Staying off the beaten path in Jiyugaoka

by Nano Betts
Stripes Japan
Whether you seek the traditional or the cutting edge, Tokyo seems to have it all. A skyline of neon-lit streets and vast high-rises harmoniously pair with pristine gardens and shrines offering spiritual retreat. While popular touristy spots like Harajuku or Shibuya are interesting destinations, perusing new places and spaces to see Tokyo off-the beaten track has become an obsession of mine ever since we moved here.
 
One of such ventures has brought me to the posh and trendy Jiyugaoka located in the southeastern part of Tokyo, within only 10-minute train ride from Shibuya yet away from the clamor of the city. Unfairly omitted from many guidebooks, this lovely district is often referred to as oshare na machi by the locals, which means “fashionable, stylish and sophisticated place.” It’s a very sought after district to live and this is a great place to see and meet the friendly locals.
 
 
The neighborhood is indeed full of life, yet it is not flooded by tourists. It is frequented mostly by Japanese in search of relaxing pastime. That makes the place so unique and turns it into an off-beat corner of the big metropolis.
 
Jiyugaoka has quickly become one of my favorite districts in Tokyo, perhaps because you are never short of discovering some new fascinating place as you peruse its narrow streets. It has a very relaxed weekend vibe and is an ideal place for a hassle-free afternoon jaunt. Marie Claire promenade is lined up with sakura trees. You can get yourself a little snack and enjoy it on one of the wooden benches, it’s a pleasant spot for people watching.
 
There are numerous boutiques, specialty shops, beauty salons and quirky cafés very much reminiscent of a small European town.
 
 
It is a perfect spot for (window) shopping for one-of-a-kind trendy clothes.
 
Don’t miss Today’s Special, a knickknack shop of sorts with very quaint atmosphere.
 
 
Their shelves are full of cool lifestyle merchandise, anything from specialty food and kitchenware to plants and personal care.
 
The truth is, you can leisurely browse the streets and intuitively stumble upon many fascinating spots that will grab your attention and lure you inside. I love scouting out gourmet specialty shops and stumbled upon one which was selling olive oil with truffle flavor as well as balsamic vinegar straight from Italy. Perfection!
 
As you peruse the streets you will spot a lot of dog-lovers in the neighborhood…
 
 
One of the biggest hidden gems of Jiyugaoka is its artificial Venice with real gondola! Honestly, I stumbled upon this place accidentally and I was taken aback.
 
 
Not too far away, an 800-year old tiny Kumano Shrine with a serene and mystic atmosphere.  It is amazing how many wonderful spots Tokyo is hiding in its nooks and crevices.
 
And of course, the neighborhood is a real heaven for food enthusiasts because it is dotted with numerous retro cafés as well as more traditional restaurants to satisfy any appetite. There are just so many wonderful little lanes and byways serving great food and coffee, in places like that you can’t really go wrong.
 
I stopped at Chanoko one day for a nice hearty curry lunch. This cozy little café has rustic, cabin-like feel to it and has been around since 1980! They actually pride themselves with their coffee roasts, although I opted for matcha during my visit. It was very good.
 
One of my biggest discoveries was certainly Kosoan, an old Japanese tea house tucked away behind a century-old wooden house.
 
A perfect place to indulge in authentic Japanese culture by savoring the finest matcha tea and exquisite wagashi while also admiring beautiful landscaping of a serene Japanese garden. If you are interested, you can read my full review here.
 
My partner in crime Mandy and I also hit super popular bistro Shutters that pride themselves for their succulent spareribs.
 
Menu also features variety of pasta dishes, salads and desserts all of which looked really appetizing. We ordered a refreshing and light and healthy spinach and bacon salad as a starter which came with very nice sesame dressing.
 
 
We chose soy sauce-based spareribs as a main meal. They were cooked beautifully being incredibly flavorful and juicy with just the right amount of succulent fat.
 
The meat came off the bones effortlessly and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Definitely a must-try!
 
Potato Cream is another local hot-spot. I mean, how can it not be? The mere thought of potato and cream combo makes my mouth water! I will make sure to write a full review very soon!
 
 
We tried Chicken Gorgonzola and boy it was scrumptious, a pure rich cheesy goodness. Read a full review of the place here.
 
In addition, everywhere you go there’s the scent of delicious sweets wafting through the air.
 
The place that attracts a lot of attention is Sweet Forest, a venue that houses a few dessert cafés and the décor looks like it’s straight from a story book.
 
If you are craving some more cuteness overload you can head to Peter Rabbit, café which is themed after the famous fairy tale!
 
 
Last but certainly not least, if you leave Jiyugaoka without trying BAKE’s freshly baked cheese tarts it will be the one of the biggest mistakes of your life!
 
Absolutely divine whiff of freshly baked tarts intoxicates and captivates your senses as soon as you enter.
 
The shop is a branch of the famous shop in Hokkaido. You can enjoy them on the spot or take a few home or do both! :P
 
 
I always bring home at least four to devour later. No exaggeration, the best cheese tarts ever!!!
 
If you want to see Tokyo beyond a typical cookie-cutter itinerary, then Jiyugaoka is certainly worth a visit. It is easily accessible by both the local and express train on the Tokyu-Toyoko line. And if you want even more, you can take a limited express train on Tokyu Toyoko Line from Jiyugaoka which will take you to Yokohama in only 20 minutes!

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