Attracted by low rents, a supportive local government and a likeminded community, a diverse cast of young Japanese creatives – from coffee roasters to weavers – is giving the district a makeover and turning it into a nexus for made-in-Tokyo magic
Owner, Maito Design Works
Our goal is to make items that will gracefully age along with the person who loves them, so we make everything painstakingly by hand,” says Maito Komuro, the owner of charming textiles shop Maito Design Works. One of the techniques that Komuro employs is kusakizome, whereby native plants like sakura blossoms and Yaku cedar are used to colour natural fabrics without the use of harsh chemicals. Although much of the dyeing is done at a workshop in Fukuoka, Komuro built an atelier next to his Kuramae retail store so that customers can observe the dyeing process as well.
As with many other establishments in Kuramae, Komuro places heavy emphasis on fostering dialogue with his customers and prioritising uniquely Japanese products. “To us, it’s important to work together with creators across [the country] to produce things that are truly made in Japan,” he stresses.
On that note, Komuro recommends that visitors to Kuramae check out green tea purveyors Nakamura Tea Life, whose modern packaging looks more cocktail hour than tea time. “You can do tastings of their Japanese teas in the shop,” he reveals, as well as find out about the labour-intensive process behind handpicking, drying and roasting the leaves. Come lunchtime, Komuro is willing to wait in long lines at Ramen Kai. “They make ramen with dried sardines and shellfish. It’s only been open about a year, but it’s already really popular,” he says.
Barista, Coffee Wrights
Meander away from the main drag and you’ll stumble upon Coffee Wrights, a quaint craft coffee roaster located next to a small park and garden. “It’s a neighbourhood where craftsmanship is alive and well,” says barista Asuka Morita of Kuramae. Two favourite spots among Coffee Wrights staff are Dandelion Chocolate and Ren. “They sell bags and accessories made from real leather,” Morita says of the latter. “Their designs are simple and timeless.”
Morita states that Kuramae’s customers play a big role in fostering its community-centric vibe. “The name of our shop means ‘people who make coffee’, which is us, but it also refers to people who buy beans and enjoy them at home,” she says. “Our idea was to create a [coffee] shop [that also provided] a place for people to develop an understanding of coffee through discussion with our staff and workshops.”
Those looking for healthy eats can head to Yuwaeru, a cosy restaurant specialising in a traditional brown rice preparation called nekase genmai. The technique involves keeping brown rice in a heat-insulated jar over several days to get that soft, slightly sticky texture that Japanese love, without removing the nutritious bran layer. “With [this] at the centre [of our food philosophy], we prepare Japan’s excellent produce, using seasonal ingredients and seasonings,” says manager Hiroyuki Sakai. At lunch, Yuwaeru serves home-style dishes with nekase genmai. At dinner, the space turns into a more relaxed gastropub with a selection of sake and domestically produced wine. Meanwhile, locals pop in and out of the adjacent store to buy artisanal foodstuff s from miso to candy and, of course, brown rice.
“In the Edo Period, this is actually where the rice stores were,” says Sakai, explaining why they chose Kuramae as their base. “Also, the number of young craftspeople here was increasing and we felt it was becoming interesting.” Although the shop keeps him quite busy, Sakai likes to pop over to Nui – a guesthouse next door with an industrial-style café and bar space that remains open to the public until 1am. When he’s in the mood for a sweet treat, he frequents Camera, a café and leather shop that serves up decadent baked goods.
Kuramae is a Tokyo shitamachi,” says Takuma Hirose, owner of custom stationery shop Kakimori. He’s referring to pockets of this ultra-modern city where the old-town atmosphere has survived the Japanese penchant for a complete raze and rebuild. “There’s been a lot of craftspeople here for a long time,” he adds. “I wanted to create a store that could connect those craftspeople with customers.” Indeed, nearly every product in Kakimori is supplied by artisans and wholesalers in the area, including the components for its popular made-to-order notebooks. With each notebook, customers can get a sense of how it feels in their hands, find out where it came from and – in many cases – learn more about the person who made it.
Visitors to Kakimori can even pick up a free map to the neighbourhood – illustrated by artist Natsumi Mizokawa – which highlights standout shops, restaurants and attractions in the area. Kakimori staff even encourage customers to tell them if there’s somewhere they love that’s not already on the map.
Some of Hirose’s favourite Kuramae haunts include SyuRo, a lifestyle shop selling locally made “items with a story to tell”, and tiny 12-seater bistro Goloso, where young and talented chef Yohei Kimura serves up hearty Italian fare for a bevy of regulars.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IRVIN WONG
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SEE ALSO: What to see and do in Tomigaya, Tokyo
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine