Kichijoji, Tokyo – An Area Guide
Let us take you on a tour of Tokyo's most sought-after suburb - Kichijoji.
Kichijoji, in Tokyo’s western suburbs, is again and again voted as the most desirable place to live in the city, primarily down to the high quality of life on offer in the area. The Monocle Quality of Life Survey 2015 ranked Tokyo as the most livable city on the planet. Logic thus states that Kichijoji is the most livable neighbourhood on the planet. Woah.
Perhaps this is a non-sequitur designed to give weight to an opening paragraph, perhaps not, let’s not probe too deeply. The fact is, Kichijoji, with its ever-lovely park, edgy yet refined reputation and range of fine shops, restaurants and live music venues stands tall as an excellent place to hang out, spend a day, or if you’ve got the money, live.
Let us give you a tour of the neighbourhood. We’ll take in everything you need to see, everywhere you need to eat, drink and relax and give you instructions on how to get there. Stay close and try not to fall behind, we’ve got a lot to take in.
Kichijoji is not particularly touristy, so keep your guidebook hidden. Unlike some more central districts, the appeals here were not all built with the tourist industry in mind. However, this is not to say that it has nothing to offer. Inokashira Park, housing a zoo and the world-famous Studio Ghibli Museum, does a good job of appealing to everybody and serves as the real heart of the area. All roads lead to Inokashira.
1. Inokashira Park:
For the sake of clarity, we’ll deal with the park, zoo and museum as separate entities here, although the latter two are located within the parks boundaries.
Inokashira Park is one of the most pleasant in Tokyo and offers a different experience than the bigger, more central parks. The designers shunned wide-open fields in favour of secluded pathways and woodland areas, perfect for gentle strolls. Sunbathing enthusiasts might be better off heading to Yoyogi or Shinjuku Gyoen, this is not the place for that. Though the park is large, it never really feels like it, which in this case is a good thing.
In the middle of it all is a large pond come lake, replete with swan boats, fountains, real-life ducks and crossed by a bridge one might think was erected with photography in mind. This is a great vantage point but everywhere in Inokashira is pretty photo-worthy, so don’t stress too much if you can’t get the right angle. This is particularly true during hanami season when the cherry blossom trees are in bloom and the park is given a pink hue. Though be warned, a photo minus any strangers may prove a challenge given the park’s popularity among photographers and pleasure seekers alike at this time of year. Do as the locals do; pick up a picnic and a few beers to enjoy under the trees and wait out the crowds.
Access: Take the park exit out of the station, cross Inokashira-dori and take one of the three streets heading in the same direction towards the park.
2. Inokashira Park Zoo:
Like the park as a whole, the zoo does well to distinguish itself from its more central competition (in this case, Ueno Zoo). However, those only interested in the more deadly side of the animal kingdom may be disappointed given the park’s USP is animals indigenous to Japan. Don’t groan too soon though, the animals on show here have their own appeals, plus for a super low price (lower still with a foreign passport) you technically get two zoos in one!
Buy your ticket from the entrance located just after the bridge and you’ll be given a ticket allowing access to both. The first mainly features ducks with a small (and admittedly pretty dull) aquarium. Follow the signs up over a short road-bridge though and you’ll find yourself in the second part of the zoo, where the real action is. Until recently, the main event here was Hanako, a Thai elephant who sadly died aged 69 (though the living conditions of Hanako were highly controversial). Now with an empty elephant enclosure (which was filled with flowers following the animals passing) the zoo’s other animals get a bit more of a look in. Highlights include the large monkey enclosure, penguins, various types of native wildcat, the highly ‘kawaii’ hamster petting station, the birds of prey and the squirrel hut. The park’s star has gone but the show goes on.
Overall a very good value and interesting zoo set within nice surrounds.
Access: Head to the park (access instructions above), cross the bridge over the pond and the entrance is on your right.
Price: A standard price ticket is 400 yen (20% discount for foreigners) and children go free.
3. Ghibli Museum:
The museum of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli animation house. One of Japan’s biggest exports, the movies of Studio Ghibli have burst from their former status as cult classics to become pure, unprefixed classics the world over. The museum is a Mecca for fans of the films, though don’t be put off if you’re a newcomer, even contextless, it is sure to be a joy.
