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Hard to Leave, Easy to Love: The Magic of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原)

HOME TOPICS Hard to Leave, Easy to Love: The Magic of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原)

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渋谷や新宿などの大都市の喧騒から少し離れ、落ち着いた空気が流れる代々木上原エリアは、海外からの観光客の方にもぜひお立ち寄りいただきたい場所。今回の記事はそんな海外からの観光客のみなさんへ向けた特別英語記事です!Act Locally編集部スタッフの友人であり、現在ロサンゼルス在住のケイトリンが代々木上原に1週間滞在した感動を綴ってくれました。

Why this Tokyo Neighborhood Swept Me Off My Feet

There’s something romantic about finding a new place that moves you. Whether it be a single shop, neighborhood, city, or country, when you discover a place that feels right, it almost feels like falling in love. The longer you spend there, the more a place reveals itself to you. You decide what happens next.

Conversely, it can be easy to find yourself disillusioned with your own city or hometown. Odd quirks turn into points of frustration. Patterns or routines begin to mask the beauty of it all. After living in Los Angeles for the last 4 years, I am all too used to the reality of living in a sprawling city riddled with traffic, where achieving daily tasks can make 4 miles feel long distance. Making it on time to a dinner reservation requires careful calculation and cancelled plans are never a surprise. I love LA’s versatility, but a lack of mobility and affordability can often shrink my options and my optimism.

Forget the fading love metaphor for a moment, when things feel stale or you just crave a change of scenery, the solution is obvious – travel! Getting out of your element can spark new avenues of creativity and joy. It could inspire a move and at the very least, boost your spirits!

For anyone having a hard time loving their current city or just wondering what cityscape to venture to next, this is for you. Imagine for a moment a completely walkable neighborhood, accessible by a widely used train. Depending on where you live, this may sound standard so far. Once you step outside the train station, the only chain in sight is the occasional convenience store. Everything else? A harmonious, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, with each small business serving up its own specialty. It’s evident that every spot isn’t just any spot, it’s THE spot. Somehow though, there’s rarely a line, and certainly no traffic.

Each shop knows their strengths and delivers on their exterior’s promise with exceptional service. Never sacrificing quality for convenience, you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on the same street without an ounce of disappointment settling in your stomach. This won’t Need to make a dentist appointment, get your nails done, grab groceries, go for a massage, or pick out a gift? No problem, that’s all within a few blocks too. It’s as shop-able as it is livable with family homes and peaceful nature intermixed. Sounds idyllic, right? I’ve just described the reality of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原), a stylish Tokyo neighborhood covering just a few square miles, located 5-10 minutes from the bustling streets, high-rises, and high fashion of Shibuya and Harajuku. With a train station on the Odayku and Chiyoda rail lines, Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) is nestled in a pocket southwest of Shinjuku, a large commercial ward.I might have missed this neighborhood all together if not for the good fortune of staying within its confines on my recent weeklong Tokyo adventure with my boyfriend, Khari. Huge thanks to our friend and president of Yoyogi-Uehara-based SWEET SOUL RECORDS, Naoki, for putting us up and showing us around. I will not pretend like I found out about any of the below with my own Google searches. Sometimes to go local, you got to know local, and that was ultimately the theme of our stay in Tokyo. Bear with me as this is the first time I’m detailing my travels publicly, but I was so inspired by Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原), and the neighboring areas that I suggested writing about our trip, and Naoki kindly encouraged me.

From gyoza, tonkatsu, curry, sukiyaki, Korean bbq, organic and vegetarian faire, premium roasted coffee, assorted records, vintage wear, leather goods, wine, and so much more, Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) houses a unique blend of eats, products, and services, all worth your attention. I’ve detailed some of my favorite spots below. This list is in no way a complete picture of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) as we were clearly food-focused. We returned to a few of these locations multiple times throughout our 7 days in Tokyo (creatures of habit, even on vacation!), got to know the staff, and dove deeper into the menu than a one-time visit would allow.

As much a hipster’s daydream as a safe space for traditionalists, the balance achieved in the narrow streets of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) is an interesting dynamic to witness, and a testament to Tokyo’s respect for the old and embrace of the new.

With well-curated minimalist spaces and thoughtful design in spades, walking into many of the businesses here will make you exhale with relief at least and leave you re-designing your home in your head at most (guilty!).

If you find yourself near Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原), do yourself a favor and check it out! What may appear to be merely another train stop is in fact alive with possibilities, and most acutely, deliciousness. Somehow, nearly every meal tasted like the best thing we ever ate – an impressive feat for the size of the neighborhood.

