A Day In ‘Joji, A Walk In The Park
So now you ask, what makes Kichijoji worth a 14 minute trip out from Tokyo, Shinjuku anyway? Well, that would deffinately have to be the dandy little stroll through Inokashira Park on a crisp spring day. If you’re looking for an fun-filled and eventful way to spend your weekend, that won’t burn a hole in your pocket or require a long travel from the capital, look no further. Don’t care for a piece of the great outdoors, or day in the park? Kichijojian streets are a great place to get lost on the weekends. There are plenty of great little trinket shops in in this little, quieter-than-Tokyo hideaway that has the same basic shopping requirements as any other day at the busy inner-city department store lined streets would have. In fact it has become quite the hangout for city youngsters, couples, and- well- everybody loves ‘Joji! It’s a quiet break from everything jungle and concrete- you control the volume- a special privilage brought to you by Ms. Benzaiten, but we’ll get to that later. When you’re done shopping, and the nighttime draws in, Kichijoji offers a suprisingy good selection of restaurants foreign and local, as well as stylish Japanese taverns and bars.
Pines and cedars in the back of the park tower above as the cherry blossoms and hydrangeae that surround the length of the pond bloom and fall in the cadence of nature. Fluttering pigeons shuffle at your feet. Children stomp down to traumatize them sending them sailing straight into your face, while old men feed them fat all day long, only refueling their dependancy on the human specie, bringing them back for more torment.
Although upon first entrance to the park, the nature seems primarily guided by the hand of man, a walk into the deeper corners will reveal a lush forest- the original look of the region. By the lake there are several signs that local wildlife flourishes. Aside from naturalized city pigeons, abundance of crows, and the occasional flock of seagull, at least 18 kinds of water birds and ducks and dozens of other wild birds can be found in and around the lake throughout the year, including migrating birds from Siberia. They are attracted by the lush greenery and sizeable water supply. Inokashira is premium ground for birding enthusiasts for miles. Another interesting feature of the park is the fact that it is occupied by one of Japan’s seven lucky gods. Here’s where we talk about Benzaiten. She’s the goddess of music, fine arts, and the sea through which she brings prosperity. She is almost always present around some body of water (Inokashira pond in this case. She is thought to help protect the lake so without her, who knows, the park may not have existed). But here’s the catch: although she is said to be the goddess of love and fortune and is thought to be amiable, she is often moody and sometimes jealous of couples! It is said to be a bad idea for the superstitious to bring their couple to the shrine, or get too lovey-dovey in the park. As the god has the power to turn into a snake, eggs are thought to be her most favorite food, and offering (sake is too, by the way). So couples, bring an egg. A little extra luck never hurts.
Circus of the streets
As the flow of people through the day reaches its peak, so do performers. Some days will find the park a desolate and tranquil hideaway for the appreciation of any lover of nature’s quiet. Other days will bring in hoards of passersby, couples, families, and stray old men- some poor residents of the street. With their presence also comes the company and entertaining feats of Japan’s own version of the three ring business. Behold a piece of Japan’s circus of the streets. On any day you may see dancers, musicians, mimes, traditional jugglers, and all kinds of other street performers like the live human work of art (that must be seen to be understood).
At the end of the Inokashira stretch, this museum displays the creations of internationally famous animator Hayao Miyazaki. His animations have a unique effect, being centered on abstract themes of nature and fantasy. “Tenku no Shiro Rapyuta” (“Laputa: Castle in the Sky”), “Tonari no Totoro” (“My Neighbor Totoro”), “Mononoke Hime” (“Princess Mononoke”), and “Kaze no Tani “” (“Nausica of the Valley of Wind”) are among his famous works. At the Ghibli Museum you can see rare, never seen before movies and scenes- the very latest of Miyazaki’s works. This is a place that will bring back the kid in you. It’s perfect for the children, or just bring yourself, and prepare to enter a world where miracles are a daily occurance, fantastic dimensions have tweeked into reality, where cats are busses and and giant robots tower toward the sky. But tickets are only sold in advanced, and hard to get- it seems that they deal exclusively with Lawson Convenience Stores domestically. They can be bought overseas too at select travel agencies through Japan Travel Bureau. Check out their English website for more on that:
Just as there is a refuge for wildlife so is there a shopper’s mini heaven
Kichijoji is full of shopping possibilities, from delightful little shops, with knickknacks and gadgets, to an array of the top department stores found elsewhere in the city. Department stores include Seiyu off of Itsukaichi, Isetan and Loft between Honchoshindo and Penny Lane, Parco on Heiwa street, Tokyu west of Kichijoji-Koen Street, and Marui on Nanaibashi-dori. Most of these offer the basic 5~6 floors of women’s, men’s, foodstuffs and sweets, wines, gifts, flowers, chain type restaurants and cafes, bath, stationery, and roof to that provides a place to sit or little coin opperated rides for the kids. Loft is a broad-range daily goods shop with more novelty goods. On the 7th floor of Isetan’s southern building is Kichijoji Art Museum. If daily shopping isn’t in your idea of a good time, there are hundreds of interesting street shops. Down by the park on Nanaibashi Street, check out the assortment of funky style and interior decor shops. Products sprawl out into the street and lure you in with everything from Chinese style furniture, to the latest native South American woven threads, to incense and silk flowers. Unfortunately, the street ends too quickly. Right when you begin to think this is turning into another Harajuku or Omotesando, your bubble bursts and (heading up to the station from Nanaibashi) you find that it soon turns into the same old same old: rows of department stores, chain stores, fast food and other restaurants stacked on top of each other, banks, and city apartments. You’ve come back to the station. But no need to frett. The fun hasn’t ended, it has just become hidden underneath all this monotony. Walk the little streets around the department stores. The variety is endless.
Or get a head start on the night life
‘Jojian nightlife mainly exists on its Eastern streets, but also within the department store area. Here is where ‘Joji has a slight affinity with parts of Harajuku. That could be explained by the overall number of youth in general. They are all looking for something good, cheap, glamourous, romantic, and different. ‘Joji has the perfect answer: yakitori, used clothes, and gellato. A mind-boggling range of choices co-exist. Indian Gormet, healthy Chinese, Bali resort style Asian cafe , cafes upon more cafes, delis, and, of course, all kinds of Japanese food from stylish to cheap. It’s the middle-agers and up that diminish the would-be Harajuku image. It seems they also play an important role in the Kichijoji scheme. They are here for the same reasons as the young- on a never ending quest for a good time.