Take a sigh of relief because you’re in Nerima. Venture just 20-30 minutes away from central Tokyo by train into the tranquil streets of this local neighborhood and you’ll experience a slice-of-life side of the city made for a day of urban exploration.
The residential area located in the northwestern metropolis surely can’t compare to the babes in the limelight of central Tokyo like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Yet Nerima’s allure lies in what isn’t: crowded, cramped or flashy. The majority of local spots I’ll introduce are not found in the Tokyo guidebooks or even other travel sites and are perfect for a Saturday soul search or Sunday-Funday.
Background and Sightseeing
Out of Tokyo’s 23 wards, Nerima is the fifth largest by square kilometers. Despite that, its only popular areas are Oizumi and Hikarigaoka — yes, you’ve guessed it right, most people don’t think of Nerima as a place to visit unless they actually live there or know someone who does. However, this is certainly not because Nerima lacks gems, but probably because it has been too quiet and modest. Until now at least.
Nerima’s allure lies in what isn’t: crowded, cramped or flashy.
Nerima’s biggest claim to fame is that Japanese animation production was born here. Indeed, Nerima-based production headquarters were pioneers: Toei Animation made Japan’s first anime feature film, The Tale of the White Serpent (白蛇伝, Hakujaden), and in 1958 Mushi Production made Japan’s first anime series for TV, the massively popular Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム, Tetsuwan Atomu). Now, fans go to Oizumi-gakuen station’s Oizumi Anime Gate — a classic-anime hall of fame, and rumor has it that even Doraemon, Japan’s beloved character from the future, holds a residence in Nerima.
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After anime, Nerima doesn’t have many major ties to pop culture, besides the curious Japanese hip-hop group hailing from there. (Though I cannot say the full name — it rhymes with Nerimather-tuckers!) I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Aside from anime spots, visitors to Nerima can also enjoy Toshimaen, a peculiar retro theme park with a large water park, and oddly enough, a full-size golden retriever in its petting zoo. In winter, the park is gorgeously illuminated, attracting quite a few visitors and anime fans who come in cosplay to do photoshoots.
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Next to Toshimaen is one of the few onsen in the Tokyo metro area with actual spring water, Toshimaen Niwa No Yu, which is conveniently located just a 15-minute walk from Nerima station.
© Photo by Toshimaen Niwa No Yu
In spring, Shakujii Park and Hikarigaoka Park are lovely (and less crowded) spots to view the stunning cherry blossoms.
In the background of all these relatively known locations hide Nerima’s ultra-local hidden gems that are worth a visit. In other words, if Nerima were a sitcom character, it’d be the dorky girl with the good personality that gets hot when she takes off her glasses — by conventional standards, its sexiness is not in the immediate exteriors.
Foodie Wonderland and Nightlife
With a lack of shopping and fashion, Nerima trades that for a great food selection, greenspace and local shops.
Start your Nerima journey at Chuo Street just outside Nerima station, a pedestrian street that serves as the main food area near the station. A walk through here and its surrounding backstreets takes you to a number of other dining and drinking destinations in the area. There are all your favorites: izakaya, yakitori and yakiniku, sushi, noodles and a family-owned tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) shop, to name a few restaurants, as well as the nearby Nerimaotori Shrine.
Moving away from there, the Nerima City Office building (a six-minute walk from the station) is just about the only outstanding building in the area. You might think this is rather sad, but wait till you visit. Head up to the 20th floor to the observation area and take photos or dine at its Nerima Tembodai Restaurant with the best view in town (okay, at least in Nerima).
Back on the ground are two interesting nightlife spots. If you blink, you’ll miss the fun-sized standing bar Chu-hai Stand Renya from a local business owner who, in addition to being super nice, also speaks a bit of English. Order the smooth-tasting and highly recommended oolong-chu made by soaking imported Taiwanese tea leaves in shochu.
Just down the street from that is an English Jazz Bar (Cafe 52), a place that mixes melody with language exchange and bilingual nightlife. This is a surefire way to meet some locals who want to speak in English while sharing a drink or two.
A stroll southwest from there reveals pockets of fresh air in Nerima’s parks, community gardens, grape vineyards and garden cafes.
Meandering past mini-shrines and residential homes get you to Garden Square — one of Nerima’s most beautiful venues with relaxation potential through the roof. With vines growing up the two-story building, this secret garden defines the term “hiding in plain sight.” Walk right in past the hanging plants, even if you’re not dining.
During the spring, you can feast on fresh pasta and sip wine while enjoying the cherry blossoms from the second-floor view at LaVentura, or on a crisp autumn evening, partake in a quiche, panini of the day and homemade melon soda float while basking in the garden terrace at Cafe Felice.
