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.
Sangenjaya 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
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).
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
Open 10am-9pm daily. Taishido 4-28-10 (03-3418-0343).
Doings Sangenjaya 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
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).