Apparently Takadanobaba is home to the 9th busiest train station in the world. That being said, it is still quite a minor stop on the famous Yamonote circle line. The main feature of this area is that it is a big hangout spot for students from the nearby Waseda University. Come students, come cheap everything. Expect budget izakaya, bars, cafes and that all important karaoke. With questionable quality, who cares if it’s all in the name of cheapo goodness?
The interesting name of the area means “Takada’s horse grounds”—this is after an actual riding site that was found here during the Edo period. Residents still keep to tradition with yabusame (horseback archery) and there are demonstrations that are held every October in the Toyama Park in the local area.
What to eat and drink in Takadanobaba
Takadanobaba is an area with a prominent Southeast Asian population too. With that you get Burmese delicacies at Nong Inlay (and by delicacies I mean a hard to find fried takemushi [larvae]). There are also other options such as Mustard Greens and Pig’s Feet Soup and spiced sautéed frog legs, both at 900 yen. Plus the very tame option of a Shan Soba lunch special for 700 yen—made up of a bowl of rice noodles in chicken broth, topped with peanuts and sesame seeds, if you fancy something less ‘out there’.
It’s rare to find a decent bit of bread and sandwich in Japan. Well here you have Bánh mì Sandwich located in the Takadonobaba area. It is a welcome Vietnamese addition to the area, adding yet again more variety to the Tokyo food scene. This foodie joint is near the Takadonobaba Station so proves a good location. Here you find six varieties of the shop’s specialty of bánh mì to choose from—roast beef, chicken, pork, Vietnamese ham and liver paste or avocado and prawn. The roast pork and Vietnamese ham and liver paste are the firm favorites and sell out quickly here. Smaller sizes of bánh mì go for 300 yen each. Inside the sandwiches you will also find sweet pickled vegetables which are all cut to size for the bread, giving it a wonderful texture. You can also reserve a table at this restaurant, which might be a good idea if you’re a big group.
Soup curry—yes, that’s a thing in Japan. It came from Sapporo in the 1970s and became a popular dish in the early 2000s. In Japan, foreign dishes are often adapted and reworked oh so well. A soup curry is more like a spicy curry-based soup with vegetable and meat toppings. It is still served with rice though. Head to Shanti where prices range from 970-2,000 yen. They have less spicy options, so there’s something for everyone here. There is a spice label called level 40 here, and I don’t even want to know what happens to you if you eat this one.
If you want to carry on drinking after dinner, head to 16’s Stairing Steps Case. This overlooks Waseda Street and specializes in the good old Belgian brew. You can get about six beers on tap at any time. There are guest beers too that are displayed, such as Baird and Kirin’s Heartland. In this place, funnily enough, you might not find any students. There is a ‘No Students’ sign out front however, we don’t know how seriously this is implemented. Avoid hauling your school bag of books going into this place, we say.
You come to Japan, you need to listen to some jazz. Milestone is the perfect shout for this type of evening. Founded in 1976, this cafe is the ideal place for pondering over jazz books or manga. There are always classic tunes on in the background and any jazz lover can be found here sipping over a good cup of coffee. You can find this hideout on the ground floor of the Japan Braille Library.
What to do in Takadanobaba
It’s Friday night. You hit a karaoke joint—what else? This area is full of keen and eager youngsters belting out some classic tunes. Join in I say! Karaoke-Kan is a massive karaoke chain in Japan and it doesn’t disappoint. Offering cheap food and drinks and all those must-sing songs—you’re in for a great karaoke experience here.
For something more chilled out, try Nyankoto—a cozy cat cafe with cute furry felines and free drinks built into the price (800 yen an hour). There are comfy couches here if you want to veg and bring a book along too.
Toyama Park is a gem for the area. There are two sections to this park—the Okubo section and the eastern Mount Hakone section. Okubo is a place that presents itself as a hangout spot for university students. It hosts the Shinjuku sports center and a park information center too. Go to the Hakone side and you will find a quieter area. It features spacious grounds and the tallest mountain inside the Yamanote Line loop. Its 46m high and is particularly popular in the cherry blossom season. Expect crowds here around this time and heaps of pink and white colors soaring over.
And for shopaholics, Takadanobaba is home to a branch of Shimamura—an inexpensive clothing and shoe store boasting a range of sizes.
Where to stay in Takadanobaba
One perk of being on the Yamanote Line means Takadanobaba is only a few stops away from central neighborhoods like Shinjuku and Shibuya without paying higher hotel prices. Hotel Sunroute Takadanobaba is a comfortable hotel in the area at affordable rates and offers great service with a selection of standard and superior rooms.