Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Hobitto-mura: Natural nourishment for body and spirit in Nishi-Ogikubo

by Robbie Swinnerton

Nishi-Ogikubo — or Nishiogi, as the locals like to call it — is a quiet, low-rise neighborhood, a backwater that most people overlook in their hurry to get to bustling Kichijoji. Therein lies its primary appeal.

Its main claim to fame these days is its high concentration of antique shops (63 listed on the free tourist handout map), kimono dealers, bric-a-brac merchants, recycling outlets and secondhand bookstores. Back in the day, though, the area was perfumed with a heady whiff of counterculture.

One pocket of that righteous hippie ethos still lives on at Hobitto-mura (“Hobbit Village”). It’s not hard to find: Just south of the tracks, it’s the tatty building with star-shaped windows up the stairwell and foliage covering its facade.

The produce store at street level stocks a motley selection of natural foods, homemade cookies and farmhouse miso. Two floors up, the tiny Nawa Prasad bookshop crams in a remarkable range of alternative books (some in English) and new-agey CDs; while the tatami space of the Hobbit-mura Free School offers yoga workshops and butoh dance performances.

And, providing sustenance for the physical body, the second-floor cafe-bar-restaurant Balthazar serves worthy, non-additive meals blending Japanese and Western ingredients and influences. Whether you prefer grilled fish and sake, spaghetti and organic wine, or the classic genmai pizza — a patty of brown rice topped with either salad or spicy ground beef — the cooking is capable, if hardly stellar.

But it’s a friendly, casual space where you can settle in and take as long as you like to chat, read or just gaze at the annotated Allen Ginsberg photos on the wall and slip back into the time warp.

Hobitto-mura 2F, 3-15-3 Nishiogi-Minami, Nerima-ku; (03) 3331-0522; nearest station: Nishi-Ogikubo (JR Chuo line); open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 6-11 p.m. (Sun. 6-10:30 p.m.); closed Tue. and 4th Mon.