You can blame me if you end up ditching a few of your sightseeing plans to spend more than one day here…

Manpuku – Korean BBQ with Japanese twist

Meat lover? Marbled beef admirer? This is your haven. We were spoiled to have this be our first and last dinner experience. It was our last because of Khari’s request to return for his birthday dinner on the final night of our stay. With a sectioned cow outlined on the back of the menu, you can order nearly every part here. If your Japanese isn’t decipherable, you can always point to the cow. Served fresh and raw to your table, it’s up to you to cook it over the center flame. Lucky for us, Naoki was a master at returning each cut to our plates perfectly cooked. From tongue to shoulder and down the back, we tried and enjoyed an array of mouth-watering cuts. To my surprise, even the raw (highest-quality), marinated beef dish was a complete gift to my palette. Other must-try items include Sundubu Chige, beef noodles, scallion pancake, and the Korean sake, served in a ceramic bowl for sharing. Every item here was a full on flavor explosion, making it worth our return within the week.

Manpuku Yoyogi Uehara store
【Street address】Bainzu-Yoyogiuehara 101, 3-1-1-4, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】 Time for dinner from Monday to Sunday is from 17:00 to 24:00(L.O.23:00)
Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday Lunch time 12:00~15:30(L.O.15:00)
【Regular holiday】※Closed on December 31st and January 1st
【TEL】03-3468-5580
【URL】http://www.manpuku.co/shoplist/yoyogiuehara/

Takeshin – Tonkatsu

The last time I visited Japan, I was 12 years old, skeptical of seafood, and tonkatsu was one of the few Japanese dishes that felt familiar to my amateur tastebuds. Thus, I was excited to try this place, as its specialty speaks to my enduring love of all things crunchy and savory. The tonkastu, or breaded pork, at Takeshin is juicy, crispy, and tender, making chicken nuggets look foolish. You can order your tonkatsu to be fattier or leaner, accompanied by the ever-present rice, miso, and cabbage (best dressing) sides. As encouraged, I also dipped every bite of my tonkatsu in oyster sauce – yum! Khari chose the lunch special, tonkatsu with curry, which left his Southern roots’ impressed and his belly full. This is comfort food at its finest. A go-to for locals, lunch specials are reasonably priced, less than 1500 yen, depending on what dish and size you choose.

Tonkatsu Takashin Yoyogi Uehara store
【Street address】3-1-7, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】Tuesday to Friday 11:30~14:00(LO)・18:00~21:45(LO)
Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday 11:30~14:30(LO)・17:30~21:30(LO)
【Regular holiday】Monday(Open on public holiday Closed the next day)
【URL】http://take-shin.net/bunten/

Fuku – Yakitori

Fuku was the one place I had heard about prior to sitting down for a late weeknight dinner here, thanks to a feature in a blog post sent to me pre-departure. The legend of Fuku preceded itself and we were delighted to find that the hype was completely justified. When you walk in, the grill is the centerpiece with counter seating wrapped around it for customers to sit and admire the chefs at work, showing off the traditional bincho charcoal grilling process. The smoke manages to stay away from eaters’ eyes, providing a tasty fragrance to the whole place instead. With nearly everything served on a skewer, you can give your chopsticks a rest as you bite into succulent bits of charred chicken and vegetables amongst other items.

With friends ordering on our behalf, we tried what felt like at least half the menu, including chicken skin, wings, meatballs, liver, rice balls, smoked cheese, and bacon-wrapped tomatoes. My favorite dish was this chicken (Neck!what was the part?) topped with shaved scallions. With an affordable menu (grill items between 150-250 yen), you can always add items as you eat. This was an exquisite experience from start to finish.

Sumibiyakitori Fuku
【Street address】3-23-4, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】17:30~23:30
【Regular holiday】 Wednesday
【URL】http://sumibikushiyakifuku.com/Facebook

Ni Hao – Gyoza

I don’t know about you, but when I go to a Japanese restaurant in LA, gyoza is usually my go-to appetizer. A plump little dumpling of pan-fried pork + cabbage goodness, I’ve often thought of it as deserving entrée status. When this place was suggested as a dinner option, I believe my eyes grew wide with excitement. Located up a set of stairs in a modest building, we observed the closeness of the staff, moving quickly around the elevated kitchen space in the heart of the room. They run a tight ship. As promised, they churned out the best gyoza I’ve ever had. To my enjoyment, we ordered not one but two mounds of pan-fried gyoza (you can also order gyoza boiled). Each one as juicy as the last, complemented by the soy-based, scallion topped dipping sauce. We ordered other items to balance out the beer and dumplings, including an aromatic clam and celery based soup dish and a spicy tofu side – both excellent, but the gyoza definitely stole the show.

