By Michael Ying
Imagine crossing the almost dry riverbed of the Tamagawa Josui waterway as you exit Kichijoji in search of the nearby Ghibli Museum. You arrived early, but so fascinated were you by what you found there that you stayed until after sunset. Now the water is a raging river and you cannot pass. Your parents have turned into pigs and you may be trapped here forever. Welcome to the spirit world.
You could be forgiven for thinking you had somehow stepped into the world of Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki’s blockbuster animation, which won an Oscar in 2002 and became the most successful film in Japanese history. And in a way maybe you had, for the Ghibli Museum – officially in Mitaka but close enough to Kichijoji not to care – is full of wonders and secrets.
The Ghibli Museum is close to Inokashira Park, one of the most popular places in Tokyo in which to enjoy the custom of hanami – springtime cherry blossom viewing. Inokashira Park is a great place to relax. Why not go boating on the pond? Choose from swan-shaped pedal boats or conventional row boats for just a few hundred yen. On weekends, the park is alive with the hum and buzz of pleasure seekers – singles, couples, friends, families – all out for a stroll and most likely being amused by the licensed entertainers. There are also two zoos. The one in the park houses mostly ducks, and the main one is across the road (400 yen for adults, free for children under 12, closed on Mondays). If this sounds too hectic for you, don’t worry. The park covers 384,000 square meters and it’s not hard to find a quiet hiding place.
It’s easy to get to Kichijoji from the center of Tokyo via the Keio Inokashira Line, the Chuo Line, the Sobu Line and the Tozai Line. It’s regularly voted one of the places most Tokyoites would like to move to, and that’s reflected in the thousands that visit daily. The big department stores are Tokyu, Marui and Parco. You’ll find Ebisu Dako, a nice little takoyaki shop, next to Parco on the station side. These octopus dumplings are very popular; just don’t burn your mouth by eating them too quickly.
Between Parco and the covered Sun Road shopping street lies Harmonica Yokocho, a run of enticing alleys crammed with casual restaurants, clothes shops and bars. Squeeze yourself down and explore.
If you’re into electronics, cell phones, cameras, watches or games, dive into the electronics superstore Yodobashi Camera. Located just down the road from the north side of the station, it’s bright and brash, and you’re sure to find something of interest there.
Kichijoji rewards exploring, so be sure to wander down its backstreets. Don’t be shy about stepping into eateries no bigger than a living room, and if coffee’s your thing then you’re spoilt for choice. For people watching, I recommend the small terrace of Omiya café on the corner of Parco department store. The ice cold lemonade really hits the spot.
Need to break the pace a little? Then pause under a tree and take in the serenity of Hachiman shrine or take in a movie at any one of Kichijoji’s three movie theaters: Kichijoji Toa Kogyo, Baus Theater or the Kichijoji Plaza.
Whether you visit for the food, the park, the shopping or the shrine, Kichijoji is a place you’ll want to come back to again and again. Just be sure not to get caught on the wrong side of the river after sunset.
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My business is communication. I'm lucky enough to do a job I love - teaching English at a leading Japanese university, and at global companies such as Olympus, Panasonic and Hitachi. I love motorcycles, and have written for a motorcycle magazine in England. I've also ridden my motorcycle across eight countries in Europe. I used to race, and have crashed at every circuit I've been to - but walked away to tell tall tales in bars across the world! I have a vague plan to head back to the Himalayas and ride up to Ladakh on an Enfield Bullet. I've been in Japan now for 12 years, which is quite funny since I only planned to come for one. Life's a journey, so saddle up and ride.