Look through city guide books, TV shows and even friends’ lists of recommendations, and you’ll notice: eastern Tokyo’s Koto City – particularly the neighborhood of Kiyosumi – never seems to get the attention it deserves.
Despite having a rich cultural history and a bevy of long-running natural and epicurean options, Koto is often overlooked in favor of Tokyo’s central and west districts, which have established themselves as meccas for food, shopping and entertainment.
But in the center of Koto is a hidden gem – Kiyosumi – that covers every such need without being overrun with tourists. With its own stunning Meiji-period garden and an extensive selection of cafés, galleries and specialty shops, all of which is accessible via the Oedo, Hanzomon and Keio New lines, Kiyosumi is a perfect place to venture out to on a day trip.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: Where to Start
The adventure begins at iki, a café located just a few minutes walk from Morishita Station. At iki, ultra-modern architecture – think concrete walls and open-format seating – meet a laid-back vibe, with sun flooding in through a front gate and island music playing over house speakers. The restaurant offers a delicious spread of homemade pastries, breads and deli plates, as well as specialty coffee drinks made by a barista in the middle of the seating area.
Head across the nearby Onagi River and you’ll find Ondo Stay & Exhibition, a second-story art gallery that showcases work by Japanese illustrators like Haruka Makida, who held her surreal Collecting Seasonal Scents show there recently. With wooden interiors, a window-lit seating area and a quaint gift shop abutting the gallery, Ondo makes for a nice pitstop as you make your way to Kiyosumi Garden, just a few blocks away.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: Authentic Japanese Garden
Kiyosumi Garden is, without a doubt, the spiritual center of its neighborhood. Originally built in 1880 and designated a “Place of Scenic Beauty” by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1979, it is “one of the best examples of a Meiji Period garden,” according to the sign near its entrance. Built largely around a lake, which is surrounded by stunning landscaping, lush trees and a large population of koi fish and turtles, Kiyosumi Garden makes for a truly serene stroll.
The main street that heads east from Kiyosumi Garden is littered with traditional stores selling Japanese classics, from baked goods to kimonos to stationery. But keep walking and you’ll find Kiyosumi’s modern touch – the art galleries that have made it a buzzing destination. And with the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo remaining closed due to Covid-19, there are plenty of charming places ready to be explored.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: Art & Culture
Satoko Oe Contemporary, for one, is a chic gallery that showcases paintings, collages and light installations, as well as a smattering of books written in English, Japanese and Romanian. And a bit further down the road is the Kana Kawanishi Gallery, an airy venue reminiscent of New York’s Chelsea art spaces, presenting works in photography and film. Like Satoko Oe, the Kana Kawanishi Gallery only displays pieces from Japanese artists.
After working up an appetite, Artichoke Chocolate is an essential stop on the main drag. The wood-lined space with floor-to-ceiling windows offers an assortment of elevated milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars from across the world, an ornate truffle selection and a made-to-order parfait bar. Still, the highlight might be the shop’s tongue-in-cheek concepts, like the chicken leg made entirely of chocolate.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: Where to Eat
After a snack and a saunter across the Sendaibori River, you’ll discover one of the neighborhood’s most in-demand restaurants: Koukaibou Ramen. Located on a nondescript highway, the shop has a quaint layout with two dining tables and a row of counter seats overlooking an open kitchen. The chef-owner works alone behind the counter, his wife bustling around him as an assistant and host, as soft, singer-songwriter tracks play over the stereo. The space is warm and inviting, and apparently, incredibly popular.
On a Friday afternoon, the restaurant opened for dinner service at 5:30pm and was filled to its 12-seat capacity – with Covid-influenced glass dividers between every seat – by 5:45pm. Menu options include ramen, tsukemen and gyoza, but the go-to for most visitors seems to be the chashu ramen, which comes with thick slices of fatty pork and a broth that is mild, subtle and hearty.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: Where to Drink
Back across the river is Fukadaso, a warehouse that’s been converted into a massive coffee shop, adorned with antique chests and tables. The space is all about comfort, with low lighting and indulgent snacks like cheesecakes and pancakes, in addition to various coffee and alcohol selections. With free wifi and open-format seating, Fukadaso is a great place to spend some hours working or catching up with friends.
And finally, when it’s time for a nightcap, head back up toward the Morishita Station for a stop-in at Organico, a cozy café on a quiet street that also has an upstairs bar and a to-go counter (with an unmistakable sign that reads “Curry & Gin”).
Inside the six-seat Organico is a display of Havana Club rum – Cuba’s most-adored export – along with three burners and a seven-item food menu. With the TV playing rock-soundtracked skateboarding videos, friendly locals buzzing around and a tall glass of Caribbean rum in hand, Organico is the perfect place to wrap up your day in Koto City.
Kiyosumi Area Guide: One Day in Tokyo
Just a quick, 25-minute ride from Shinjuku Station, Kiyosumi should definitely be next on your list for intra-Tokyo adventures. Its unique mix of art, cafés and delicacies, all located a stone’s throw from classic Japanese shops and the century-old garden, make the neighborhood feel like a proper escape from the city.
And with a small number of people strolling Kiyosumi’s streets in the daytime – especially now – there’s no better time to feel like a local on the east side.