Sangenjaya is one hot cup of tea: Wide streets, friendly locals, and a plethora of affordable activities that won't leave you cold. And what could be finer as the north winds blow and we scamper inside for our fun? Janet Pocorobba leads the way.

Photos by Janet Pocorobba

Sangenjaya is nestled in Setagaya ward, a mere three stops southwest of Shibuya on the Shin-Tamagawa line. Its warmth stems from its lively, unpretentious atmosphere and the unique blend of new and old. Walking along the streets, one finds bathhouses from the Taisho period and movie houses from the late '40s, as well as new restaurants, import shops and theatres. It's a sort of shitamachi, one of those pockets of Tokyo that time has not yet caught up with. Lots of character, confidence and charm.

Big fun comes with simple pleasures in Sangenjaya. For under JY2500, you can have a sushi dinner, a movie, a bath, and even live music, not to mention a refreshing walk around some of the oldest streets and alleys in the city, where movie directors go to shoot postwar Japan. What follows below is decidedly a short list. A little exploring will reap more treasures if you keep your eyes and mind open. See you in the sento.

bathSangenjaya has more baths per square meter than most neighborhoods I've seen. Their smokestacks peek out from buildings like New England steeples, beckoning all to the haven of communion and purification. Below are three of the more interesting:

This bathhouse dates from Taisho 11 (1923) and was renovated in Showa 32 (1957), the birth year of the owner's daughter, who was working the night I stopped in. It is a grand old building with a swooping tile roof and an inside lined with old photographs and lanterns of yesteryear. A ten-minute walk down Chazawa Dori away from the intersection of Setagaya Dori and Route 246 on the left. Look for the smokestack.
Open 2:30-11pm. Taishido 5-28-5 (03-3414-4964). JY385.

The giggly, charming obasan at the desk makes this bathhouse a delight. Dating from Taisho 10 (1922) and renovated in Showa 36 (1961), it has a rustic quality. The waters here are medically treated and are sure to leave you rubberized and renewed. Exit the station onto Setagaya Dori and walk straight three minutes on Tamagawa Dori (perpendicularly away from Setagaya Dori). Take a right at the soba shop through a parking lot. You'll see the roof and smokestacks ahead.
Open 3pm-1am. Closed two Fridays a month. Sangenjaya 2-13-3 (03-3410-2535). JY385.

This sento, housed in a white brick hospital-like building, is newer and has a more clinical feel to it. Walk down Chazawa Dori and take a right at Cosmos Pachinko Parlor onto Chuo Gai (Central Street). Walk straight for a few minutes and it's on the left. After your bath, don't miss the vending machines across the street that sell the fine gyokuro tea in a can. Only in Sangenjaya.
Open 2pm-12:30am. Taishido 2-33-10 (03-3421-0771). JY385. Sauna open 2-11:30pm. JY750.

Sangenjaya has no lack of restaurants, but for those on the run, I suggest the following two:

Gorilla Ramen
The building is a hoot and the place is tidy and friendly. Gorilla ramen (JY1000) is butakakuni, a dark broth with cubes of tender broiled pork. They have all the standards. I can vouch for the miso ramen: JY700 a bowl and very rich.
Open 12-4pm and 6-11pm Tue-Sun. Taishido 3-15-2 (03-3421-1512).

Chiyoda Sushi
This takeout sushi stand is on Chazawa Dori, on the left just before Chuo Gai. The quality is outstanding and the prices very reasonable. A great bento for the movie theatre (see below).
Open 10am-9pm daily. Taishido 4-28-10 (03-3418-0343).

Sangenjyaya Chuo GekijoSangenjaya Chuo Gekijo
This movie house dates from 1947. The concrete facade belies its charming interior. The manager, Shin-san, is a film buff who studied at film school in New York. He runs two features a week, usually European or American films. The theatre has a quaint proscenium, reminiscent of your high school auditorium. There's even a vending machine in the lobby dating from the '50s, with rotating trays of treats and drinks. Movies run JY1300, JY1100 on Fridays, and the last show is the cheapest at JY800-JY1000. Times change, so call in advance. The building is near Chiyo-no-yu. Exit the baths, turn left and then immediately right. A ten-second walk.
Sangenjaya 2-14-5 (03-3421-4610).

As you wander through the area, don't miss the tangle of streets behind the Chuo Gekijo. Like the postwar Golden Gai area of Shinjuku, it is a maze of tottering old buildings, a miniature "floating world" that is refreshingly authentic (if sinister) in virtual Tokyo.

Sangenjaya Cinema
Across from Chuo Gekijo is the Sangenjaya Cinema. Not nearly as charming as the former, it is located on the second floor of a late '50s building that's a bit run down. Movies run JY1300, and feature a variety of foreign films.
Sangenjaya 2-14-6 (03-3421-3322).
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