Bullet train. Tick. Japanese garden. Done. Shibuya Crossing. Check (never again). Historical neighbourhood with cobbled streets and burnished wooden houses straight off a Samurai drama set. Not yet. For visitors with a penchant for traipsing to every site listed in Tokyo's guidebooks, Kagurazaka Dori may come as a surprise. First, it's rarely mentioned. Second, at just 400 metres long, Kagurazaka at first glance doesn't have that much to offer. In this case, fortunately, appearances are deceptive. This compact area contains more shops, bars, restaurants and temples than many neighbourhoods in Tokyo five times its size. It also has the added bonus of being one of the few districts left in Japan that you may just meet a geisha. Equidistant to the tranquillity of the Imperial Palace outer gardens and Shinjuku's neon madness, Kagurazaka - its name refers to the gentle hill that slopes from Sotobori moat up to Bishamonten temple and dominates the area's topography - has two distinct faces. By day students from the nearby science university crowd the ramen, meat bun and burger joints while grandmothers shop at Kagurazaka's oldest sweet shop Kinozen and the family-run ceramics, handmade paper and kimono accessories stores that line the street. At night buckwheat crepe specialist Le Bretagne, built to service the close-by L'Institut Franco-Japonais de Tokyo and the scores of bars in the area come alive and the tree-lined main thoroughfare becomes vaguely Parisian with an endless parade of handholding couples. Bishamonten Temple, which dominates the neighbourhood, lights up from dozens of red lanterns hanging outside casting Kagurazaka Street with a mysterious glow. An adjacent pachinko parlour (a local gambling obsession that defies explanation) and video game arcade is just as enticing, their harsh florescent strip lights and screaming recorded voices persuading passers-by to enter their premises. There's a discovery every few steps. A fugu or blowfish restaurant - a Russian roulette-style delicacy that threatens to poison you to death if served the wrong part - rubs shoulders with an old-fashioned izakaya or Japanese pub in which diners are offered a medley of traditional local foods, served in small dishes tapas-style, designed to be washed down with beer. Close by is a modern izakaya serving trendy fusion cuisine; octopus pizza and foie gras yakitori with a drinks menu that lists mojitos and vintage red wine. Close by is Per-Fume Tsubakiya, one of those stores for which one visit is definitely not enough. Handmade paper, or washi in Japanese, is fashioned into delicate gift bags too good to be given away with the present contained inside. Incense and floral-scented ornaments on display at the store have mingled together to produce an extraordinary smelling potpourri that overwhelms the senses. Step off the main drag, however, and it's as if time has stood still. Lanes barely wider than two geisha walking side-by-side snake randomly, these lined by wooden houses so darkened with age they appear abandoned in some cases. Doorway entrances are traditionally low - even the supplest limbo dancer would have trouble getting through some of these - and streetlights are old-fashioned clear glass. The area's charm is not all about its nod to the past though. What makes Kagurazaka unique is its atmosphere derived from cafes like saryo, a definite caffeine jolt back to the present. With its minimal graphic typeface name and outdoor terrace that welcomes Tokyo's omnipresent chihuahuas, saryo is housed within an original dark wood house but offers a modern-traditional take on Japanese desserts including mugwort and apple torte, walnut and bracken tart and green tea and azuki bean chiffon sponge, all served with a healthy green tea blend. On Sundays the streets are closed to traffic. The downside is that many of the stores close too. The best time to visit is late afternoon during the week when Bishamonten's lanterns glow against the setting sun and bar owners throw water onto the pavements out front, a cleansing purification ritual that has been performed for centuries. It's also about the right time to catch geisha, with their overly made-up faces and eye-catching kimonos, heading to work.