When looking on a map of Tokyo, it is common for people to see Ueno, Akihabara, Tokyo, Shinbashi along the Yamanote line. It is often the places in between that are overlooked. It’s unsurprising that this small area has been skipped, even by me, for many years. It isn’t the most interesting place to visit, and for the average tourist, there isn’t much to bring them in. For a resident and those looking for something new in the area, this is another secret of Tokyo that deserves a look. To get your bearings, grab a map and look for Jimbocho, Kanda, and Ochanomizu. Draw a circle with these stations as the outer border and you have the area that I will talk about. It is bordered by Akihabara in the north-east, Tokyo in the south, and Kudanshita in the west. It’s a quiet area with a few universities and secrets around every corner.
Personally, I find starting at Ochanomizu to be the easiest point. It helps that the station is located at the top of a hill too. If you head north of the station itself, you will find yourself quickly swallowed up by Akihabara. The train tracks provide a “natural” barrier between Akihabara and the area I’d call Ochanomizu. Along the south, you will see a very interesting mix. Generally, most of the buildings are smaller due to the old height restrictions of the area. In the past, buildings were not allowed to be built too tall or else they would encroach on the Imperial Palace. All buildings were forbidden to have views into the inner palace grounds. This was changed in recent times as evidenced in Marunouchi these days. Ochanomizu is on a hill that overlooks the Imperial Palace, so many of the buildings near the station, especially the old ones, are somewhat shorter. This allows a little more light into the area compared to some areas of Tokyo. A little south of the station stands the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. It is a Russian Orthodox Church that was originally built in 1891 and restored after a massive earthquake in the 1920s. The exterior is not as magnificent as a renaissance church, but it is still nice. I hear that the inside is also interesting, but for 300 yen to enter, I wasn’t about to pay for a church when I’m in Tokyo.
If you head down the hill, you quickly reach Awajicho. It’s a small nearly no name station, but it’s a good reference to find your bearings. Around this station, on the main street, you will find the centre of sports goods in Tokyo. Between Awajicho and Jimbocho, you will find dozens of different sporting goods shops. Many are large, but most are small. The specialty has to be skiing and snowboarding, with golfing being the second biggest. You will find shops dedicated to skateboarding, and a few to running, but those tend to be far and few between. If you are searching for a new pair of skiis, a new snowboard, or some new golf clubs, this is the place to be. If you are looking for a cheap deal, you are probably not going to find it though. While this is a place for sports goods, you are unlikely to find the best deals in the world, but to do your shopping in one specific place, this is the easiest place.
If you continue along towards Jimbocho, you will reach an area called Kanda Jimbocho, which is the old book shop capital of Tokyo. It’s the place to be if you are looking for rare Japanese books, or first editions. It’s a nice place to take an afternoon stroll and you will see the various scrolls and relatively unbound books. Unfortunately, there aren’t many foreign books, so unless you are looking for Japanese books, you probably won’t be able to buy much. For the foreign resident, this area can yield some cheap English books if you are willing to look around. You can easily get a sense of the amount of literature in the area by the sheer number of book stores in the area. If you are looking for magazines, you are unlikely to find it, and if you are looking for modern books, you may not find it either. It’s definitely a place to enjoy history. If you return towards Ochanomizu, you will also find a small area called the music instrument capital of Tokyo. It’s a small area where you can get any musical instrument you can imagine, and I’m sure you can also get it tuned if you want. These are all generally small shops, so the service can be spotty for foreigners without a firm grasp of Japanese.
Finally, you can head over towards Kanda station itself. Kanda station is a small, yet very busy station. It is here where you can find all of the small shops to eat. It’s a typical business area where you can see various Pachinko parlors and small yakiniku shops. It probably gets very noisy on Friday nights with various businessmen joining for a few too many drinks at the station before going home. In the afternoon, you might be lucky to find a few coffee shops, but if you are looking for a cheap meal, you can probably find one here, compared to Otemachi in the south. The main clientele of the area are the ordinary businessmen, so you can expect all of the shops to be geared towards these people. Don’t expect high class in the area, but as in any other area of Tokyo, you will definitely find something high class in the area.
This region is an area that is not often in guidebooks, and there is a reason for it. It’s a wonderful place for a stroll, and there are many places to do your shopping if you are interested in any of the main types of goods that are sold. In my research, I have read that some of the shops may be unfriendly to foreigners, but this is probably due to the language barrier and their laziness to try to make a sale. They more than likely cater to their core customers as any small shop would. Trying to sell one item to a foreigner versus 50 items to a regular customer, it’s easy to see who would get more attention. It is unfortunate, but that’s how many businesses in the world operate. If you want to spend your money on any of the things mentioned, there are far friendlier areas to get them, and they are usually more convenient too. The differences in prices won’t be huge either, and when you factor in the cost of transport, it can be the same price. If anything, if you have some extra time in Tokyo, by all means, take a nice afternoon stroll from Ochanomizu to Tokyo station. You’ll enjoy the beautiful diversity of the area, if you are careful enough to look for it.
Holy Resurrection Cathedral:
Japan Atlas: http://web-japan.org/atlas/architecture/arc07.html
Official Site (English): http://www.geocities.jp/ynicojp2/english/index.html
Official Site (Japanese): http://www.geocities.jp/ynicojp2/index.html