The Oji top 10
This hole-in-the-wall, standing-only eatery teems with locals from as early as noon, attracting followers with oden from Hirasawa Kamaboko, an Akabane-based fish-cake specialist with half a century of history. The offerings, of which there can be up to 40 different kinds on some days, are on display right by the entrance, making them really hard to resist during the cold season. The taste might not be spectacular, but Hirasawa’s grub works just fine when combined with some locally-made nihonshu or a highball.
Said to have been founded way back in the Heian era, Oji Inari is best known for its relation to fox mythology, a curious side note in Japanese traditional religion. The shrine is guarded by a number of fox statues, some of them holding the hoshi no tama ball that’s supposed to house the animal’s soul, and holds an annual fox parade on New Year’s Eve. Sitting on a lush hillside, the place still exudes an impressive, mystical vibe – especially if you go in the evening, when the noise from the nearby kindergarten isn’t as distracting.
More or less authentic Neapolitan pizza is everywhere in Tokyo, but finding true New York-style pie requires a little dedication – that is, a visit to Rocco’s, where authenticity starts with the red-check tablecloths and ends with a lengthy menu of topping varieties for the sizeable slices. Start with the standard pepperoni before moving up to specialities like the Mixed Pizza, a mouth-watering combo of meat, green pepper and onion. They also serve goodies like Buffalo wings and NYC cheesecake, so do go hungry. Thanks to @ninja_padrino and @GD_Tokyo for the suggestions!
Talk about an enduringly popular spot: archeological findings suggest that what’s now the wooded Asukayama Park has been inhabited for millennia, and people from all over the city have been coming here to see the sakura in spring ever since shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune had the trees planted in the first part of the 18th century. Asukayama is beloved by families with small children, and for good reason: there aren’t too many places where you can both climb into a real steam locomotive and ride a miniature ropeway, all for free.
A small but smart hideout right by the train tracks, this British-run joint serves up an interesting selection of European-Japanese fusion cuisine and invites diners to try a wide variety of small dishes. Although they open around noon, your best bet is to head over at night, when the lively surroundings contrast nicely with the calm, stylish atmosphere inside and the noteworthy sake and shochu lists can be fully explored. Named after Oji’s foxy traditions, The White Fox also does traditional Christmas dinners. Thanks to @shitamachi66 for the suggestion!
A must-visit for philatelists and anyone interested in the finer details of paper money, this free-entry museum explains the printing process for both stamps and notes, enlightens visitors on the history of Japanese money, reveals the Bank of Japan’s anti-counterfeiting measures and displays historical notes from as far back as the Edo era. The exhibits also include a cool ‘stamps of the world’ section and a few eye-popping foreign bills, including ones from Weimar Germany and Zimbabwe with more zeroes than you’ll care to count.
Its unfortunate location right next to a pachinko parlour makes this tiny shack a little hard to find, which really is a shame. Ougiya is the authority behind Oji’s local speciality, thick and sweet tamagoyaki (omelette) that’s been made by the company since the mid-17th-century. Their only physical retail outpost carries the the thick yellow slabs in large and small packs, both occasionally selling out before closing time. Although purists may shiver at the thought, this one actually works nicely as a dessert.
Edo-era ukiyo-e master Utagawa Hiroshige captured the splendour of this oasis by the Shakujii River in one of his prints, confirming its popularity as one of the old city’s ‘One Hundred Famous Views’. Tastefully rebuilt in 1988, the rocky park is a great relaxation spot right next to the station and is especially charming at night, when the lanterns come on and the arched bridge in the middle of the park provides a romantic setting. When visiting, make sure to also check out nearby Oji Shrine. Thanks to Nina for the suggestion!
No tour of Oji would be complete without a few drinks at a neighbourhood izakaya, and the comfy Hosen is one of the best ones out there. With plenty of seating, decent food from around ¥300, Hoppy on tap and a straightforward shitamachi attitude, it’s not intimidating in the way that some of these watering holes can be for first-time visitors, as the regulars are always happy to welcome new faces. The place tends to get crowded later in the evening, when locals gather to share gossip and comment on whatever’s on the bar TV.
If it’s baked goods you’re after, this should be your destination in Oji: a superb bakery bustling with locals from early morning, Loin Montagne attracts gourmands with everything from orthodox baguettes to curiosities like black sugar-flavoured soy milk doughnuts. Very modest and allergic to snobbery, they continue to turn out fresh bread throughout the day and regularly update the selection with new creations. One of the best independent bakeries in Tokyo? Surely that’s not far off. Thanks to Thomas for the suggestion!