Dirty water, tasty beer, religion and lust – Meguro has it all. We explore the ups and downs of one of Tokyo’s hillier districts.
The 500 Disciples of Mini-Kamakura
The walk down from Meguro station is so steep that you may be forgiven for just running or rolling by Daienji, but you should try to stop and pay the temple grounds a visit. As many of its kind it’s not quite as old as it looks, since the original construction burned down in one of Tokyo’s historic fires. In fact it is rumored that the Great Meiwa fire of 1772 started here. 500 small statues of Buddha disciples have been placed on the grounds in memory of the fire’s over 6,000 casualties. It’s an impressive sight in an unassuming neighborhood, like a small glimpse of Kamakura conveniently put in the city center.
If you’d also like to pay your respects to Meguro’s Shinto side, head further down the hill and past the river to the intersection of Meguro-dori and Yamate-dori for Otori Jinja. Especially in November the shrine is worth a visit, when the days of the rooster are colorfully celebrated, but there are many other fun and tasty matsuri over the course of the year.
The Emperor of Meguro
One of the first things you will see when leaving Daienji and continuing down the hill is a European-style castle that looks like something straight from a Disney movie. Except this one will never be home to any Disney princess, unless the Mouse House ever decides to venture into much cheekier territory. The legendary love hotel Meguro Emperor was built in the 70s, satisfying all the extravagant aesthetic longings of that glorious era, complete with gondolas and slides inside. It fell on hard times when the 70s fell out of favor, changed its concept repeatedly, but returned to its core competencies in the new millennium as a place to love and be loved.
Along the Smelly River
One of the many romantic aspects of the Emperor hotel is its location by the Meguro River. Even though most of the year the river is not much to brag about. For a while it can be fun to make up new names for its daily changing smell and color, but eventually you will run out of ideas. Yet, in sakura season, when the stream is lined on both sides with boisterous cherry trees, its unsavory odor and tint are quickly forgotten. Under the cherry blossoms, you can walk all the way from honest, working-class Shimomeguro to the eternally trendier Nakameguro with its high concentration of stylish boutiques and foreigners sporting beards and buns. If you fancy a beer after a long walk (or even a short walk, or no walk at all), you can sample the crafty brews of the reputable Baird Beer brewery at the Baird Taproom Nakameguro. It was the first of its kind, yet by now it’s certainly not the only one of its kind. If you prefer a less franchised craft beer experience, why not head back to Shimomeguro (take one of many bus lines, if one walk by the river per day is enough for you), and pay a visit to one (or more) of its many craft beer bars.
The Dodo Lives
The Dodo House close to Otori Jinja is one of the latest additions to Meguro’s craft beer scene. It’s also one of its nicest hangouts, with almost daily changing taps, competently chosen wines as well as some hard liquor, and lovingly prepared food, all focused on domestic products. It opened shortly after the similarly themed Another8, which is in the neighborhood of Daienji, located in close proximity to Scent on Meguro-dori, which is hard to miss with its prominent “Beer Here” sign. Let’s not forget the Meguro Tavern (on the other side of the same street) with its homebrews, or the somewhat fancier Meguro Republic on the other side of the station. Are we living in a craft beer bubble? Will it burst sometime soon? Are we partying like its 1989, and will we wake up tomorrow to realize it’s already 1990? Let’s not think about it today.
The Many Curries of Meguro
Something that will probably always stay with Meguro is its abundance of curry restaurants. The Megurians seem to be curry-crazy, no matter if Japanese, Indian, Thai or fusion.
The place called Land (almost rubbing shoulders with The Dodo House) specializes in curry (try the pork) and coffee, but you can also find a small, eclectic selection of international beers (in case you still have no idea where to find beer in Meguro). Do you sometimes crave Thai food just like they made at home? Further up the hill, Bangkok Oriental is that kind of big, uncomplicated, English-friendly Thai restaurant that you can find anywhere in the world. That doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Little English is spoken at Meguro Minato-ya, about halfway between Otori Jinja and Fudō-mae Station on Yamate-dori. Still, the charming mom and pop restaurant has become a lunch favorite among the area’s foreign workforce. Modestly they claim to serve “maybe the best” dry curry in Meguro. They also claim that it only costs you “one coin,” even though the price has gone up to ¥550 a while ago.
It’s still a catch. And it is pretty good. Is it the best in Meguro? Maybe.