Sunday in Tokyo: Daikanyama and Nakameguro
This is not your regular 'Tokyo tourist attractions that you can fit in a day' type of article. This is a route that you can take if you want to experience a Sunday as if you were a regular denizen in the mist of all other regular denizens of this wonderful metropolis.
Quoting myself, on Sundays there is "none of the daily grind, none of the hurries, everyone is out and about at leisure. In short, Sundays generally paint a different view of a city from what you'd find in the tourist guides –or in the movies, indeed."
I already had the opportunity to be a Tokyo Sunday dweller some time ago, and I explained my route and impressions in Japan: A Sunday in Tokyo. As I confessed back then, my Sunday stroll around the city marked the beginning of my love affair with it.
Sundays are, in my opinion, the best day to experience a city as if you were a citizen yourself. The pace is slower, people will do what they would, they will be out shopping, eating out, enjoying the day with families, friends, couples…
Route for a Leisure Sunday in Tokyo
Daikanyama 12:00 to 15:00
Daikanyama district is an upscale residential neighborhood 15 minute walk south of Shibuya (yes, the famous crossing) full of restaurants, small businesses and medium to small shopping malls. It is quiet, rather elegant and a far cry from that billboard image of Tokyo everyone's ever seen in the movies.
This was not my first incursion into Daikanyama; as a matter of fact we made it a point to return after the fabulous impression it left with us when we visited the Tsutaya Bookstore last year.
There are three easy ways to arrive in Daikanyama:
- Take the metro to Shibuya, and from there it's around 15 minute walk through sleepy backstreets until you reach the epicenter in T-Site.
- Take the metro to Ebisu. This is an equally sleepy 10 minute walk through backstreets up to the Daikanyama proper area.
- Take the train to Daikanyama Station, which leaves you smack in the Sign, one of the emblematic bar & restaurants in the district.
12:00 Strolling around
We took the metro to Ebisu, and strolled around until we found the Sign. This establishment is said to be one of the places to meet on Sunday. Perhaps because it's next door to the train station, perhaps because it's in a little square and has a wonderful outdoor patio where it's comfortable and fun to people watch, and of course be watched.
At any rate, we sat at one of the outdoor tables and ordered a beer to do what people are wont to do on a Sunday: Sunbathe and watch the world go by.
Once we left the Sign, we strolled around the many small streets in the area. There is hardly any traffic in the backstreets, so the area is ideal for a leisure walk. These streets, or passages rather, are full of small businesses, corner coffees, and charm.
There are two things we noticed aplenty during our walk: First, we saw many families, couples with small children, which is something you don't see much of in Tokyo any given day; and second we noticed many folks with dogs which, again, it's something you hardly see in the more populated areas in the city.
The nature of Daikanyama, upscale residential, makes it the chosen place to live for young to middle-aged couples of good purchasing power. By all appearances, the crowd in the street that lazy Sunday ranged from twenty something to forty something.
13:30 Lunch in T-Site
For lunch we aimed to go to Michelangelo, in front of T-Site Garden. Check out the website, it's a delightful place. However, it was not to be – the line to secure a table was as long as the day ahead of us.
So we decided to try out another very nice restaurant we saw when passing by, the Ivy Place.
It was not to be either! When trying to secure a table in one of the three areas, cafe, bar, or restaurant, we were kindly told that we had a 2 hour wait.
We kept on going, only to find pretty much the same scenario in all the other establishments in the area.
For those of you who ever plan to visit: Go to either of these restaurants fist before you do anything else, book a table which will become available in 1 to 2 hours time, and then take your time strolling around, with the knowledge that food will be awaiting when you're done strolling!
All was not lost, however, we found a nifty solution to our noisy tummies!
Tsutaya Bookstore is the centerpiece in T-Site Garden and it hosts one of the busiest Starbucks joints I've ever seen. I got in line (very long but efficiently managed) and bought a couple of sandwiches and a caramel muffin. Not the most Japanese of culinary experiences, but we had to eat!
T-Site Garden is a sort of jewel of the crown in Daikanyama district. Besides Tsutaya Bookstore and the Ivy Place, it hosts some upscale stores, an art gallery, a dog garden, many benches to sit on and people watch and, by and large, it's one of the most cosmopolitan areas we experienced in Tokyo.
Believe it or not, the mixture of Japanese and expats enjoying the outdoors, seeing and being seen which, is a very infrequent occurrence in Tokyo. Occidental folks are definitely in the huge minority in Tokyo, it's not easy to cross paths with other foreigners. None of that in T-Site, many expats around, which is quite unique in the city.
Nakameguro 3:00 to 18:00
Nakameguro neighborhood is a 15 minute walk away from Daikanyama, no need for public transport, and it's all the way down, so a very easy stroll indeed.
This is a also a very popular residential area in Tokyo. Close as it is to Daikanyama, Nakameguro is quite different in look and feel, perhaps not as upscale but definitely charming, lively and very hip. It would be the Lower East Side to Daikanyama's Upper West Side, in a manner of speaking. I loved it.
The epicenter of this neighborhood is the Meguro river, which looks more like a canal than a river, with little bridges to cross to and from each side.
Apparently, the river wasn't always as charming as today, it used to be full of industrial waste and the area was quite run down and the very opposite to residential in the 80'.
However as the river was slowly cleaned up and recovered, so was the neighborhood as little by little coffee shops, fashion stores, beauty salons and such opened for business.
In April 7th it was full of people because we were smack in the middle of cherry blossom season. The cherry trees on both sides of the river were in full bloom, which is a true spectacle to behold.
The interesting area to visit in Nakameguro is around the river, which is where the restaurants, cool small businesses and general Sunday atmosphere is most experienced.
During the cherry blossom season all, and I mean all, businesses have a little street post to sell food and drinks – never mind what the business is about, could be a hair salon or a fashion store, they all open up to the passerby.
It was an incredibly festive atmosphere, perhaps it would have been the same on a Saturday, indeed, but Sundays do have that laziness about them, the level of energy is a bit more subdued and the pace is sensibly slower.
As luck would have it, or rather given the cherry blossom season, there was a festival beside the river and we spent some time watching performers attired with elaborate costumes singing, dancing and playing Japanese music.
There were many citizens strolling around, again with kids and dogs although not as many as around Daikanyama, many young couples and also elderly folks out and about. In the same way as we saw many expats in Daikanyama, we saw many interracial couples is Nakameguro.
If you wonder at my mention of these 'racial' aspects, the reason is Tokyo is not a place where you'd readily cross paths with many different nationalities and/or races. As a matter of fact, the foreign community in all of Japan is rather small.
In Tokyo, by 2005, the most common foreign nationalities were Chinese, Korean, Filipino, American, British, Brazilian and French at a grand total of 297,000 foreign citizens. Perhaps by 2013 this has grown to half a million? I can't say, but it's definitely a huge minority in a metropolitan area of 30 million citizen.
Once we were done strolling and taking many photos of the fantastic cherry trees in bloom, we decided to sit down for a while in a corner cafe & diner, the unpretentious and charming Squash*Blossom.
We sat there for a beer, watching passerby and feeling the sky turn a dark blue, compliments of a sunset we couldn't really see, only feel, under the canopy of cherry trees beside the river.
When all lanterns were magically shining, we took our leave and returned home, even more in love if possible with the city of Tokyo and its fantastic neighborhoods.