Stuck in the middle of tourist hotspots such as Tokyo Station, Ginza, and Akihabara, it would be easy to overlook Kanda (神田). A modest business district on the JR and Ginza lines, Kanda is primarily an office area, and by day you will see men and women in suits rushing around, trying to make it on time for the next meeting.
This part of the town never makes it onto the lists of top ten things to do in Tokyo, and it's rare to speak to someone travelling in the city who has even heard of Kanda. However, to sample the authentic culture of everyday working people in Japan, I can think of few better places.
What really makes Kanda special is the incredible number of places to eat and drink that caters for Kanda’s workforce. As soon as you step out of the station at either the north-east or south-west exits, you are in a maze of small streets packed with traditional restaurants and izakayas.
If you go for lunch, you can take your pick from udon, ramen, sashimi, local food from around Japan, and many other types of Japanese cuisine. In terms of food, Kanda has everything. It even has its fair share of foreign dining places.
When you sit down to eat, it’s a great place to people-watch, and see the genuine day-to-day lives of Tokyo’s business people. If you go into any eatery around midday or 1pm, you are likely to see groups of suited salarymen and women, deeply involved in a work discussion, or even solitary people staring into their bowls of steaming rice, contemplating the rest of their working day.
With the surrounding areas hosting high-end shopping and dining, or being tourist hubs, they tend to be quite expensive. Kanda, on the other hand, is in general a very reasonably priced area, and you can expect to pay around ¥800 for lunch, and not much more for dinner.
It is at night, though, that Kanda really comes alive. From Monday to Friday, it is an excellent place for people to unwind, and if you are a visitor, one of the best spots in Tokyo to sample a Japanese night out. The small, winding alleys are lined with people shouting their encouragements for you to enter their establishments.
After working hours, the izakayas and yakitori places fill up quickly, and whichever place you choose to go into, there will be a boisterous, noisy atmosphere. I still find it exciting to be in one of these places at night with everyone letting their hair down, and watch as the waitresses somehow keep up with the continuous orders being shouted at them from multiple tables at a time. And when you’re done eating, you don’t have to go far to see bright, neon カラオケ (karaoke) signs if you want to continue your night out.
One of the best yakitori places I have been to in Japan is in Kanda. Akiyoshi has a high reputation in these parts, and you’ll often see a queue outside. You order the juicy chicken skewers five at a time, and the idea is to eat them all in one bite! To be honest, they’re so tasty, before you know it you could be on your 30th skewer.
As well as being guaranteed good food, Kanda hosts many drinking establishments. Next to the station, if you follow the tracks back towards Shin-Nihombashi, you can find standing bars, a staple of Japanese salaryman nightlife. Due to their size, these places are often very busy, so it might be difficult to enter, but once you get inside one it’s worth the hassle.
The area also hosts its share of good craft beer bars. DevilCraft has an ever growing reputation for the beer it serves, with 15 on tap, and it does excellent pizzas (beer and pizza, what a combination!). There is a Craft Beer Market not far from the station either.
One bar I’d particularly like to recommend, though, is a small place called Beer Animal, which is on 中央通り(Chuo Dori) near the station. It regularly changes its excellent six craft brews, and a glass will only cost you ¥500. It has welcoming staff, and serves some pretty good American food.
With it being a business area, Kanda is fairly quiet on the weekends, but if you have some time during the week, it’s well worth a visit.