This quaint neighborhood in southwest Meguro known as Little Europe is steeped in history, culture and sugary treats…
With cobblestone pedestrian malls, Venetian canals and enough eye-popping sweets to make Hansel and Gretel drool, the stylish neighborhood of Jiyugaoka teems with European sophistication as well as frivolity. A short 10-minute train ride away from the congestion of Shibuya, Jiyugaoka (which translates literally as “Freedom Hill”) has maintained a low-profile with visitors while also ranking high on Tokyo’s list of most desirable places to live. Every nook and cranny of Tokyo’s fairytale town is worth exploring.
Every Day is Like Sunday
With its tree-lined promenade, high-class boutiques and al fresco dining options there is a distinctly European feel to Jiyugaoka – perfect for that Sunday afternoon stroll whatever day of the week it happens to be. Wander the maze of streets and bounce between an abundance of eateries such as Potato Cream, which serves up gourmet mashed potato snacks. Grab a cheese tart from the popular Bake Cheese Tart store on the corner of Marie Claire Promenade before taking a seat on one of the nearby benches under the canopy of trees over on Green Street and indulge in one of Tokyo’s greatest pastimes: people watching. Look out for Popeye, a small store for camera enthusiasts offering film and developing services, toy and vintage cameras, and books and accessories.
Other shops worth perusing are Today’s Special, which is packed full of household goods, food, clothes and healthcare products, and Blue Books Cafe, part of the Blue Note empire where you can freely browse from a selection of over 1,000 carefully curated books to the accompaniment of appropriately laidback jazz vibes.
On Sundays the Jiyugaoka Concierge Team, known as “ses anges,” are on hand throughout the area, decked out in beige-brown attire, to help visitors navigate Jiyugaoka’s plethora of options. On any other day head to the tourist information office, tucked away up a side street just outside from the main exit of Jiyugaoka Station.
Up the hill from the station’s main exit, you will find Jiyugoaka’s own slice of Tokyo quirkiness: La Vita, a mini-Venetian square complete with a canal, bridge and, of course, a gondola. It feels more Disneyland than actual Venice but it’s worth stopping by, if only for its proximity to something a lot more authentic: Kosoan. This Taisho-era teahouse has changed little since its original construction and offers a sanctuary of calm. Sit back and relax on the tatami floor whilst gazing out over the tranquil Japanese-style garden and enjoying matcha beverages and Japanese sweets.
If traditional isn’t your cup of (matcha) tea or you fancy something more family-friendly and niche, then swing by the Peter Rabbit Cafe. Each table comes with a stuffed toy rabbit companion and there’s even an occasional walkabout by an oversized version for good measure. The food is low-grade family restaurant fare – albeit with bit more imagination in its presentation and offerings, but Beatrix Potter fans will no doubt enjoy the ambiance. For even more Disneyesque stylings, head to Sweets Forest to get your sugar hit. The garishly pink locale houses eight dessert cafés offering an array of treats to be enjoyed inside or on the terrace.
For something more fantastic rather than fantastical take a short 10-minute walk along Green Street towards the lush, woodland grounds of Joshin Temple (also known as Kuhonbutsu). The impressively vast 120,000m² site was once the location of Okusawa Castle and consists of a grand main gate, founder’s hall, bell tower, main hall and three Buddha halls (housing large golden Buddha statues), all providing English-language information. Heading back towards Jiyugaoka, don’t miss the 800-year old Kumano Shrine, another oasis of calm in this surprisingly diverse and enchanting parcel of Tokyo.