Discover the best of Japanese design in Kuramae, Tokyo's hub for arts and crafts
By Jun Harada|
Hidden in between tourist-infested Asakusa and the grittier Asakusabashi, Kuramae gets its name from the all-important rice granaries that lined the streets here during the Edo era. As rice was literally money back in the days of the shogunate, the neighbourhood attracted plenty of wealthy merchants and other successful Edoites, many of whom took up residence in the area. Later on, Kuramae morphed into something of a centre for craftspeople – an aspect that’s still very much present, especially with the recent increase in young designers and other creatives calling the area home.
Begin your exploration of this riverside ’hood around midday with the aim to be back at Kuramae Station before 7pm. First walk just a minute from exit A1 of the station to reach Matsuki Shoten (2-4-3 Kuramae, Taito-ku). Found a stone’s throw from Sumida River, where the city’s best-known summer fireworks festival has been held since 1733, Matsuki deals in colourful explosives of all shapes and sizes. The shop also carries a range of traditional toys and decorative items, just in case you prefer something non-combustible.
Just a block further along Edo-dori sits Koncent (2-4-5 Kuramae, Taito-ku), which serves as the home base for H Concept, a company involved in design consulting for a wide range of Japanese manufacturing businesses. The trendy store stands out in its surroundings, with the all-white interior decorated with cool knickknacks from all over Japan. Take your pick of items from super-soft Imabari towels to Cupmen characters for your instant noodles.
Now it’s time for ramen lunch at Genraku Sohonten (2-12-3 Kuramae, Taito-ku), specialists in tonkotsu (pork bone broth) concoctions. The shoyu soup, cooked for a full three days, combines a fatty pork taste with fresh vegetable aromas, which are best sampled in their signature Gen Ramen.
Take a little stroll to the end of this street, then turn left into Kasuga-dori and cross over Edo-dori. Take the next left, then the second right, and find Kuramae Shrine (3-14-11 Kuramae, Taito-ku). First established in 1694, it’s said to be the birthplace of kanjin sumo, i.e. wrestling tournaments held to raise donations for shrines and temples. Pause here for a moment to let the ramen settle, because next you’re going to sip coffee and peruse handmade leather goods at Camera (4-21-8 Kuramae, Taito-ku), a café and variety goods store run by ballerina and pastry shop owner Miwako Yamada together with designer Kosuke Tamura.
Next, you’re headed away from the station to Kasuga-dori where you’ll find Eikyudo (4-37-9 Kuramae, Taito-ku), an old-school wagashi shop that stands out with its earthen floor and pretty wooden interior. Pick out a selection of traditional sweets like chestnut yokan (jelly), waka-ayu (fish-shaped cakes) and bean paste-filled daifuku to take away with you for later.
Around the corner, you’ll arrive at Misuji Bathhouse (2-13-2 Misuji, Taito-ku), which has been offering visitors a glimpse into yesteryear since 1951. With its antique kawara roof, the bathhouse preserves traditional architecture and interiors from the Showa period. The most remarkable feature is a luxurious garden that you can see from the changing rooms. It’s open from 3pm (Tue-Sun) and the entrance fee is ¥460.
After a steaming soak, make your way back towards the station to Kokusai-dori. Stop in at specialist stationery shop Kakimori (4-20-12 Kuramae, Taito-ku). Their range of pens, inks and lettersets are chosen on the basis of how comfortable they are to use, and customers are welcome to try out the fountain pens in store. Best of all are the made-to-order notebooks, prepared in five to 10 minutes, with an infinitely customisable selection of covers, paper and bindings available.
On the next block, look for Maito Kuramae (4-14-12 Kuramae, Taito-ku), a shop that’s focused on items made using Japan’s traditional kusakizome natural dyeing technique. You’ll find a wide range of fabrics dyed with natural liquids extracted from flowers, leaves and roots, from sakura pink and rubia red to mulberry yellow. We have to recommend the hand-dyed scarves, which maintain their shine for decades – if properly cared for.
Next door is Ren Kuramae (4-13-4 Kuramae, Taito-ku), a factory store operated by the notable Ren brand. Simply crafted from quality materials, their unisex bags are all light and durable, but we’re especially fond of the super-smooth pigskin varieties.
Your final stop will take you right back to Kuramae Station. M+ (3-4-5 Kuramae, Taito-ku) is a studio and leather shop run by artisan Yuichiro Murakami, who learned his techniques in Italy. You can find his products elsewhere in Tokyo, however this outlet also offers exhibits on how the leather ages, giving you a good idea of what exactly you’re paying for.