Sandwiched between the neon and high rises of Ikebukuro and the retiree paradise of Sugamo sits the neighborhood of Otsuka. For many, just an anonymous stop on the Yamanote Line, the neighborhood is in fact undergoing a rapid change and is fast becoming one of the coolest, under-the-radar spots in Tokyo.
Once renowned for little more than its seedy underbelly and red light district, the arrival of the OMO5 Hoshino Resort in 2018 breathed a new energy into Otsuka. The impressive and modern new hotel development has brought with it a wave of gentrification that had previously been confined only to Otsuka’s noisy neighbour, Ikebukuro.
With the opening of the hotel, Otsuka has seen ever increasing levels of development and construction of new and exciting places to visit alongside the original, old-school bars and izakayas.
The neighborhood is littered with small alleyways full of small old school izakayas and bars, many of which have seldom changed since the post-war era. These Showa-era gems help to create a sense of architectural and cultural fusion when sat alongside Otsuka’s more modern developments.
Things To Do
Otsuka is bisected by the Yamanote line station separating the north and south area of the neighborhood, and by the Toden Arakawa line, making it a great place to watch one of Tokyo’s last remaining tram cars. Riding the tram can be an especially popular activity in the spring when people ride the trams to get a glimpse of the sakura trees in full bloom.
Towards the end of August, the neighborhood also plays host to the Awa Odori street dance festival where hundreds of local organizations and businesses gather to compete in traditional dancing as a part of the Obon holiday while residents and spectators gather to watch and enjoy the street party.
For those looking to come to Otsuka for a bite to eat and a drink, they will not be disappointed. Otsuka offers a great number of fantastic eating and drinking spots with a very wide variety of choices. From traditional Japanese options like yakitori and sushi to Michelin-starred ramen spots to some of the best southeast Asian cuisine to be found in the capital, Otsuka has options for all tastes.
Where To Drink
Alongside the many excellent traditional options to grab a quick drink, Titans Craft Beer Taproom and Bottle Shop has become something of a craft beer Mecca for those craving the taste of real US breweries. An establishment opened between two craft beer importers, Beer Cats and AQ Bevolution, the spacious, three-floor bar and bottle shop offers goblet-sized servings from ¥700 or the monstrous Titan size from ¥1,400. They also host regular event nights, including an open mic stand up comedy night once a week.
Titans is far from the only craft beer bar in town. Another great spot to enjoy a locally brewed craft beer is Namachan Brewing, a short 100m walk from Otsuka station. This Japanese craft brewery offers a number of its own in-house beers along with guest beers on tap. Nama Chan is also famous for its signature smoked beer.
Where to Eat
For eating, the choices are incredibly varied and spread across the whole neighborhood. The Tokyo stalwart of Onigiri Bongo offers perhaps the best onigiri (Japanese rice balls with various different fillings) in the city with many people (both locals and visitors alike) flocking to this small family own establishment. Expect to queue.
Otsuka is also a neighborhood that counts many foreigners amongst its residents with Indian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese and Malaysian nationals making up a significant part of the multicultural feel. With its choices for Indian cuisine, Otsuka excels for options. One of the best is Yappari India, a small restaurant located on the second floor of a non-descript residential building a short walk from the Yamanote line station. This restaurant offers some of the most delicious and authentic Indian cuisine to be found this side of the Himalayas. It also includes a great selection of both meat and vegetarian options and is famous for its absolutely scrumptious cheese kulcha bread.
Last but not least, perhaps one of the most famous eating spots in the area is the tantanmen restaurant Nakiryu. This small and relatively unassuming ramen restaurant found down a small alleyway made international headlines when it was awarded a Michelin star in 2016. Nakiryu offers a truly sumptuous menu centred around its signature spicy tantanmen ramen. Worth a visit as this is perhaps the best value for money Michelin starred meal to be found anywhere in the world.
With all of its varied and interesting cultural and culinary spots to choose from, Otsuka has gone from being just another anonymous station on the Yamanote Line to fast becoming a truly unique cultural melting pot in the heart of the city.
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