Ni Hao
【Street address】2F, 2-27-4 masumotosyuten, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】Weekday 17:00-23:30、Saturday 17:00-23:00
【Regular holiday】Sunday、If the public holiday is Sunday, close on Monday the following day
【TEL】03-3465-0747

Offf – Organic Restaurant

Easy to admire from the street, I’d walked by here a couple of days in a row before trying this spot for lunch one day. I respect the organic movement that’s become the norm in Los Angeles and was eager to taste the wholesome offerings here. Stepping inside reminded me of visits to California wine country, with natural light and greenery highlighting charming rustic touches. Another space where you can watch the chefs at work, this time with a waist-level counter protecting an otherwise open kitchen. With a small menu of just a few lunch specials, I settled on trying the fish (Horse Mackerel the dish is called Nanbanzuke) with vinegar, onions, and arugula alongside brown rice, miso soup, and various vegetable medleys. My boyfriend ordered the chicken and rice with green curry. No artificial ingredients in sight, everything was light, farm-fresh, and tasted like it was doing our bodies good.

botanical table offf
【Street address】3-25-4, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】Weekday 11:30~15:00(LO 14:00)・18:00~23:00(LO22:00)
Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday 11:00~15:00(LO 14:00)・18:00~23:00(LO 22:00)
【Regular holiday】Wednesday
【URL】https://www.offf-tokyo.com/,Facebook,Instagram

Flow – Wine Bar

The name says it all. Tucked below street level, you take stairs down into this vino oasis.Featuring natural wines, nightly specials, and an interior refrigerated wine room with bottles for purchase, we entered ultimate chill mode here, toasting to our newfound friendships. Flow is the type of place you can kick back and relax after a long day of working or walking, sip on your preferred red or white, and enjoy the wood-scented ambience. With an owner who doubles as a musician himself, the music wafting down from the ceiling speakers pairs perfectly with the stunning wood features throughout the room, creating a full sensory experience. The laid-back sophistication makes this a great place to grab a drink with anyone you think highly of – whether a dear friend, romantic partner, or favorite colleague, sit back and let it FLOW.

wine shop flow
【Street address】B1F, 2-28-3 kuro-ba- Bld., Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】 Monday to Friday 15:30~0:00 / Saturday Sunday 15:30~22:00
【Regular holiday】No regular holiday
【URL】https://wineshop-flow.business.site/,Facebook,Instagram

Fireking – Indonesian Faire & Cocktail Bar

Located along our daily walk path and open until 4am, we became repeat customers at Fireking. From lunchtime until the wee hours of the morning, you can stop in here for a quick bite, a longer meal, or drinks to savor at a table or the bar. With colorful back-lit ceramic dishes creating the bar backdrop and local artwork adorning the walls, the vibe is lively to match the food.

Celebrating bold flavors with Indonesian influence, we devoured their signature fried chicken, shrimp, fried rice, and noodle dishes. On more than one occasion, we split their Wagyu filet with fries too. Beyond the food, the bartenders here know what they’re doing too, crafting exceptional cocktail and soda creations. I sipped on a glass of Ichiro’s Malt, Japanese whiskey one day and enjoyed a coffee-infused drink the next. One of the best parts about this place? The staff! So friendly and accommodating, a few felt like family by the end.

Fireking cafe
【Street address】1-30-8, Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0064, Japan
【Business hours】 Monday to Friday 11:30~2:00
Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday 12:00~2:00
【Regular holiday】No regular holiday
【URL】http://www.fk-cafe.com/,Facebook

Guerrero – Pizza

Wood-fired pizza. Delicate and flavorful gazpacho. Natural wines. Yes please! Guerrero’s chef trained in Italy and boy does it show in the food. With red sauce perfection, mouth-watering cheese selection and flavorful pizza combinations, you must come hungry to Guerrero.

We enjoyed a classic Margherita pizza and a potato and bacon pie alongside some fried zucchini, all of which really hit the spot. This hip joint appeared to be the sole restaurant on this otherwise residential block.

We were drawn to the wood-fired stove in the window, a warm invitation attracting locals and foreigners alike.

