Sangenjaya (also know as Sangenchaya) is a foodie paradise, cheap eats, interesting treats, and a lively atmosphere. Just about 15 minutes by train or bus from the more famous Shibuya station area, head out to this energetic spot for a bit of an off the beaten track experience. Not as well known with the inbound tourist set– you can have a great time with all the locals relaxing after work or university.
The neighborhood straddles the busy 246 highway and may not look like much when you first exit the train station or get off the bus– but just steps off the main road and you will discover a warren of side streets, food stalls, tiny bars and restaurants, old boutiques and even some new big brand shops.
A Bite Off the Beaten Track
During the daylight hours, this area is busy with locals getting groceries, kid’s stopping off for snacks at busy shops and young women browsing huge cosmetic/drug stores. As a sort-of gateway to the suburbs, Sangenjaya has a busy if somewhat dated shopping culture. But come sundown– it’s all about the food.
With booming tourism numbers, most of the more well-known areas have become a bit inundated with travelers. If you’d rather see how the locals chow-down, this area is for you.
You can explore both sides of the highway so my recommendation is to take a bit of a grazing attitude. Try a beer at one spot, some yakitori at another, wine, ramen, localized pasta fusion dishes — a bit of everything. And go hungry so you have a big appetite!
Here are a few of my must trys for day and night- plus a few notes about ordering and exploring.
Okashi (Candy and Snacks)
There are a few shops in the area where you can try various snacks. Near the #24 bus stop across from the big obvious office building, Carrot Tower, you can browse in a snack, specialty shop, Okashi Machioka (part of a chain). This place is packed full of Japanese junk food, candies, crackers and cookies.
Hyped Up Pancakes
Pancakes are more an afternoon treat rather than a breakfast dish in Japan. Sangenjaya has a fairly famous spot for Pancakes. A shop called Pancake Mama Voi Voi is a fun stop for savory and sweet pancake dishes. You can try big stacks of fluffy buttermilk pancakes with various toppings and sides.
Hanamasa is a grocery store and sort-of wholesaler for all kinds of food. As a visitor, this is a good spot to explore, check out interesting sauces, spices and everyday Japanese food ingredients that will be great foodie souvenirs. Taking home some shichimi spices or some local soy sauce is a great way to bring back the flavors of your travels.
Coffee and Cakes
Wander around and drop by any of the small coffee and cake shops in the neighborhood for a sweet afternoon treat. On the 1st floor of the Carrot Tower, you can also find some nice takeaway sweets stalls.
Noodling around for Lunch
There are several ramen and soba joints in the neighborhood that are perfect for lunch. You might have to master a vending machine ticket system but most of these have photos or plastic food so it is easy to choose even if you can’t read any Japanese. (These spots are also good at night.)
After Dark Deliciousness
Small Alleys Filled with Food
Sangenjaya- also known by the nickname Sancha comes alive after dark. You will find small food alleys lit with lanterns and lined with tiny restaurants serving all kinds of Japanese and international foods. Wander and stop in, you have to be comfortable with cozy spaces but you are likely to meet new friends as you chat with staff and fellow patrons.
Cheap and Cheerful Choices
Sangenjaya is so packed with food spots so most are very reasonably priced to keep up with the competition. Be careful though some bars have a table charge. Many that don’t charge this extra fee post the info on signs out front to reassure customers, often in English.
Localized Foreign Fare & my new Favorite Hotdogs (Sausages)
You will spot familiar foods in the neighborhood, Thai, Italian, Chinese and even a fun hotdog joint. The hotdog place is called Kojira Hotdogs and serves up homemade sausages with lots of interesting toppings. One unique version is the Pakkuchi Dog which is covered in cilantro (called pakkuchi in Japanese.) It may seem counterintuitive to order foreign foods while in Japan but honestly trying the Japanese version of these dishes can be an interesting and delicious cross-cultural experience.
Some Tips on Ordering and Enjoying Sangenjaya
Trust the photos – When traveling and eating in Japan many menus will have photos. These photos are not usually doctored or edited but instead are quite realistic. You might not always be able to tell what something is, but that is part of the fun of traveling and tasting as you go. If the photo looks tasty- go for it- give it a try.
Ask for help and recommendations– most of the shops and restaurants in Shancha are owned by small business people who really love being in the food business. So try to communicate and they will meet you half way. Google translate can be your really good friend in these situations. But most importantly don’t be afraid to try!
Keep an open mind as a part of the experience, see something that looks crazy? Give it a go. You many discover your new favorite flavors by going a little bit outside your comfort zone.
Make memories, bring your name cards. You may have already heard but the Japanese all carry some kind of business card. It would be a good idea to get some made before you come so that if you are in one of these cozy Sancha eateries and you strike up a conversation you can trade cards and make new friends. You are likely to have some pretty interesting interactions when you travel around Japan and having name cards will help you remember who you talked to when you trade and will help them remember you!
Food photos are perfectly OK- This is Asia, everyone takes photos of their food! Don’t be shy. Snap away.
While you are filling up your trip plan with top spots and famous nightlife destinations save a little time for Sangenjaya. Easy to get to but still a bit of a hidden destination, this fun and friendly neighborhood is the perfect spot for chilling out and sharing a beer with your traveling companions or meeting new future friends sitting next to you in a closet-sized eatery.
Getting there and away
Bus: From Shibuya Station, you can take the 21/23/24/ or 26 bus (ask station staff where these buses pick up) and get off at Sangenjaya. The bus costs 210 yen with a Passmo card or 220 yen if you are paying cash when you get on.
Denentoshi Train line (TIP: avoid this infamous train line during peak hours as it is one of the most crowded in Tokyo) Take this train line from the underground at Shibuya station. Only two stops away from Shibuya.