Photo:星出 拓海 on Wikimedia Commons

Why Ochanomizu, Tokyo is a Worthy Spot on Your Next Itinerary

With a mix of culture and leisure, Ochanomizu provides a dynamic life-space teeming with students and non-students that differs from popular commerce-heavy centers like Shinjuku and neighboring Akihabara. While the area housed many feudal lords and their samurai for centuries, Ochanomizu has primarily been a university town since the late 1800s with the construction of Meiji University, Nihon University, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and more. As such, Ochanomizu has much to offer visitors, in the form of inexpensive Indian curry eateries, religious sites, and a street lined with musical instrument shops.

Photo by Sekicho on Wikimedia Commons

Whether your Ochanomizu day is on a weekday or weekend, I recommend starting at Ochanomizu JR station, located on the Chuo-Sobu and Chuo lines, or Shin-Ochanomizu metro station which lies on the Chiyoda Line.

If you are in the mood for spirituality, I recommend heading out the Hijiribashi Exit (JR) where you will find Yushima Seido across the Hijiri Bridge. This Confucian temple was relocated to its present location in 1690 and rebuilt in the 1930s following its destruction during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Highlights include the Daiseidan Main Building where several eminent Confucian scholars are celebrated, including Confucius who is honored in the form of a bronze statue claimed by some to be the largest in the world. After your walk around the temple grounds, backtrack across the bridge to Nikolaido, the main cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in Japan. Completed in 1891 and reconstructed at the end of the 1920s after the aforementioned earthquake damaged its spectacular domed roofs, Nikolaido is today an important religious site and reminder of the cultural contact between Japan and the West. Yushima Seido and Nikolaido tend to have few visitors so they make for great places to start your day in Ochanomizu. After your brief trips into the area’s distant past, trace your steps back to the JR station for the next leg of your visit.

When you arrive at Hijiribashi Exit, continue walking down the road along the length of the JR track to the other side of the station. In a few minutes, you will wind up at the Ochanomizubashi Exit where you will find Meidai-Dori, a street lined with musical instrument stores on both sides. Whether you are into playing classical or jazz, rock or blues, or just interested in taking a peek, you will discover large and small specialty and general shops adorned with rows of gleaming instruments. Pop inside to sample local and international brands or enjoy the myriad of melodies from your sidewalk stroll. 

Continuing down Meidai-Dori, you will pass two prestigious universities on opposite sides of the street. Meiji and Nihon Universities, founded in 1881 and 1889, respectively, offer visitors a chance to see a fluid combination of architectural styles that mix new and old. Watch undergraduate and graduate students come and go from campus and experience an area brimming with dynamism different from tourist heavy centres in the rest of the city. While some students leave school and walk to the station, others are on their way to grab a bite to eat nearby at one of the many inexpensive food and drink options. 

If Indian food sounds tempting, keep walking along Meidai-Dori away from the station to find numerous restaurants serving an assortment of curries and naan. Outside of many of these restaurants, as is the case at many eateries throughout the country, you can see menu items recreated in realistic plastic molds to help narrow down your options. In case you have not built up enough of an appetite for a meal and are looking instead for a coffee and small snack, I recommend finding a seat at one of the small coffee houses nearby. The history of coffee in Japan is a long one and this area is a veteran when it comes to small cafes tucked away in its backstreets.

Check out Sabouru, a cafe built in 1955 with an eclectic exterior which includes a totem pole and rustic façade. The outside gives a sampling of what awaits within: a country house-style feel with walls covered in graffiti, masks, and more. Enjoy a great cup of coffee and a sandwich as you try to decipher the scribbles that customers have left over the decades. 

The Indian restaurants and coffee houses signal the end of Ochanomizu and the beginning of Jinbocho, an area teeming with new and used bookstores, and a perfect way to end your tour of the area. If the day is still young and your energy high, I definitely recommend continuing your outing with an exploration of Jinbocho. Should you be ready to move elsewhere, the Jinbocho metro station, which sits at the intersection of the Mita, Shinjuku, and Hanzomon Lines, is a short walk away. 

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