March 22, 2018
A unique neighborhood to spend an afternoon is Kuramae, on the east side of Tokyo. Kuramae used to house many warehouses and these large spaces are being remade into contemporary spaces housing a chocolate factory, tea shop, cafes and more. The name Kuramae is literally “in front of the storehouse.” The area also used to be a shopping district during the Edo period, so there has long been an appreciation for artisanal products.
The quiet neighborhood filled with shops selling zakka – goods that make life more beautiful. There are also some good eats and drinks in the area. The quiet district is sandwiched between Asakusa and Asakusabashi to the North and South, Okachimachi to the West and the Sumida River to the East. Sky Tree rises on the far side of the Sumidagawa and the riverside is nice for a walk if the weather is good.
Your first visit should be Kakimori Stationery. The store has a free illustrated map, in Japanese, that highlights many of the great spots in the neighborhood.
Interesting shops in Kuramae:
At Kakimori select the covers, papers, rings, clasps and binding to design an original notebook. At inkstand by kakimori, create an original ink color, working from a palate of fourteen colors. Register online in advance for a seat at the ink counter. Creating the ink is about 45 minutes and then pick up your color in 90 minutes.
Kotodo is a showroom for canisters wrapped in colorful Japanese paper. Most often used for tea but can be used for whatever you like including candies or trinkets. The tins come in a variety of sizes and the wrapping spans traditional to modern.
Kashiya Shinonome was sold out when I walked by, but their sweets, many made with fermented butter, are available at the cafe – From afar Souko01. The shop opens at noon and is open until the goods are sold out.
Koncent has a variety of fun items for the home. You know, stuff you’ve lived without until now but when you see it you’re thinking why don’t I have this? The second floor is a café serving Sol’s Coffee (see below).
Dandelion Chocolate is a bean to bar production facility, retail shop and café. Glass windows separate the customers from the kitchen. The second floor is a comfortable spot and as the shop faces a park natural sunlight warms up the space. The menu includes hot chocolate and classic sweets.
Tucked into a small space behind a large blue noren (traditional Japanese store curtain) is Nakamura Tea Life Store selling organic tea harvested in Fujieda, Shizuoka. The shop is retail only. The friendly and knowledgeable staff member generously pours a variety of samples. She is, incidentally, a classmate of the 4th generation purveyor.
There is Coffee Nova for java and seasonal fruit sandwiches, like fresh strawberries and whipped cream on white bread. Leaves Coffee Apartment for pour-over coffee has a take-away window facing the street and seating inside on the second floor. The beans are from Fuglen Coffee Roasters.
Yuwaeru, a restaurant and retail shop that features nutritious brown rice. At lunchtime the counter at the open kitchen is lined with a colorful variety of small dishes that diners select along with a main dish and soup. There is a line-up of well-selected pantry items in the retail shop including the restaurant’s signature nekaseta genmai.
Other restaurants in the area include McLean for burgers and fries or Ramen Kai for shellfish ramen. If the weather is good, consider Cielo y Rio that sits on the river for good views while dining on pasta, yoshoku or salads.
A walk across the Sumidagawa is rewarded with a traditional Tsukudani shop, Ebiya Souhonten, a handsome corner shop with a 140-year history. Tsukudani is seafood and sea vegetables cooked in an intensely sweet soy sauce. From afar souko01 is a quiet café cum flower shop and boutique.
Many shops support one another in the area. Nakamura tea is served at Dandelion chocolates. Kashiya Shinonome sweets are available at From afar souko01. There is a sense of community in the area when speaking to staff at different shops. Kuramae feels like an undiscovered gem.
Kuramae is on the Oedo and Asakusa subway lines.