Photo:すしぱく on Pakutaso

The Nakameguro Strip – A Cherry Blossom Hotspot with Trendy Shops and Cafes Aplenty

You never step into the same river twice is no truer for the ever changing Meguro River that runs through and defines Nakameguro. The area has gone through many incarnations from Edo times when Tokyo was a river city bustling with commerce and trade along the many rivers that crossed it. A history that is now literally buried beneath your feet since the water city was reimagined in a more modern sensibility and many rivers were paved over. But the stretch of river through Nakameguro remains and now more than 800 cherry blossom trees line it, as do a number of trendy fashion stores, cafes, book shops, bars and restaurants. It has become a vibrant hanami hotspot where the cherry blossom trees planted in the 80’s now arch over the river side streets forming a full canopy of pink petals that flower and trickle down during Spring.

The section from the Nakano Bridge to Komazawa Dori along Meguro River is divided by 10 small bridges and could be called the "Nakame Strip". The bars, restaurants and various shops are mostly concentrated here and form the lively pulse of Nakameguro.

The first half of the Nakame Strip begins with the flagship Nakameguro Starbucks Reserve and although this massive franchise may seem at odds with the slight counterculture artsy vibe of the area, it is an impressive establishment with an historic wooden aesthetic captured in modern minimal Japanese architecture. True to the Nakameguro feel, there is a captivating theatre to the coffee making process with tubes running from the coffee storage tank to the roast – something like a caffeinated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Well worth a peek inside for the wow factor alone and soaking up the atmosphere over a coffee would satisfy most. Just adjacent is Mega Don Quixote, the perennial go-to store for all your odds and ends. The eclectic range of big and small discounted items is a consumer candy store that would invariably contain something to pique your interest. Moving on down past French branded fashion stores, hairdressers and cafes, one gets a European feel of elegance and sophistication before the Strip returns to more traditional Japanese roots with kimonos and other Japanese wear at Naka and Kapuki fashion stores. Cowbooks is down a bridge further and is known for its counterculture edge including a healthy dose of Beat literature that would make Burroughs and Kerouac proud. There is an interesting collection of out-of-print books from the 60’s and 70’s alongside tomes of protest movement, Black power, hippies and psychedelica that you can hold, touch and have flash-back memories of a by-gone age now gone digital.

The next section of the Nakame Strip starts with some more cafes before getting into food and drink including the little Mexican bar Baja just a tad down the street off the river. A hole-in-the-wall dive bar favorite with tasty 350 yen tacos alongside 500 yen drinks topped with an ambience of groovy tunes and a colorful bar collage adorning the walls. A little can lead a long way in this cozy spot that is a great place to chill with a few friends and hole up for a minute before venturing further along. The Nakame Strip continues past perfume and incense, plants, coffee and cheesecake before a the bar scene emerges. Aloha Table is a Hawaiian Cafe Bar as the name suggests created in the image of tropical calm with palm trees where a group can drink and snack on tasty Hawaiian cuisine. Pavilion is close by nestled under the tracks with trendy eye-catching decor and installations. The art bar celebrates art and creative culinary arrangements born from a clay-oven that can be washed down by a decent selection of inviting libations.

The thing about the Nakame Strip is that there are many places that you could feel at home and stop for a while depending on the time of day and what took your fancy. If you were to survey all shops and bars on the Strip and mix them all up, you would have quite a cocktail with about 8.5 cups of coffee, 11 spoonfuls of French branded fashion with a splash of kimono, 3 parts hair stylist, a small but strong dash of the literary, and finally a solid base of about 17 healthy servings of bar and restaurants of all types. Something like a strong caffeinated cocktail served in a fashionable glass with a counterculture literary edge to it.

Despite the Nakame Strip being a notable hub of activity, there are also historic sites to see close by such as Black-eyed Fudo (Meguro-Fudo) statue, one of the 5 deity protectors of Edo now known as Tokyo, stationed at the Ryusenji Temple from where Nakameguro derives its name, and also many other restaurants and bars throughout the Nakameguro area to seek out and enjoy. Yet the river walk through Nakameguro alone is well worth it. There are plenty of places to stop in to rest and refresh along the way and nice little surprises to be found down labyrinthine alleys that shoot off roads along the river. Many things have changed in Nakameguro over its long history, but its allure remains. 

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