Historically, Kagurazaka was located on the outskirts of the Edo Palace. The nearby canal was once part of the moat surrounding the palace. Much of it has changed and modernized since then, but there are few remnants of its past lingering around. One such area is Hyogo Yokocho, a cobblestone alleyway filled with ryōtei. It can be accessed through a very narrow entrance from the main street.
Ryōtei are known for high-end traditional Japanese food. These restaurants are a great place for kaiseki, which is a multi-course meal that’s typically very expensive. Also in the area is a ryokan, or inn, which takes up a significant portion of the small block. The ryokan, Wakana Inn, was built in 1954 and had been the temporary home to several famous writers, including the film director and screenwriter Yoji Yamada, best known for It’s Tough Being a Man and his samurai film trilogy.
The back alleys and traditional Japanese architecture are reminiscent of Memoirs of Geisha
In the late 1700s Kagurazaka became a hanamachi, a geisha district, an area rich with tea houses and exorbitant ryōtei. The back alleys and traditional Japanese architecture are reminiscent of Memoirs of Geisha, although it is important to note that it portrayed the geisha lifestyle erroneously. Modern day geisha entertainment involves drinking games, dance performances, singing, and playing instruments.
Unfortunately, much of Kagurazaka was destroyed during World War II, but it was shortly rebuilt and the area bloomed with prosperity. That was the height of hanamachi, which has since died down as historical Japan shifted to a more modern age. However, you may catch some geisha hurrying to their ryōtei before the evening starts, with their shiny black hair pulled back into an exquisite up-do.
Places of Interest:
Famous for their anmitsu dessert, Kinozen has been around since 1948. Their signature dish is “Green Tea Bavarian Cream” featuring matcha flavored pudding, fresh raw cream, and adzuki paste. They have seasonal sweets, which varies greatly depending on the season. Strawberries in the spring, chestnuts in the fall, and kakigōri in the summer. If you’re not in the mood for sweets, there’s a handful of savory dishes as well.
No relation to the late 80s anime of the same name, Hajimeno Ippo is the first restaurant in Japan to serve garlic in such a fashion. There is a second location also in Kagurazaka simply named Hajimeno Ippo 2. It is essentially a fusion restaurant that embellishes Italian food with a bit of a Japanese flair. The garlic used comes from the Tianba forest in the Aomori Prefecture, and it is referred to as “Fukuchi White Six Pieces”. It is the highest ranked of all the garlic species in the world.
Even if you’ve never been to Kagurazaka before, you might have seen this place making the rounds on the internet. Hanten is well-known for its giant dumpling eating challenge. That isn’t the only challenge though. There is also a plate of 100 gyoza, a large bowl of soup, and a huge plate of fried rice. Not everyone goes there to be challenged, so Hanten also has normal sized dishes of a variety of Chinese foods.