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A local’s guide to Yoyogi Uehara

By Lucy Dayman
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If you look at a map, it’d be easy to assume that the neighborhood of Yoyogi Uehara is a well-trodden inner-city thoroughfare, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Positioned between Shinjuku and Shibuya, two of Tokyo’s busiest areas, and with Yoyogi Park and Harajuku on the periphery, Yoyogi Uehara is a real estate agent’s dream location-wise. But in reality, the neighborhood's vibe couldn’t be more anti-big city living.

Yoyogi Uehara is its own little microcosm where local values are foundational, but a warm, welcoming attitude reigns supreme. Inspired in by its eclectic mix of recent residents and long-term locals, the suburb isn’t adverse to embracing new things while still maintaining a steadfast dedication to its traditional roots. It’s a place that will fill you with nostalgia even if it’s your first time visiting.

If you want to explore local Tokyo, then this is one of the best areas to do it. Here’s a guide on how to do it best.

EAT

Bien-Etre Patisserie

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

The Yoyogi Hachiman area is surrounded by embassies and is home to diplomats from across the globe. Because of this, over time the neighborhood has absorbed a clear appreciation for international cuisine and culture. Elegant little patisserie Bien-Etre is a perfect example of that. Taking its name from the French term that translates to fulfillment or well-being, Bien-Etre is a peaceful little escape just five minutes from Yoyogi Uehara station. The interior looks like the display for an elegantly minimalist European magazine photoshoot, while the patisserie’s new monthly parfaits are the cover stars.

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

As well as their famous parfaits, Bien-Etre also serves a variety of cakes, along with masterfully poured hand-drip coffee, all of which is available for takeaway too. It does get busy on the weekend, so it’s best to call and book ahead.

Hours: 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m., closed Sunday

Address: 1−21−10 1F, Uehara, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0064

Otaya Tofu Shop

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

Now for something a little more traditional. Take a two-minute walk east from Bien-Etre Patisserie, and you’ll come to Otaya Tofu Shop, a Yoyogi Uehara icon that’s been serving the community for over 85 years. While modern restaurants and mega shopping outlets engulf the neighboring Shibuya city center, it’s places like Otaya that make exploring the understated suburbs so exciting. Stumbling upon Otaya is like being given a little ticket to see a snippet of everyday local life in backstreet Yoyogi Uehara, a real side of Tokyo missed by those who are just passing through. The shop makes a variety of fresh, locally famous tofu on site. Pick up some tofu to take home, or grab some fried tofu to eat on the spot.

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Sunday

Address: 1-22-5 Uehara, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0064

Haritts

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

Built into the ground floor of a traditional-style Japanese house, tucked down a path that is more back-alley laneway than street, it's almost like Haritts doesn’t want to be found. Maybe Haritts' hidden location was a strategic move because they knew their product was so good, they had to make people work for it. A small donut bakery run by two sisters, the first incarnation of the shop was a mobile donut van which launched in 2004. By 2006 their reputation was so legendary they needed a physical store. Now, they also have a second Japan outpost in Nihonbashi and a secret store in Singapore, but the original is always the best. Chewy, not overly sweet, handmade with care and with a unique variety of flavors, Haritts are the poster children of donuts perfected. You can kick back in the minimalist cafe area, or if the place is busy take your donuts to go. But be strategic because there’s a limit of five donuts per person, and they’re typically sold out by mid-afternoon.

Hours: Wed - Fri 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat-Sun 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Address: 1-34-2 Uehara, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0064

DISCOVER

Daikokuyu

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Tucked behind a small network of backstreets and tired old family homes is Daikokuyu, the delightfully aging sento (public bath) complex that’s so retro it should be considered a national treasure. Remaining practically untouched since the Showa era (1926–1989) albeit with a few updated vending machines, Daikokuyu is a local institution, with a laundromat out the front and baths in the back. Woven into the regular routines of Yoyogi Uehara locals, it’s long been common practice to make a weekly visit to Daikokuyu to have a soak while you let your clothes do the same. By looking at the faded framed signatures and black and white photos that hang from the building’s beams both indoors and out, it’s fair to assume the owner is a bit of a boxing fan. You won’t find this place through Google, but it’s well worth hunting out. Tattoos are ok too.

Address: 3-24-5 Nishihara, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0066

The Mysterious Jizo Shrine

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

From Yoyogi Uehara, make your way toward Yoyogi Hachiman Station along Motoyoyogicho, and you’ll come to a 7-Eleven just before the train crossing. Take a left down the street before the 7-Eleven and you’ll find one of the area’s most mysterious little artifacts, a well-maintained dedication to the Jizo, protector of travelers and children, and one of Japan’s most well-loved deities. The legend of this site is not 100% certain, but local myth says that the statues were discovered in rice paddies decades ago, so nobody knows how old they are. There’s never any big fanfare or special events held here, but it is a popular site for people to visit to make a wish.

Address: 24 Motoyoyogicho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0062

PRAY

Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

Surprisingly spacious and flanked by towering trees, it’s hard to believe the logistics of Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine managing to fit into such a densely populated neighborhood. Sitting atop a hill — from which on a clear day you can see Roppongi — the shrine site is practically invisible from street level which is probably why it’s missed by so many tourists. The shrine is a sub-branch of Kamakura’s famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu established in 1212 and is a site where many Tokyoites come to pray for the health of their children and for safe childbirth. On the right side of Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine, you’ll find a smaller shrine, dedicated to getting promotions at work, making it (unsurprisingly) very popular with salarymen. Throughout the year, the shrine hosts a variety of festivals and traditional events including summer matsuri celebrations, coming-of-age day events, and occasionally weddings.

Address: 5-1-1, Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0053

Fukusenji Temple

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Photo: LUCY DAYMAN

Follow the main pathway towards Yoyogi Hachiman shrine, and before you arrive at its approach you’ll see to the right an inconspicuously secret-looking sliding door — this is the home of Fukusenji Temple. Contrary to the signals the closed door sends off, visitors are welcome to enter. Just beyond the lush green Japanese-style garden sits a cemetery, home to a family of tombstones and Jizo statues. Its architecture is relatively modern for a temple; that’s because it was burnt down during the war in 1945 and rebuilt in 1959. However, the history of the temple goes back to the early 1200s. Looking out across the cemetery, you’ll see the skyscrapers of Roppongi reaching tall in the distance.

Address: 5-2-1 Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0053

History buffs might get a kick out of this; this shrine and temple are were once home to an oceanside village during the ancient Jomon Period, over 4,500 years ago. Ruins of Jomon homes and old tools were discovered on this land in 1955 by local school children who were playing in the area. Near the shrine, you’ll find a small display retelling the story and a diagram showing what the site must have looked like all those years ago.

How to get there

Take the Odakyu line to Yoyogi Uehara Station, then walk northeast to Yoyogi Hachiman Station. You’ll find all these sites within a two-kilometer radius.

Fill out the survey to win a free tour of Yoyogi Uehara

Japan Today, in collaboration with tour company Ellista and Odakyu Electric Railway, is offering two readers the chance to win a group tour for up to four people of Yoyogi Uehara. A knowledgeable local guide will take you around all of the places mentioned above, giving you a unique, behind-the-scenes taste of this charming slice of Tokyo.

Take the two-minute survey below for a chance to win!

Click here.

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