Ride the JR Chuo Line to Uncover Tokyo's Yesteryears: Nostalgic Cafes and Retro Shops Await!
The old has become trendy in Japan, capturing the hearts of Japan's youth and international travelers. This resurgence has led to a flourishing of nostalgic cafes and vintage shops throughout Tokyo, with Koenji, Asagaya, and Ogikubo - all of which are on the JR Chuo Line - emerging as particularly popular destinations. In this edition of our "Area of Japan" series, we embarked on a journey to explore a few of the enchanting nostalgic spots around these three stations, hoping to discover how they added to the JR Chuo Line's unique culture.
Apr 24 2023
Ogikubo Station, situated along JR East's Chuo Line, offers direct access to Shinjuku, a premier shopping and entertainment destination. It is also the starting point of the Marunouchi Line, allowing for convenient transportation to the fashionable Ginza district. Perfectly positioned between the rich culture seen around Chuo Line neighborhoods and busy business districts, its favorable location makes Ogikubo an attractive residential area for busy city dwellers. It has established itself as a sanctuary for hardworking individuals seeking respite.
While the northern exit of Ogikubo Station features shopping centers and markets renovated from post-war shopping streets, creating a contemporary atmosphere, the nearby Ogikubo Kitaguchi Ekimae Shotengai (English: Ogikubo Station North Exit Shopping Street) offers a strikingly different ambiance. Just a one-minute walk away, this shopping street exudes an old-fashioned charm, transporting visitors to a nostalgic past.
The short street of Ogikubo Kitaguchi Ekimae Shotengai, said to have originally started as a post-war black market, is home to several long-established coffee shops, ramen restaurants, and eel restaurants.
Ogikubo Jashumon, run by 92-year-old Kazue Furota, has been in business for over 68 years. Although her eyesight has diminished, she still climbs up and down the narrow, two-story shop every day. For Furota and many others, Ogikubo is a comfortable place to live, feeling just like home. However, looking at the rise and fall of shops in the shopping street from the end of World War II to 2023, one cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia and sadness.
When the shop first opened, Furota's husband, a photographer, was particular about not just the quality of the coffee beans, but also went so far as to install studio backdrops on the second floor to take photographs of Jashumon's products for the menu himself. Even though many years have passed since her husband's passing, the menu remains unchanged. It feels as if she has been running the business just like she did with her late husband, in what has become a journey over 60 years long.
Pointing to the mottled menu cover, Furota shyly laughed and said, "The coffee cups and saucers on this menu have long been replaced, and the ones we're using now are different."
The first floor is where the staff brews coffee, while the second floor has only six sets of tables and chairs, mostly accommodating individual customers. Therefore, if six people occupy each seat, the tiny shop quickly becomes full. Unlike restaurants where customers leave after finishing their meal, those who visit Ogikubo Jashumon enjoy the coffee and atmosphere, read books, or work on laptops, usually staying for at least two hours. Respecting the intentions of customers who come alone, Furota seldom initiates conversations with them.
Due to the inconspicuous shop door, the clientele is mainly Japanese, but occasionally there are some foreigners who reside along the Chuo Line area. If you want to enjoy authentic Japanese coffee shop culture, we recommend having coffee at Ogikubo Jashumon. Furota suggests first-time visitors try the signature blend coffee. The combination of rich, refreshing coffee and caramel biscuits creates a simple, beautiful flavor that makes time seem to pass slowly. In addition to black coffee, she also recommends Vienna coffee with fresh cream and Irish coffee with whiskey.
Please note that, due to the owner's advanced age, it may take some time to prepare the dishes. We advise visiting when not in a hurry and having plenty of spare time.
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The origin of the name "Asagaya" dates back to the Nanboku-cho period in Japan (1337-1392, between the Kamakura and Muromachi periods). According to historical records, a powerful local family called "Asakaya-tono" lived in the area then, leading to the region being called "Asakaya."
Asagaya became a hub for literary figures during the late Taisho era (1912-1926) up until before World War II. It is said that they would drink sake, play shogi, and compete for literary mastery there, with prominent Japanese writers such as Osamu Dazai and Yasunari Kawabata being among them.
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The owner, Naganuma, was originally an employee of an American goods manufacturer and had always been fascinated by hamburger-shaped items. Over the years, she gathered various hamburger goods and, realizing that there were no shops specializing in such merchandise in Japan, decided to set up a store with a hamburger theme near Asagaya Station. The glittering shop is now in its 12th year.
We intended to ask Naganuma about her favorite burger restaurants and recommended toppings before the interview, but unexpectedly, Naganuma revealed at the beginning of the interview that she was not into hamburgers as food! Rather, collecting hamburger-shaped goods is what excites her.
How can first-time visitors to Toy Burger enjoy treasure hunting in a store with such a wide range of products? Naganuma laughed and said there was no trick; the only way is to patiently check out each item one by one.
When asked about her favorite item or one that left a lasting impression, Naganuma immediately ran to the office at the back of the store looking for something. What she rummaged for was an old coin purse in the shape of a hamburger she had bought from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) in the United States. This coin purse was also the catalyst for starting Toy Burger. Its intricate and realistic design made us quickly realize why Naganuma got so passionate about hamburger goods.
Over the past few years, Toy Burger has collaborated with apparel shops to create hoodies, T-shirts, and knit caps featuring hamburger mascot characters. She plans to continue collaborating with various manufacturers in the future.
Although this article focuses on the more nostalgic side of the areas covered by the Chuo Line, Naganuma emphasized that most of the items in the store were, in fact, new. Many American goods sold here have a retro design, so they are often mistaken for used or antique items. Naganuma always looks forward to talking with visiting customers, so if you happen to find yourself in Asagaya, why not pay a visit to Toy Burger and see if you can find your favorite "hamburger"?
In Tokyo, when people hear of Junjo Shopping Street, vintage clothing, rock music, or Awa dance, the name "Koenji" immediately springs to mind. People from all ages tend to fill this busy neighborhood and yet, when we approached Koenji Station during the evening, the surrounding area had a surprisingly calm atmosphere, giving us a sense of comfort.
Located just a five-minute walk from Koenji Station, Hachimakura is a charming shop that has thrived for 15 years under the meticulous care of its owner, Ogura. Upon opening the glass door, you are greeted by an atmosphere reminiscent of a European flea market. Alongside paper goods, the store also offers vintage handbags and various household items.
Since childhood, Ogura has loved collecting various papers, stationery, small cards, and wrapping paper. Even after becoming a graphic designer, she continued to gather interesting paper products from around Japan and the world. Hachimakura is the natural expression of her life as a collector.
In addition to collecting them, Ogura does a lot of research to figure out each item's age and historical value, as every piece of paper and card carries a story. During the interview, Ogura introduced us to a series of letter papers from various countries. The romance of American designs, the intricacy of French layouts, and the adorable and versatile style of Eastern Europe made us feel like we had traveled the globe through stationery alone.
The oldest item in the store is a letter from the 1700s. Although the ancient stationery is fragile and difficult to maintain, Ogura does not restrict customers from touching anything. In fact, she encourages them to do so, as it allows them to experience the exquisite craftsmanship of the time.
Ogura believes that preserving lost printing techniques is crucial in today's rapidly advancing world, as the number of printing factories capable of producing items using traditional methods is slowly declining. Humanity's pursuit of manufacturing efficiency has gradually phased out these old factories' thorough and detailed work. As a result, even for professional designers like Ogura, achieving the effects of those old printing techniques has become increasingly difficult.
The deep appreciation for the beauty and craftsmanship of yesteryear's stationery drives her to go above and beyond in ensuring their preservation and promoting their timeless appeal to a wider audience.
Uncover Vestiges of the Past on the JR Chuo Line
The charming locales along the Chuo Line, where the passage of time is still palpable, continue to captivate with their diverse offerings. In this feature, we delved into the theme of "nostalgia," showcasing shops around the stations of Ogikubo, Asagaya, and Koenji: an endearing, long-standing local cafe; a concept store inspired by hamburgers; and an antique shop specializing in vintage paper goods. Upon visiting these unique retailers, we uncovered how they preserved and treasured the magnificence of the yesteryears even in today's fast-paced world. Why not embark on your own nostalgic journey along the Chuo Line and reflect on Japan's bygone eras for yourself?
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.