TOKYO DEEP SPOT お洒落な店・人が集まる 注目の下町スポット「蔵前」 The ultimate Tokyo hipster paradise: Kuramae

昭和レトロを感じる昔ながらの街並みに、モダンなカフェや雑貨屋などが溶け込む――。東京の東部、台東区・墨田区・江東区のいわゆる下町エリアが、昨今“イーストトーキョー”と呼ばれ、女性誌やカルチャー誌などで取り上げられているのは知っているだろうか? なかでも台東区の蔵前エリアはハイセンスなショップの出店が相次ぎ、にわかに注目を集めている。

Simplistically modern cafes, clothing and bookstores somehow melt into the ultra-retro Showa town that is Kuramae. Lying on the east side of Tokyo in the notorious ‘Shitamachi’ area, the town is picking up plenty of scoops from fashion magazines as the new up-and-coming district for hipsters and fashionistas alike.


You may be wondering: where exactly is Kuramae? To be honest, I had no idea either. If you look at Google maps, Asakusa borders the area in the north, Asakusa-bashi in the south, Sumidagawa in the east and Okachimachi in the west. The Toei Asakusa line and Oedo line both stop at the town, but it’s not that often that you find yourself actually getting off the train there.


But if you, like me, take the leap of faith and set foot into Kuramae, you’ll find a whole new world of quirky entertainment. Coming out of the station it was obvious that Kuramae is one of those Showa-style wholesale towns - pretty much like Ameyoko or many other of the ‘Shitamachi’ hotspots. Edo-dori Street is famous for the general wholesale shops, whereas the Asakusa-bashi end of the district is the place to go for dolls and stationary. On the other hand, the area around Kuramae station is a huge mix of toyshops, fireworks sellers and wholesale shops. All the stuff on display is true old school, giving the entire area a vintage vibe. Unfortunately most of the stuff can only be purchased in bulk, but the endless photo opportunities are enough to make it more than worth the visit.


As for the area’s history - apparently it used to be used as a place to store rice during the Edo Shogunate. The shogun demanded the construction of huge warehouses along the Sumidagawa River - right where modern-day Kuramae is now.



The craftsman’s town

Nowadays the town is home to a much more chic clientele. Many artists and creators have set up galleries there. Craftsmen roam the streets. The leather industry has been going strong in the area for years now, and there are numerous ornament and fashion factories dotted around the place. Some of the individuals who started up these creative ventures have opened up their own shops in Kuramae, bringing a touch of unique style and excitement to the town.


Shops like leather satchel and accessory maker ‘m-piu’ and order made notebook store ‘Kakimori’ draw in customers from all over Japan for their high quality goods. But just taking a look at the neighbouring building - a traditional tofu maker - you get the sense of old and new mixing in a strange, yet enticing way.



The ultimate hipster town

Despite the wide presence of artists and creators, the rent prices in Kuramae are surprisingly cheap. Being surrounded by famous tourist spots like Asakusa, I guess Kuramae just doesn’t really stand out that much. Plus, the amount of houses left over from the Showa period probably take a certain kind of vintage-loving resident to really get by. But, for those few fashionistas who have set up businesses there, the mix of retro and modern is undeniably cool.

2012年に誕生したゲストハウス『Nui. HOSTEL & BAR LOUNGE』も、物件が決め手となり蔵前エリアに進出したという。また、約100年続く農家の静岡茶を販売する『NAKAMURA TEA LIFE STORE』も、物件ありきで蔵前に店を構えたそうだ。このほか家賃の安さから、中目黒から移ってきたショップやクリエイターもいるとか。魅力的な物件に感度の高い人たちが集まるにつれ、徐々に蔵前の知名度も上がったのだ。

Just take ‘Nui. Hostel & Bar Lounge’ for example. Established in 2012, the old architecture and hipster area is the exact reason this place just works. Or how about ‘Nakamura Tea Life Store’ - the 100 year old green tea maker specialising in ‘Shizuoka-cha’ - one of Japan’s most prized teas. They also chose to move to Kuramae based on the architecture. There are plenty of other businesses starting to creep into Kuramae, drawn in by the cheap rent and one-of-a-kind buildings. Kuramae is definitely ‘in’ with the in crowd.

