Things to do in Tokyo: Kagurazaka
Even though I lived in the Yokohama/Tokyo area for more than a few years, I learned a lot during our day-long tour and saw a lot of neat areas of Tokyo that I had maybe passed through but never really thought about when I was living there.
One of the places that we visited was Kagurazaka 神楽坂.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that I wouldn’t even have been able to read 神楽坂 before this trip. Basically the name means, a hill where you can hear the kagura. The kagura is a song or dance used to celebrate the gods.
Kagurazaka is a very fancy neighborhood with many traditional Japanese restaurants called ryoutei 料亭. Usually ryoutei serve fancy Japanese food in courses with a limited menu. Another feature of ryoutei is that they often employee actual Geisha to entertain their guests. @guideyu was telling me that during one of her small-group tours of the area they actually saw some geisha on the move. What a treat!
Many of the ryoutei in this area follow a strict policy of not letting any first-time customers in without an advanced invitation from a someone who is already a regular customer. This practice is called 一見さんお断り (ichigensan okotowari), and literally means, refuse those who appear for the first time.
There are not many places in Japan that continue to practice this tradition of keeping newcommers out. On this Japanese question and answer site someone is asking what the purpose of this was. The highest rated answer explains that basically, the practice was used to avoid trouble. The service at ryotei is top notch. The food is also excellent, and the prices are also extremely expensive. In order to perserve the quality of the experience for all of the customers, the owners want to be sure that all of the customers are well-behaved people that they can trust. If someone who has been introduced by someone else causes trouble, the shop can follow up with the person who made the introduction to resolve things. Apparently these days there are more of these shops in Kyoto than anywhere else in Japan.
Even if you don’t have an invitation to dine at a ryoutei, Kagurazaka is still a great area to visit. You can enjoy the old-style cobbled roads called ishidatami (石畳 いしだたみ), the traditional Japanese wooden architecture, and like I mentioned you may also get lucky and spot a real Geisha. The streets are so narrow that you’ll feel like you have discovered some sort of secret exclusive part of Tokyo to explore all on your own.
Kagurazaka was a great area. We ate at a shop called Daikonya, which is just a usual restaurant that does not follow the ichigensan okotowari policy of turning away newcomers. It was tasty! True to their name, Daikonya specializes in dishes that use daikon — and the use it very well. We also ordered a sashimi plate that was quite impressive. I would recommend Daikonya to anyone looking to have a fancy dinner in Tokyo.
Enjoy the photos!
Kagurazaka Wikipedia page
Mochi and Anko: and other Japanese sweets. Guest post by @GuideYu
Daikonya – gurunavi
Japanese Ryotei, the art of service. NYT 1997
Traditional Ryotei are in Danger. Japan Inc
Tiny Ryotei entry in Wikipedia