Kita-Senju is a lesser-known neighborhood on the outskirts of the city which offers a quieter, more residential, yet perhaps more authentic experience within the limits of Tokyo. Originating as an Edo-period postal town (the neighborhood had one of the first post offices in the Edo era), Kita-Senju is located in Northeastern Tokyo and maintains a quaint, local charm, despite its more recent attractiveness to foreigners and tourists. Kita-Senju offers many lesser-known temples, ramen shops, craft beer bars, and university campuses, making it worthwhile for the approximate half-hour trip from Tokyo city center, especially if you are looking to explore a new part of the city for an afternoon or evening. Most importantly, it’s ridiculously easy to spend the day in Kita-Senju for less than ¥1,000, depending on how much you want to eat and drink!
The Cheese Tart Craze
Once you arrive at Kita-Senju station, which is served by almost all of the major train lines including the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda and Hibiya Lines, the JR Joban Line, the Tobu Isezaki Line, and the Tsukuba Express, I would suggest you start with a light breakfast (or brunch!) of one of the most recently iconic Japanese crazes, the humble cheese tart. Partially sweet and partially salty, the cheese tart is a uniquely Japanese take on incorporating the best ingredient Hokkaido offers, dairy, with an international component, the tart, to create a new, refined Japanese dessert favorite. Neither cheese nor tarts are technically traditionally included in Japanese cuisine, however, Japan commonly adopts foreign products and refines them to create new inventions, in this case, a lovely, buttery pastry. One of the first bakeries to create and sell cheese tarts originated in Hokkaido, but fortunately, has a branch within Kita-Senju station. Aptly named Bake Cheese Tart, this stall often has long lines but its tarts are well worth the hype, given their promise of the original Hokkaido quality. The branch in Kita-Senju is lesser known and therefore usually has a lesser crowd for the same delicious tarts. One pastry will run you around ¥200 yen, but it’s difficult to eat just one! Cheese tarts have grown into a huge trend in the past few years, especially in Tokyo, so it’s best to at least try one, and why not at a lesser-known, yet still authentic location?
Off the Radar
Once you try the iconic cheese tart, take the time to explore some of the lesser-known (and most likely empty) temples in Kita-Senju. Although there isn’t very much in the area which is obviously from the Edo Period, Kita-Senju actually has a Kosatsuba Edo Period notice board at the historical entrance of the town which used to list announcements and other notices from as early as the 1600s. Another unique aspect of Kita-Senju is that the famous Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho, was said to have referenced this area in his epic “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” in 1967. Whether you are interested in history, literature, or religion, I suggest you check out one or more of the many ancient temples in the area. The temples which have survived from World War II (some, but certainly not all) include Genchoji Temple, Shosenji Temple, Konzoji Temple, Myojoji Temple, Senju Jinja, and Jogoji Temple, among others and all easily located on smartphone maps and directions apps. Consider walking around the neighborhood and looking for each temple, usually hidden between or behind more modern structures and quiet, if not deserted. Plus, there are many narrow streets in Kita-Senju which are reminiscent of “shitamachi,” or Japan’s old Edo neighborhoods, yet starkly contrasting with more recent architectural and social developments.
Kita-Senju has a disproportionately higher number of parks and outdoor spaces than most other places in Tokyo. Take advantage of the outdoorsy opportunities in this neighborhood and head to the Seju-Ohashi Bridge, which is a historical bridge on the Sumida River, where the aforementioned Haiku poet actually began his historic journey. Don’t let the quietness of the area dissuade you, this bridge is a landmark from the Edo period and you can cycle across it if the weather is nice enough! After checking out this bridge, head over to the banks of the Arakawa River, which is 173 kilometers long and runs all the way to Tokyo Bay. This river accounts for approximately 80% of Tokyo’s entire tap water supply and is considered a “sister river” to the Potomac River in the United States. More importantly, the riverbed has long since become a local spot for leisure and relaxation. There are baseball fields, soccer pitches, picnic tables, and running and cycling trails all near the river’s edge which has recently become very popular, especially on clear, sunny days. Pack a picnic and blanket and relax in the grass near the water to enjoy the river and views offered in this quiet spot.
Craft Dinner and Drinks
When you are finished being outdoors, it’s time for authentic dinner and local beer to end the evening. Typically, I suggest a few cheap food options in each area, but for Kita-Senju, I can recommend only one place, which has possibly the best ramen in the world! Called Matador Honten Ramen (or, in Japanese, 牛骨らぁ麺マタドール まぜそば専門 闘牛脂) this little shop only has about ten seats and almost always has a line, but is well worth the wait! Specializing in beef shoyu ramen, this little shop is definitely one-of-a-kind and makes a perfect, uniquely meaty ramen. If you don’t like beef, don’t worry! They have many other kinds of ramen and other dishes, and even include pictures on the self-pay machine so you don’t have to blindly guess. Once you finish your ramen, if you have any extra yen to spend, I suggest stopping by Beer-Ma and checking out their enormous (and affordable!) beer selection, including 10 taps at any given time. They rotate the taps regularly and almost always include locally crafted Japanese beers in the mix to add to your cultural experience. Even better yet, you can buy a beer and drink it there, or make your selection and walk around the streets of Kita-Senju enjoying it as you explore!
Kita-Senju is a quiet and up-and-coming neighborhood but easily has a full day of activities to offer for very little money if you’re looking for a calmer and more outdoorsy type of adventure! As the new site of the fish market (since Tsukiji Market closed), Kita-Senju and the surrounding area is sure to get busier in coming years, so I suggest you explore it while it’s still mostly empty and still “off the beaten track”. Either way, it’s a great place to explore temples, enjoy the sunshine, and try some traditional food and brews without breaking the bank.
ADP / United States
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