Garden Square is typically a crowd-free optimal hangout, and they even have free wifi. It is a 20-minute walk from Nerima station, or a 10-minute walk from Toritsu-Kasei station via the Seibu Shinjuku line.
Nerima has a second garden cafe. Shibuya Engei is a large garden center where you can buy potted flowers and plants big and small. The accompanying cafe, Jugen, offers fresh take cakes, parfaits, pasta and pizza as you partake out on the outdoor patio or in the rustic wooden interior.
As an aside, another unique cafe to Nerima (if you don’t mind cigarette smoke though!) is Cafe Andes, a Showa Era coffee shop where the walls are lined with antique books, comics and magazines.
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Variety of imported food and drinks
A few more surprises are still in store while heading back to the station area. Nerima has a small but deep pocket of import stores and fare.
A little out of the way, but well worth it, is the Italian import shop called Enoteca Alice tucked away on a backstreet. It has a selection of over 600 bottles of wine, imported pasta (that will remind you what real pasta tastes like) and a deli with a wide range of cheese, olives and meats. If you want an immediate pasta fix, you can always go to the restaurant next door.
© Photo by Doluca Mahsen
Just a minute from the station is Doluca Mahsen, a Turkish kitchen and bar locally operated by a Turkish gentleman and his Japanese wife. Both of them speak English, but even if they didn’t, the food — from the lamb meat grilled to perfection to the stuffed grape leaves to the baklava — is completely authentic and a paradise of spice that speaks your language regardless of where you come from. If you like Mediterranean, go here.
On the other side of the station is Ridente, a bottle and import shop with a cafe in the mornings and afternoons. They offer wines from France, Germany, Australia, South African, as well as unique cheese and more. One of my favorite items here (because I’ve been in Japan long enough to start missing American stuff) is A&W Root Beer sold by the can.
I can’t let you leave Nerima without baiting you on its fishing culture right in the middle of the big city.
Catch and Eat is a restaurant where you dine on seafood karaage and tempura — after you catch it. Go fishing in the small pool for ¥1,000 an hour and then eat it on the spot after the chef cooks it up for you.
One-coin Fishing Hole is a unique indoor “fishing” spot in the middle of the city and a local favorite. Here you can pay “one coin” to put in a bobber and catch some goldfish. The atypical goldfishing experience will probably make a great conversation piece for later.
Last but not least, the Toshimaen Fishing Area is a place you shouldn’t miss, if you’re into this kind of thing. Remember that theme park that doubles as a water park, Toshimaen? If you ever wondered what it would be like if, on the offseason of a water park, they turned it into a fishing pond, well, you can experience just that here. Pay a fee and rent gear to go fishing without ever leaving the city. Worth it for those curious kids like me.
Now, go explore Nerima for yourself, and find your version of the city. If you discover some other lively spots, or you tried one listed here, let us know in the comments below!
Nerima station is easily accessed by the Seibu Ikebukuro line, Seibu Yurakucho line, Seibu Toshima line, as well as the Toei Oedo Line subway. That is why you can access it from a surprising amount of major stations without even changing trains: just seven minutes from Ikebukuro by express train, 18 minutes from Shinjuku and half an hour from Shibuya and Roppongi.
- Oizumi Anime Gate: 1-28 Higashioizumi, Nerima, Tokyo
- Toshimaen: 3-25-1 Koyama, Nerima, Tokyo
- Toshimaen Niwa No Yu: 3-25-1 Koyama, Nerima, Tokyo
- Shakujii Park: Shakujiidai, Nerima, Tokyo
- Hikarigaoka Park: 2 Chome Hikarigaoka, Nerima, Tokyo
- Chu-hai Stand Renya: 6-14-2 Toyotama-kita, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- English Jazz Bar (Cafe 52): 6-14-3 Toyotama-kita, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Garden Square (LaVentura, Cafe Felice): 1-27 Nakamuraminami, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Shibuya Engei: 4-11-22 Toyotama-naka, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Cafe Andes: 5-17-9 Toyotamakita, Nerima, Tokyo
- Enoteca Alice: 1-2-4 Nakamura-kita, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Doluca Mahsen: 1A, 1-6-18 Nerima, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Ridente: 5-18-10 Toyotama-naka, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Catch and Eat: 1-35-1-106 Nerima, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- One-coin Fishing Hole: 4-21-1 Sakuradai, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
- Toshimaen Fishing Area: 3-25-1 Koyama, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
The post A Slice of Life in Nerima, The Tokyo Neighborhood You Probably Don’t Know appeared first on Savvy Tokyo.