In the shadow of its better-known neighbor Nakameguro, Gakugeidaigaku is a happening hub of understated style and warm community. Home to commuters, independent workers, creative kids and fashionable families, this quirky-cool Tokyo neighborhood harbors an exciting food scene.
With its name translating to “Liberal Arts University,” you would be forgiven for thinking there is a university in the area. But Gakugeidaigaku (somewhat misleadingly) no longer hosts a university. The Tokyu Line station here first opened up in 1927 as Himonya — the name of the village before it became part of Tokyo in 1932.
After going through a few name changes, and though the university moved elsewhere in 1964, the name has stuck. Even when asked, most residents voted against changing the name.
Today, Gakudai (as locals call it) is infused with an unfussy old downtown character, and there remains an air of liberal arts creativity rooted in its easygoing local life. The neighborhood once marked the boundary between the city and the suburbs, and that suburbs-meets-city vibe, combined with a proximity to Shibuya, adds to the ongoing desirability.
105 out of 150 respondents said they generally like to support small, locally owned businesses.
— Metropolis Neighborhood Survey 2020
At the familiarly busy station, mouthwatering wafts of food hang in the air as friends and families meet for dinner. The area’s much-loved local establishments have been joined by shiny tiled neo-izakaya, dinky dessert joints and international eateries, adding to its lineup of never-ending dining choices. Once you’ve had your fill of the foodie side of town, there are a handful of local haunts to hit up. Bookstore browsing is ideally done at Ruroudou Bookstore, which is furnished with an intriguing selection of secondhand books. Book and Sons showcases a more minimal offering of design books served up alongside coffee. There’s also the more old-fashioned but very friendly Iijima Books.
Himonya Park, around a 10-minute walk from the station, is a favorite for families. Here a small boating pond, shrine and petting zoo keep children entertained while friends picnic under trees. Further afield, Himonya Shrine is a serene spot for reflection, a famous spot for cherry blossom and the location of a centuries-old inscription stone said to be the origin of the name “Himonya” (visiting during a raucous festival is a must).
Himonya Catholic Church also offers religious respite along the way; built in 1954, the charming building is a particularly perfect place to visit for carols on Christmas Eve.
After exploring these quiet areas, returning back to the energy of the shotengai (shopping street) and the station feels exciting. With much more eating and drinking to be done around its hidden alleys, Gakugeidaigaku is a neighborhood to star on your map and return to again and again in order to fully experience the depth and breadth of flavors it serves up.
A Guide to Dining in Gakugeidaigaku
Where to find the best international cuisine
Sitting on a cute corner and serving up a selection of Vietnamese dishes rooted in French cuisine, but tailored with a Japanese touch, is STAND BANH MI. The small size and general buzz mean that there’s usually a wait for one of its handful of seats at any given time.
Thai food joints make their play for satiating appetites: the affable PIIMAI provides a relaxed venue for a pad thai (stir-fried rice noodle) and a glass of Chang beer, but there are also the curries and delicate flavors at the second-story Puan.
Strolling from the station’s west exit, it’s hard to miss the ambient music and Mediterranean meats on display at BAR&DELI ROSSELLO. With its feeling of Catalan friendliness, the open-fronted tapas joint — complete with second-floor terrace — transports diners to a Barcelona bar in an instant.
For more low-key dining and drinking there’s CARNIVAL FOODS. A must-visit for anybody on the search for specialty foreign produce, the import food shop is connected to a reasonably priced wine bar. Here you can pair small plates, cheese boards and charcuterie with bottles purchased in-store and people-watch from terrace tables.
Gakudai is the proud home of HIGUMA DONUTS, a darling of the dessert world that attracts weekend visitors from elsewhere to indulge their sugar cravings with fresh, deliciously doughy rings.
Recently opened, PREFERITA creates yet more temptation with its mint and muted pistachio decor and authentically Italian gelato.
For more neighborhood features from our Winter Issue, check out the full PDF of the magazine here and follow us on Instagram for more local Tokyo news and features.
Check out our other Tokyo neighborhood guides:
- Kuramae: Almost Perfect founders Yuka and Luis Mendo walk us through their Tokyo neighborhood
- Tachikawa: Tokyo’s perfect intersection of the urban and the natural world
- Sakurashinmachi: Beyond pop-culture fame, this suburban neighborhood is a symbol of Japan’s postwar idealism