Guerrero
【Street address】3-23-23, Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0031, Japan
【Business hours】18:00~24:00(LO23:00)
【Regular holiday】 Monday(Business days when it is a holiday)
【URL】Facebook

Goodtown Coffee, Beer, & Bakehouse –  American

A nod to all things Americana, the interior and menu here are perfect for the homesick American or the interested local. Serving up some of the freshest, fluffiest donuts and refreshing iced-coffee, we stopped in here for a quick breakfast right outside the train station. Admiring the cowhide seats and neon signs, we sat at the bar, where later in the day they serve beer on draft. Of course, we returned on our final afternoon to try that beer (excellent pale ale and stout offerings) paired with the juiciest Wagyu beef sliders and flavor-FULL truffle mac and cheese. What was supposed to be a snack filled us right up without leaving us feeling gross like many greasier American offerings back home. They’re doing it ALL right at Goodtown.

GOOD TOWN BAKEHOUSE
【Street address】1-30-1, Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0064, Japan
【Business hours】 Monday to Friday 8:00~22:00/Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday 9:00~22:00
【Regular holiday】No regular holiday
【URL】Facebook,Instagram

Katane Backery –  Bakery + French Café

Bread is my favorite food. It is my comforting go-to, my sunshine on a cloudy day. Add cheese to it and oh-my-gooooood, I rejoice. Instant mood-booster. When I think of Japan, bread is certainly not the first or even the fourth food that comes to mind. Italy? France? Sure. At the risk of sounding naïve, one of the biggest lessons here is that whatever you think you know about Tokyo/Japan, be prepared for so many good surprises to sneak up on your expectations. Ok now back to the bread… as recommended, we walked into Katane Backery around 10am in the morning. The smell? Intoxicating. Fresh breads, pastries, and quiches galore. I wanted to try one of everything, but (fortunately for my waistline) didn’t know how to say that in Japanese, so I settled for pointing at a slice of zucchini quiche, a gruyere-laiden croissant-like pastry of sorts, and a buttery mini-baguette. Khari ordered a sweeter almond pastry.

We walked out and promptly checked our location to ensure we hadn’t been beamed up and dropped in France. Because that is what biting into these goodies felt like (side note, I’ve never been to France, but this is what I imagine baked goods there taste like – legit!). Just below the bakery is a small café serving up French breakfast and lunch specials, all complete with a side of bread from the bakery above (duh!).

We enjoyed simple omelets, mine with mushroom, his with sausage, before floating back upstairs, marveling at the delight quality ingredients can bring to any meal.

Katane Backery
【Street address】1-7-5, Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0066, Japan
【Business hours】7:00~18:30
【Regular holiday】 Monday・1st, 3rd, 5th Sunday
【URL】Facebook,Twitter

Kokkoma – Souvenir Shop

Just steps away from the train station’s entrance, Kokoma is owned and run by the sweetest woman who despite our language barrier ensured we found the perfect gifts for loved ones back home. Every item in this shop is beautiful, unique, and looks like it could be featured an art museum’s gift shop. While there are plenty of places to pick up cheap trinket in Tokyo, perusing the shelves of this small storefront for handmade pottery, gift boxes, ornate fans and functional purses is a noteworthy experience. As with virtually every business in Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原), you won’t need to meander through a crowd to get what you want. We enjoyed spending time admiring and reading about the Japanese goods, eventually selecting gifts for friends that I secretly wanted to keep for myself.

kokkoma
【Street address】1-33-17, Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0064, Japan
【Business hours】11:00~19:00 / Sunday・ public holiday  11:00~18:00
【Regular holiday】 Tuesday
【URL】http://www.kokkoma.jp/,Facebook

Tateisucanna – Aizome – Blue-Dye Clothing

If you’re looking for clothing that’s stylish and has a unique backstory, look no further than Tateisucanna. Many months before our trip, Khari had watched a YouTube video highlighting indigo, and learned of a special blue dye called Aizome, often referred to as “Japan Blue”. With an interest in fashion, he remembered the video while we were in Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) and mentioned the dye to Naoki. To our surprise, Naoki knew one of two Tokyo Aizome designers, who also happened to have a shop in the neighborhood. We walked into Tateisucanna the next day, drawn immediately to a rack of striking blue, casual clothing. Before touching anything, the quality was obvious. Fortunately, the company’s CEO, designer, and Aizenist, Ichiran Toba was there. He greeted us with a smile and blue-stained fingernails. Thanks to Nao translating, Khari was able to speak with him, explaining his interest as Ichiran proudly detailed more about the natural dye’s harvesting process, confirming its rarity and significance to Japanese culture. Truly, an art form! We left with an Aizome shirt for Khari, a deeper admiration for Ichiran’s work, and an invitation to witness the dying process next time we’re in Japan.

