Sangenjaya (or "Sancha" for short) and environs is the epitome of a Tokyo neighborhood that, while cluttered, is infused with natural beauty in its tree and flower lined streets, and, while in many ways old and homely, has a considerable population of those who appreciate style, evident in the down-to-earth chic of Sangenjaya's many coffee shops, bakeries, bars and restaurants.
Sangenjaya is in Setagaya ward, in south-west Tokyo. This small district straddles Tamagawa-dori Avenue with its elevated Tokyo Shuto Expressway Route 3 (the "Shibuya Route"), 3 km west and slightly south of Shibuya.
One of Sangenjaya's main charms is how walking for just a minute from the raucous, busy expressway plunges you into an atmosphere of almost quaint calm, and where the clock ticks several times slower. Another is how the influence of nearby Shibuya, with its finger on the pulse of what's new, imparts a vibrant edge to this otherwise very traditional district.
From the mid-Edo period, great numbers of Tokyo denizens would pilgrimage to temples and shrines outside of the city, and two popular pilgrimage routes diverged here at Sangenjaya. As a starting point for both routes, this was therefore a popular place to stop for refreshment. Sangenjaya means "three tea houses" in Japanese, and is named for the three tea houses, the Shigaraki, the Kadoya, and the Tanakaya, that were located here.
Sangenjaya's biggest landmark is the 27-story Carrot Tower office building, so named by local schoolchildren for its color, and which incorporates Sangenjaya Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line into its first floor.
Saishoji Temple 最勝寺
Saishoji Temple, AKA Kyogakuin or Meao Fudo, is a spacious, serene Tendai Buddhist presence very near Sangenjaya station and has been here since the beginning of the 19th century. Once you have soaked up the atmosphere, go out the small side gate which leads you to the Shoin-Taishido Walk, a picturesque 4.6 km walkway which, however, will take you well away from Sangenjaya. Follow it west and you will arrive after a kilometer and a bit at Shoin Shrine in Wakabayashi Park, dedicated to the memory of Yoshida Shoin (1830–59), mentor of many who instigated the Meiji Restoration.
Sangenjaya east of the Expressway has somewhat more charm than the western side. An exploration of Sangenjaya best begins from the South Exit of Sangenjaya Station. The area is compact, the streets - while narrow - are not complicated, and make for enjoyable wandering, taking in the jumble of stores that reflect the practical old way-of-life that has existed here for centuries, as well as the elegant "tea house" connection enshrined in the area's name and history - in the form of cafes, restaurants, pubs and bakeries with an up-to-date, alternative edge. Sangenjaya's long history as a purely residential area is can be sensed in the very social vibe of the streets, full of people, dogs in tow, stopping to chat.Setagaya Park
Setagaya Park is about 20 minutes walk east of Sangenjaya Station and should be visited if you are in the area once you have finished exploring Sangenjaya. Walking there will take you through the Shitauma district of Sangenjaya, which has definitely seen better days but affords a rare glimpse of Tokyo's poorer years past.
Setagaya Park is best approached from Shitauma Library and the small Kodomonohiroba Park - full of play things for children - that adjoins it. Setagaya Park is a little further on and features a large pond with a futuristic sculpture in the middle, groves of trees, gardens, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, a baseball field, an archery range, and a mini steam locomotive that takes children around a small track.
Access to Sangenjaya
Sangenjaya Station is the terminal station of the Tokyu Setagaya Line, which is one of Tokyo's few remaining streetcar, or tram, lines, and the Tokyu Den-en Toshi Line. Being a streetcar, the Tokyu Setagaya Line is the more fun option. From Shinjuku take the Odakyu Line to Gotokuji Station, then change to the adjacent Yamashita Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line and go the six stops to Sangenjaya. Both lines accept pre-paid (IC) cards.
Sangenjaya is two stops from Shibuya on the Tokyu Den'en Toshi Line.