Tokyo’s Nakameguro district – a textbook example of gentrification

Nakameguro might have the highest concentration of cool coffee shops and colorful tapioca bars in the whole of Tokyo. It’s a paradise for foodies, artists, celebrity-spotters, wannabe celebrities, cherry-blossom gazers, fashion designers and fashionistas. You’ll find young and hip people everywhere, including tourists from the world’s all corner, all mixed up with the area’s wealthy residents.

Along the riverside

Nakameguro’s rise to fame

What I like about Nakameguro is that in spite of its rising popularity, it’s still pretty cozy. It still has a local, casual, almost relaxed atmosphere about it. Maybe it’s because there are still no large shopping centers and of course no department stores. Also, the old Meguro-ginza shopping street still seems to be doing well, packed with visitors on the weekends. Although a lot of new buildings have popped up all over the place, most of them are actually of pretty small scale. The original DNA of the area is still surviving and thriving!

Meguro-ginza shopping street

Before gentrification

I remember when Nakameguro was just a station where you would change trains. Toyoko Line for Shibuya, Hibiya Line for Roppongi! I spent years doing exactly that as a teenager, without even leaving the station. I really started going to Nakameguro on a regular basis for my business maybe ten years ago. There wasn’t much going on back then in terms of retail and entertainment. It still felt like a sleepy neighborhood, just down the hill from Daikanyama, which was then the place to be. Nakameguro was more known for being a convenient location, and for its exclusive residential areas on the hillsides. I wish I had taken some pictures back then before the gentrification process started. I would have loved to make a “before versus after” collage of the area!

The coolest cafe of them all?

Maybe the gentrification started already around the time when the Meguro ward office moved to Nakameguro, back in 2003. This colossal complex, which used to be the former Chiyoda Life office, reminds me of a university campus!

Meguro ward office

It was bound to happen

I suppose Nakameguro always had some basic cornerstones in place for becoming a real hot spot. Firstly, there is of course the Megurogawa river, lined with beautiful cherry blossom trees, illuminated during the festival time. It’s a must to visit for anyone who’s in Tokyo in late March or early April. Secondly, accessing Nakameguro by train has always been easy, both from central Tokyo and Yokohama. Even the express train stops at Nakameguro! Also, you can easily get there by car on the Yamate Dori. Thirdly, it has always had a wealthy local population, especially if you include the nearby areas of Daikanyama and Ebisu.

Cherry blossom viewing

During the past few years, new interesting shops, cafés and other attractions have just kept pouring into the area. As proof of just how hot Nakameguro has become, Starbucks opened one of its largest shops in the world recently. It’s located in a beautiful spot along the Megurogawa river. It’s even attracting a lot of tourists taking pictures of this cool new landmark, before picking up their coffee. I believe this is the fourth Starbucks in the Nakameguro area!

New Starbucks Reserve by Megurogawa river

The Nakameguro station area itself has now also been renovated, with new cafés, restaurants and other interesting shops and galleries. Thanks to this, there are now stores to explore on both sides of the street. Is it only in Japan where they build stores and restaurants literally under the tracks?

Nakameguro’s irresistible charm

What makes Nakameguro so charming to me is that many of the old stores still coexist along with the newcomers. This is in particular the case along the old Meguro-ginza shopping street. For instance, you’ve got a newly renovated cool hamburger place right next to the old vegetable store.

Or, a newly built tapioca cafe, just having opened next to the old baseball shop.

 

There are even some of my favorite “pencil buildings” along the river close to Starbucks!

Maybe the gentrification process still has some time to go until higher rents will drive tenants even further south, to Yutenji, just up the hill. I’m seeing signs that this process might have started already though, with a new station building just having opened…

If you’re interested in my books, please don’t forget to check out SHIBUYA NEMESIS, a story about a young aspiring guitar player trying to make it “big in Japan”!

Next book out soon!

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