Kagurazaka: a Charming Mix of Europe and Old Japan
Boulangeries, pâtisseries, French cafés, Italian restaurants, cobblestone streets… no, I’m not talking about Europe!
In the heart of Tokyo city, not far from the Imperial Palace, lies a very unique town called Kagurazaka, or what some like to call, Little France. While the area has not completely converted into a replica of France, there’s no doubting the European charm you feel as you wander through the labrynth of narrow backstreets. On a warm, sunny day, it’s the perfect place to explore and get lost in! Then, as the sun sets over the city, the street lamps flicker on and the whole neighbourhood turns on that cozy, old-world feel.
Surprisingly, Kagurazaka actually used to be a thriving geisha district. More than 200 geisha would perform dances and tea ceremonies, and serve food and drinks at banquet parties. These days, it is one of the few surviving geisha districts in Japan with about 30 geisha still actively working. It’s almost impossible to see these ladies, but if you have the finances or know the right people, you may be able to arrange a visit from them at one of the high-class venues in the area.
After WWII, as the geisha houses started to decline, French schools like L’Institut français du Japon started to pop up. The area steadily grew into the French quarter, and you’ll now find French restaurants, cake shops, schools, libraries and shops nestled among the Japanese businesses.
One of my favourite places in Kagurazaka is a crêpe restaurant called Café Crêperie La Bretagne. All the way from France’s northwest, they make original, buckwheat flour galettes as well as dessert crêpes. You can’t go past a delicious ham and egg galette or a scrumptious crêpe suzette. Don’t forget to order yourself a cup of authentic cidre! The waiters all speak French and even sing Joyeux Anniversaire to diners celebrating their birthday. I’ve been numerous times and always notice plenty of French customers here – always a good sign!
A great summer hangout spot is the Canal Café, a boat club that sits on the edge of a small waterway. The canal used to be part of the outermost moat of the Imperial Palace, most of which has been filled in. The Canal Café popular among visitors to Japan, so the prices match accordingly, but I love the relaxed but sophisticated vibe they have. It reminds me of the café culture in Western countries where people sit outside to drink, eat and chat.
A bakery that I return to every time I’m in Kagurazaka is the French chain, Paul. I can’t resist their apricot danishes, crispy croissants and sweet lemon tarts. Grab a seat inside to really soak up the feel of a Parisian Café!
If you’ve got a few hours to spare, make sure you come to Kagurazaka and spend some time strolling through the quaint alleys. You might just come across your own hidden gem!