With the exception of maybe a nightclub, sports venue, and larger crowd attractions that tend to take away from small neighborhood charm, Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) has it all! What you can’t find here is sure to be close by thanks to Tokyo’s density and variety of activities by district. Though Tokyo may suffer from traffic similar to Los Angeles during peak travel times, the precision and accessibility of the railway system plus noticeable taxi presence makes the prospect of neighborhood hopping a bit less daunting.

OVERFLOWING CHARM

With neighborhood lines a little blurred for us unfamiliar with the area, we discovered a couple more spots nearby that really stuck with us. Due east of Yogogi-Uehara, we ran right into Motoyoyogicho, which boasts another train station and its own handful of small businesses with diverse offerings.

Tateisucanna
【Street address】1-23-12, Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0064, Japan
【Business hours】Tuesday to Saturday  11:00~20:00 /Sunday・ public holiday  11:00~18:00
【Regular holiday】Monday
【URL】https://tateisucanna.stores.jp/,Twitter,Facebook,Instagram

Almond Hostel & Café – Coffee & Chill

This coffee shop had it all – incredible coffee, free wifi, and ambient lo-fi music that had us reaching for our Shazam app more than once. A full service hostel sits above the café, yet each time we stopped in, there was plenty of seating. The staff was helpful and attentive, juggling latte orders in between hostel guest check-ins. With a feel similar to the chicest coffee shops in Venice Beach or downtown Los Angeles, this place felt instantly familiar, but maintained its own flare. Decorated with a keen eye for detail and a nod to simplicity, one could easily sit down to write, study, or just read a good book here for hours.

Just west of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) is a bohemian neighborhood brimming with must-try places called Shimokitazawa. Known for its music culture, thrift stores, and bar scene, we only scratched the surface here, but it’s worth mentioning a couple of Shimokitazawa’s delights.

Almond Hostel & Café
【Street address】1-7, Motoyoyogicho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0062, Japan
【Business hours】8:00 – 23:00
【Regular holiday】No regular holiday
【URL】https://almondcheckin.coffee/,Facebook,Instagram

Little Soul Café

For soul music lovers, this place could also be called, “Little Slice of Heaven Café”. Miya, the owner, curator, collector, DJ, bartender, and snack whipper-upper, wears many hats, each very well. He keeps the 60s and 70s soul and funk records spinning with flawless transitions as he also serves customers perfectly-poured cocktails (try one of the rum ones) alongside snacks of warm potato chips and seasoned hot popcorn (my favorite!). His massive record collection lines the walls of this cozy, dimly lit lounge space, making you wonder how on Earth they are catalogued. Turns out he keeps his favorites next to him on a bookshelf near his record player. From smash hits to deep cuts of American soul music, our heads inevitably bopped as we listened for his next selection. Open until 4am most nights, Little Soul Café is the perfect way to start or end any evening out. We ended up here 3 of 6 nights. Enough said.

Little Soul Café
【Street address】Taisei Bld.2kai, 3-20-2, Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0031, Japan
【Business hours】 21:00〜4:00 /Sunday・ public holiday  21:00〜2:00
【Regular holiday】No regular holiday
【URL】http://littlesoulcafe.com/access.html,Facebook

Roan – Soba Noodles

What may appear to outsiders like another version of ramen, soba noodles are actually the cooler (literally) buckwheat distant relative. If you’re in this area, this place does soba justice (or so I’m told by our hosts). The chilled noodles here are 100% homemade, you can taste the freshness! Expertly cooked for dipping and slurping up the tsuyu (soy sauce based dipping sauce). In our case, soba was the recommended hangover cure, and an ideal solution for a light lunch on a hot day. I enjoyed mine with a side of lightly fried tempura veggies and shrimp, which added some welcomed crunch to my lunch. If you’re like my boyfriend and not a fan of cold savory dishes, you can also get your soba noodles hot in a tasty broth. At this popular lunch spot, everyone wins!

Genoosova・Roan
【Street address】2-28-9, Daizawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0032, Japan
【Business hours】Weekday 11:30~15:00(LO14:30)、17:30~22:00(LO21:00)※On Monday only as for the lunch business (in the case of a holiday, there is dinner business))/Saturday・Sunday・ public holiday 11:30~15:30(LO15:00)、17:00~22:00(LO21:00)
【Regular holiday】Tuesday
【URL】http://roan.jpwave.net/

Final Note

Whew! Felt good to write all that out. Just like a wonderful person, a wonderful place deserves a love letter. To the residents and employees of Yoyogi-Uehara(代々木上原) and neighboring communities, thank you for your kindness and generous hospitality. I hope you know what a special place you preside over. What may feel average day after day is truly a special area to a visitor like me. I’m spreading the word back in Los Angeles, and I will be back!

Written by Caitlin Tamony

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