“ハイセンスな街”として認知されてきたことで、最近では2016年5月に、サンフランシスコ発の『ダンデライオン・チョコレート』が蔵前に日本1号店を出店。同じく5月にコーヒースタンド『LEAVES COFFEE APARTMENT』や、ハンバーガースタンド『Mclean』を擁する複合施設『THE EAST』が誕生するなど、ますます盛り上がりを見せる。

And it’s not just domestically that Kuramae is gaining attention. This year, San Francisco chocolate shop ‘Dandelion Chocolate’ set up shop there. A brand new complex called ‘The East’ is home to stalls like ‘Leaves Coffee Apartment’ coffee stand and ‘Mclean’ burger stand. Kuramae is definitely big on the hipster radar.


また、蔵前の発展に拍車をかけたのが『Nui. HOSTEL & BAR LOUNGE』の存在だろう。宿泊施設のため、国内外問わずさまざまな場所から蔵前に人がやってくる。宿泊客が蔵前の様子を話したり、東京の友人と蔵前で食事をしたりと、蔵前の魅力がクチコミによって広範囲に知れ渡る。それが評判となり、知名度が上がる。結果、蔵前により多くの人が集まるようになったのではないだろうか。

A town built on human connections

Walking around Kuramae it was clear to see that it was a place full of strong-willed and free-living people. All the businesses that lie dotted around the town are the fruits of labour by the entrepreneurs that built them. It’s a rare sight to see - a place where mutual respect radiates amongst each owner and a friendly vibe runs throughout the streets. There’s little competition, but instead strong leadership of each owner’s individual brand.
However it can’t be denied that the main factor behind Kuramae’s revival is probably the aforementioned ‘Nui. Hostel & Bar Lounge’ - a little hotel that’s bringing both domestic and foreign tourists to the area. Many lodgers have spread rave reviews about the area as they’ve dined out near the hotel or bought something from a boutique shop on the way back to the hostel. Everyone knows that in Tokyo, word travels fast - Kuramae has seen a sudden boom in visitors over the past few years.

台湾から遊びに来ていた二人組。新宿のホテルに一週間滞在し、鎌倉などを観光するそうだ。今日は浅草に来ており、蔵前にはコーヒースタンド『LEAVES COFFEE APARTMENT』を目当てにやってきたとか。そんなに有名なのか!?

Left / Cindy (27, Secretary) Right / Liv (32, Office worker)
This twosome from Taiwan have come to sightsee in Tokyo for a week - they’re staying at a hotel in Shinjuku whilst travelling around the Kanto area. Today they’ve come to see Asakusa, and have stopped at the infamous ‘Leaves Coffee Apartment’ coffee stand for a drink.

静岡から遠距離恋愛をしているカレに会いに来たという。カレの会社が蔵前にあるため、待ち合わせまでの間に『カキモリ』に行き、カレの誕生日プレゼントにプラスするオリジナルノートを作成。なんていいコなんだ! お幸せに!

Asami Nishimura (20, Hotel employee)
Asami has come all the way from her hometown in Shizuoka to visit her long distance boyfriend in Tokyo. He works at a company based in Kuramae, so she’s whilst she’s waiting for him to finish she’s come to ‘Kakimori’ to buy an original notebook for his birthday present.

以前、日本に2年住んでいたという彼女は、当時の友人に会うために韓国から一人で来たそうだ。蔵前のゲストハウス『Nui. HOSTEL & BAR LOUNGE』に宿泊。Nui.は韓国では有名らしく、なんと2ヶ月も前から予約したのだとか。

Kim Sun-mi (28, Retail staff)
Kim explains that she used to live in Japan for two years; so today she came all the way from her home country of Korea to have a little reunion with a friend. She’s staying at Kuramae’s, ‘Nui. Hostel & Bar Lounge’. Apparently the hotel is pretty famous in Korea - reservations are always full up to two months beforehand.