blossom season right around the corner, the Marie Claire Promenade and Green Street in the direction of the Midorigaoka station are lined up with sakura trees, making up for an ideal hanami spot. Take in the beauty of spring as you dine al fresco, or simply sit on one of the benches to enjoy the blooms and people watch. This strip comes to life also in May during the annual Marie Claire Festival when food stalls fill up the space, and pedestrians can enjoy live performance shows. There is also an equal amount of excitement in the area over two days in October during the annual Jiyugaoka Megami Festival. Over 1,000 shops participate in the festivities, opening their stalls, providing special products and events, and having sales.
While nothing compares to the beauty of real Venice, Jiyugaoka residents have their private spot La Vita to indulge in the afternoon dolce far niente. This cozy piazza has everything to make you forget you are in the heart of Tokyo: a small canal, real gondola, venetian bridge, clock tower and the authentic Italian architecture. In this lovely complex you can find several shops, a hair salon and even a pet-friendly cafe.
Those who long for a quintessential Japanese atmosphere should check out the local 800-year old Kumano Shrine, famous for hosting the traditional Jiyugaoka International Friendship Mikoshi Festival every September. Another well known religious site in Jiyugaoka is the Joshin Temple, also known as Kuhonbutsu. This large complex surrounded by woodland once again serves as the proof that Tokyo hosts numerous hidden gems in the most unexpected places.
Where To Shop
Jiyugaoka has an abundance of fashion boutiques and homeware stores perfect for astute shoppers seeking to purchase unique designer items. Visit two of my personal favorite zakka (miscellaneous goods) shops, Today’s Special and Koe House, which are filled with goods aimed to improve your home, life and appearance: apparel, gourmet food, kitchenware, cosmetics and skincare products. The collections and pieces here balance elements of European and Japanese design, and tend towards a clean, organic sensibility.
Those fascinated by the interior design and looking for inspiration, should also visit the designer furniture store Acme, which is just a few minutes walk from the station’s main exit. Jiyugaoka is also known for its concept stores among which Lisette stands out as a cozy corner selling exquisite garments regularly imported from France.
Where To Eat
Whether you’re after breakfast, lunch or dinner, you’re guaranteed to find a perfect spot in Jiyugaoka to while away some time.
Boulangerie Gontran Cherrier, a few blocks from Jiyugaoka’s main exit, offers mind boggling choice of freshly baked pastries, viennoiseries, bread, and sandwiches which could be purchased to go, or enjoyed on the spot with a glass of freshly squeezed juice or a cup of tea/coffee.
For a light but satisfying snack, head to Potato Cream, a minimalistic little bar that serves mashed potatoes with a gourmet twist: think the turnip and chicken with Gorgonzola cheese and potato cream, eggplant and minced-meat with tomato cream; and some seasonal highlights — a light pork-and-mushroom creation and a hearty shrimp stroganoff. All of this is conveniently served in small cups in case you want to take it out and eat on a bench in a park.
For meat-lovers, Shutters offers a wide choice of succulent and flavorful spareribs, as well as salads and pasta dishes. With a perfect location, right on the Marie Claire Promenade, it’s the perfect spot for al fresco dining.
In case you’re wary of your waistline or opt for vegetarian options, then a light lunch at Koe Green might be perfect for you. This salad bar is stocked with fresh organic produce which they chop up a la minute and serve in the wooden bowls.
For a more elaborate dining, take a 20-minute walk to Yakumo Saryo to savor their modern kaiseki lunch. I was quite mesmerized by the exquisitely refined setting of the restaurant, its contemporary design so skillfully incorporating traditional Japanese interior elements that epitomize zen aesthetics. The moment you step in you realize that it is a place where all your senses will be involved, a place that evokes an immediate sense of peace and calm.
Tea lovers must not leave without visiting the century-old Tea House Kosoan which serves as a little sanctuary from the city’s hustle and bustle. It’s a perfect place to immerse in authentic Japanese aesthetics by savoring the matcha tea and wagashi whilst sitting on tatami floors and admiring beautiful landscaping of the garden.
Those with a sweet tooth will find themselves in heaven at Sweet Forest, a dessert parlor which houses a few little cafes all housed inside the colorful space that looks like a fantasyland. A few blocks away, you’ll also have an option to dine at the Peter Rabbit Garden Cafe, in an old English house in the company of Peter Rabbit himself. Each table has a stuffed toy sitting on the chair to make sure no one feels lonely. You can enjoy savory set menus, as well as desserts and drinks — all garnished with the Peter Rabbit logo.
And right as you plan to head towards the station, do yourself a favor and buy a cheese tart or two from the Bake Cheese Tart shop from Hokkaido. Its founders strongly believe that the cheese tarts taste the best when they’re freshly baked and that’s exactly how they sell their tarts. No matter when you visit, you’re guaranteed to get nothing but fresh, fragrant and warm cheese tarts.
Jiyugaoka can be easily accessed from Shibuya and Yokohama. Take the Tokyu Toyoko line from Shibuya to Jiyugaoka; Tokyu Oimachi line from Futagotamagawa; or express train from Minato Mirai in Yokohama on the Tokyu Toyoko line express service.
La Vita: 2-8-3 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Kumano Shrine: 1-24-12 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Kuhonbutsu: 7-41-3 Okusawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Today’s Special Jiyugaoka: 2-17-8 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Gontran Cherrier: Jiyugaoka A Bldg. 1F, 2-9-17 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Potato Cream Jiyugaoka: 1-25-2 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Shutters: 5-27-15 Okusawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Koe House/Koe Green: 2-9-19 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Yakumo Saryo: 3-4-7 Yakumo, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Peter Rabbit Garden Cafe: Jiyugaoka Myu 1F, 1-25-20 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Sweet Forest Jiyugaoka: 2-25-7 Midorigaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo