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Ikegami: The Cultural Gem of Ota City

Ota City, right on the border between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, is recognized as one of the capital's 23 "special wards." Ota, however, genuinely is special as it's one of the most underrated areas of Tokyo. With undiscovered gems such as Omori, Kamata and Haneda (home to the super-convenient Haneda Airport), Ota really is off-the-beaten track and brimming with oodles of charm, history and culture. 

About 20 minutes from Gotanda on the Tokyu Ikegami Line, however, is the quaint town of Ikegami. As the train trundles to a stop at Ikegami Station there is a tangible change in atmosphere from the electric and hectic ambiance of central Tokyo. Ikegami is home to a myriad of temples, beautiful shotengai (traditional shopping streets) and traditions which date back centuries. The general aura of Ikegami is hushed, almost reverential, as residents go about their daily business and the uncharted backstreets quietly come to life as the local shokunin (artisans) and shopkeepers ply their trades with a dedication and passion unheard of in most places in the world. 

Jissou-ji Temple

Although Ikegami is more famous for its majestic Honmon-ji Temple, there are another 23 temples in the area which gives Ikegami an aesthetic slightly similar to Kyoto or Kanazawa (albeit on a much smaller scale). At Jissouji Temple (池上實相寺) (which dates back to 1923 at the present location and belongs to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism), tucked away on a quiet backstreet, visitors will find a priest with a curious passion. Customized, and particularly elegant, omamori (amulets) aren't usual for most temples in Japan. However, a young deputy chieft priest at Jissouji, Chiko Sakai, developed a project named OMAMO, which gives visitors the chance to design their own omamori which are truly unique as OMAMO never repeats a design. Visitors are given choices of design and pattern which symbolize what they are praying for such as romance, money, safe travel and so on. Colorful, vibrant and distinctive they are beautiful spiritual treats or presents for loved ones. 

  • Location: 2-10-17 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: 12-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line
  • Phone: +81-3-3751-4056

Asanoya Honpo

A few minutes stroll from Jissouji is Ikegami Shotengai which plays host to a number of local traditions and craftsmanship. One such store is Asanoya Honpo which is devoted to the art of kuzumochi - a traditional Japanese sweet which originates from Ikegami itself. Asanoya Honpo is headed by Masayuki Asano whose family have been crafting this heavenly sweet for 12 generations and it shows in the taste. Kuzumochi are, ostensibly, mochi cakes made from kuzu (fermented wheat starch) water, sugar and topped with kinako (roasted soybean flour). At Asanoya they ferment their wheat starch for over a year to make their kuzu, use only Japanese soy beans for their kinako, and dressed with homemade black sugar syrup. Chewy, with a delicately balanced sweetness, it's like no other dessert you've ever experienced. It's superb, however, and well worth your time if ever in the area. 

  • Location: 4-32-7 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: 4-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line
  • Hours: from 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM (café: from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM) / Open daily except otherwise noticed
  • Phone: +81-3-3753-7539

Rakyo 

Any resident of Tokyo will testify that if you search long enough you'll probably come up with some real oddities. Ikegami lays claim to a calligraphy class which is part of a legendary local seafood restaurant. Rakyo is a spacious eatery devoted to a plethora of fish all shipped daily from the port town of Tateyama in nearby Chiba Prefecture. Staff member Rie, who drew the fish pictures that decorate the walls of Rakyo also has a passion for calligraphy which she teaches in a classroom on the second floor above the restaurant. Gentle and charming, Rie guides students in the ancient art form of calligraphy by giving instructions and demonstrations. No previous experience is required and even complete novices will end up surprised by their own achievements. It's advised, then, to try some first-rate fresh sashimi then try your hand at some calligraphy all done in the confines of one building. 

Calligraphy experience

  • Includes: Calligraphy experience + Lunch where you can enjoy freshly caught fish
  • Price: 5,500 yen
  • Duration: Approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Available every Wednesday and Saturday.  To book this experience, please visit the Rakyo official Facebook page and contact us with your desired date, time and number of people.
  • Website: Facebook
  • Location: 3-40-26 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: 3-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line
  • Hours: Business hours:  Sashimi, bento, side dish: 11: 00-20: 00 Fresh fish counter:  Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays Dinner: 17: 00-21: 00 (L.O.20:00) / Closed on Mondays
  • Phone: +81-3-6410-5254
  • Under renovation: November ~ December 2020

Hitonami

Although organic food has been available in Tokyo for decades it's not always easy to find. And, it could be said, can be on the more expensive side for most people. However, in a quiet residential street in Ikegami is the ornate and cozy Hitonami run by Yasuko Takagiwa who is a proponent of 'permaculture' (a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems) and genuine farm-to table culinary experiences. The farm in question, however, isn't exactly a farm but a beautiful garden situated outside the dining space where their herbs and organic seasonings used in her homemade dishes are grown. Packed full of vegetables, fruit and herbs, owner has created a garden map for visitors so they can see what's in season and where the food actually originates. It's a fascinating cultural experiment and in addition to the cafe space, owner also runs a dressmaking and leathercraft workshop on the second floor atelier where visitors can design and create their own work. It's a relaxing spot to rest your legs after a day strolling and soaking up Ikegami's charms. 

  • Location: 5-3-6 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: 10-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line
  • Hours: CAFÉ: Weekdays from 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 AM – 6:00 PM
    ATELIER: From 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, except Saturdays and Sundays / Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Phone:+81-3-5700-7770

Murakuten

Ikegami is known as a town of artisans and in Murakuten Pottery Workshop visitors can immerse themselves in Japanese pottery taught by the charming Youko Takahashi who has been teaching for the last 23 years. Although most students are Japanese, Takahashi speaks very fondly of her international students who have come from America and Europe to work with her in Murakuten Workshop. Patient and humorous, Takahashi excels in her craft and runs regular workshops in the Japanese language. Tougei or pottery is revered in Japan and at its core is the passion for excellence that reflects any kind of Japanese monozukuri (artisanship).

  • Location: 2-6-21-101 Minamikamata, Ota-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: 4-minute walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line
  • Hours: Weekdays from 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM / Closed on holidays
  • Phone: +81-3-3753-6734

Ikegami, then, is a rich and vibrant cultural hub and deserves more attention from residents and tourists alike. A town packed with cultural color, muted tones and atmosphere. Ikegami, and Ota-ku as a whole, is like a topographical palimpsest, a location which has been covered, layered, relayered and its multitude of nuances there for all to discover.

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