Ningyocho, literally doll town, used to be a town of doll makers, puppeteers, and puppet theaters during the Edo period (1603-1868). It also serves as the birthplace of Edo Kabuki theatre. A good number of buildings have been preserved in this town, and many of the traditional restaurants and craftsman-shops in this area are here for over 100 years. The town is not known anymore for its dolls, but rather for these, often high-class, traditional restaurants and shops. Many of the roads are very straight and very wide (except for Kogiku-Dori), which are not particularly cozy and might not feel as “Japanese” as many other old shopping streets or izakaya alleys. However, there is one rather interesting feature, and that is that many of the corner houses have their corner cut, which makes many of the crossings enjoyable.
Ningyochi is also home to a popular Shichifukujin Meguri (七福神めぐり), a pilgrimage to seven different shrines (for the seven different gods), where you can pray for luck in the new year.
Tamahide, one of the most famous restaurants in Ningyocho.
There are a couple of specific streets in this neighbourhood that are worth looking into. I found the three streets below the most interesting when exploring the area, however, a couple of extremely important shops and restaurants are not located on any of these streets, but very near. These are Tamahide (chicken restaurant), Hamadaya (kaiseki restaurant), Imahan (sukiyaki restaurant), Matsunami (okonomiyaki restaurant) and Kizushi (sushi restaurant). So it pays to stroll around the backstreets as well.
Ningyocho-Dori (人形町通り) is the main street of Ningyocho where you find the mechanical figurine clock towers on either side of the road that immediately catch they eye. These clocks will give you a little show every hour (from 11:00 until 19:00), featuring themes of hikeshi firefighters and rakugo comic storytelling (rakugo is a form of Japanese verbal entertainment in which a storyteller sits on stage and without standing up he/she depicts a long and complicated comical story).
One of the two clock towers on Ningyocho-Dori
There are also many old and famous shops along this street such as Hiyama (sukiyaki restaurant), Kotobukido (Japanese sweets), Uokyu (Kyoto-style kasuzuke) and Ubukeya (craft scissors). You can also sample the local ningyoyaki at several places here.
We take as Ningyocho-dori the part from the crossing with Shinobashi-dori in the south (where Suitengu shrine is located, near suitengu-mae station) and Edo-dori in the north (all the way up to Kodemmachi station), however, all the interesting shops are around Ningyocho station.
Amazake-Yokocho (甘酒横丁) is the most famous old shopping street in Ningyocho. It runs for about 400 meters from the A1 exit of Ningyocho station to the Meiji-za Theater. Amazake-Yokocho is a regular road, rather wide, with busy traffic. The highlights on this treet are for me Morinoen (for the hojicha tea) and Futaba Tofu (for the sheer variety of tofu products), because of the specific merchandise you can find here that is unique in Tokyo. If you are haven’t tried yet a real original taiyaki, then Yanagiya is also a must stop-by. Check out my article on the 5 places to visit on this street.
3. Kogiku-Dori (Geisha Alley)
Kogiku-Dori (小菊通り), also called Geisha Alley (芸者新道) is a very narrow and short street (only 100 meters) starting from the Okannonji temple (small temple at the crossing with Ningyocho-dori, and characterised by its narrow staircase leading to the temple). The origin of this street’s name comes from the aspiring actresses and geisha that used to live here. It is a very cozy street with lots of greens and a couple of old shops and restaurants such as Yoshiume (izakaya in black wooden building), Kanaesuehiro (a shop specializing in Japanese folding fan) and Iwase (izakaya with a very beautiful wooden front).
There is a signboard at the start of the street next to the staircase of Okannonji temple explaining the history of the temple (in Japanese only). The street survived the 2 main events that destroyed most of Tokyo’s heritage: the great earthquake of 1923 and the bombings of world war 2.
Iwase restaurant on Kogiku-dori
Ningyocho Station (Hibiya line)
Suitengu-mae Station (Hanzomon line)
When to best visit? All year round.
Why visit? Plenty of old and high quality restaurants.
Places to visit or things to do in the area? Visit the lucky god shrines when you are in the area.