Though small, the designers have packed every square inch with something to see. The word ‘whimsy’ is the go-to for most people writing about the place, and it’s pretty accurate, along with synonyms fanciful, playful and mischevious. In terms of actual things to see, the first floor is home to a walkthrough of the studio’s history and that of its animation techniques (plus a small screening room with movies exclusive to the museum), the second houses temporary exhibitions and there is a nice roof garden (manned by robots from Castle in the Sky), cafe, gift shop and children’s play area as well.
Tickets for the museum are not expensive but are highly sought after. They can be only at Lawson (Japanese convenience store), and assistance from staff may be needed. Plan ahead and move quickly, tickets are like gold dust.
Access: Head for the park and follow the signs. Alternatively, shuttle buses are available from Mitaka Station. More details here.
Price: 1,000 yen (discount for children).
Entertainment – a broad term. Handily, we’ve decided entertainment in Kichijoji can be split into two perfectly formed parts: shopping and live music. If you enjoy both, good for you.
Kichijoji seems to have achieved a rare feat; successfully allowing chain and department stores to co-exist with independent merchants old and new in a blend that offers something to everyone.
Right next to the station is Harmonica Yokocho, a warren of semi-covered alleys to get lost in. Home of the black market after the war, it doesn’t seem to have lost much to time, still giving off a unique vibe, especially at twilight or after the sun goes down. During the day find a mix of food and clothing merchants. The former specialising in dried goods big in Japanese cooking and the latter offering bargains galore. A plethora of other goods and services can also be found here, from jewellery to fortune telling.
One of the area’s central arteries is Sun Road, a covered shopping arcade also close to the station. Though much newer and ordered than Harmonica Yokocho, the arcade still has a great deal of uniquely Japanese post-modern chic. You’ll find all sorts of shops here from high street staples Uniqlo and ABC Mart to artisan glasses shops and budget pharmacies. Take your time and take it in.
The large Yuzawaya department store is a reasonably priced outlet perfect for authentically Japanese souvenirs, whilst the Tokyu, Parco, Isetan and Seiyu department stores are well stocked but nothing you can’t find elsewhere. Though expensive, there are a good number of small vintage fashion stores dotted around the area, including local chains Chicago and Flamingo.
Kichijoji really does have it all in shopping terms, all without the dreaded crowds of the centre.
We’ve written before about Kichijoji’s musical prowess, and without wanting to harp on, we’re going to do it again. The suburb is renowned for being the home of Tokyo jazz; where you go to hang out at a cool jazz cafe or take in a more formal act. This reputation was formed in the 60s and though a few of the original joints have long since closed their doors, venues still proliferate. A morning in the park, an afternoon shopping, followed by a laid back evening of jazz. Perfect.
Here are a few of the top places to head for:
The first word in Tokyo jazz. Everyone who’s anyone has played here at some point. Entry fee is an extremely reasonable 1,500 yen and the bar prices aren’t too bad by Tokyo standards. Acts perform in the middle of the room with the audience surrounding them so you’re guaranteed a good seat. Turn up any day of the week to catch jazz from the traditional to the avant-garde.
Address: Ishikawa Bldg. B1F, 1-11-31 Kichijoji Honcho
2. Akai Karasu
A relaxed, large venue again with live music nightly. Entry ranges from 1,800 to 2,500 yen and it is well worth it. Jazz vocalists are a favourite here but like a lot of venues, variety is the name of the game.
Address: Shirakaba Bldg. 4F, 1-13-2 Kichijoji Honcho
3. Jazz Bar Funky
The music here is pumped through high-quality speakers, not live, but this doesn’t dimish the seriousness with which the establishment takes its jazz. Excellent food and drink is also on offer with first-rate service. Conversation feels perfectly natural here and album art is even projected onto the walls. One of the city’s finest jazz bars.
Address: 1-7-3 Kichijoji Honcho
Food and Drink in Kichijoji:
Kichijoji’s charms certainly extend to its food and drink establishments and with a huge number of great quality places to choose from, there is bound to be one for you. It has options to suit all price ranges and taste buds, all party sizes and dietary requirements.
Our picks, starting with food:
With four locations in Kichijoji alone, you know this place has some loyal customers. Most keep coming back for the famous deep-fried chicken wings (covered in a special spice blend and a secret sauce that takes a whole month to mature) and seafood. Toriyoishi 4, as the name suggests, is the newest branch with probably the best location. Enter through a heavy wooden gate on the park’s fringe into a Japanese style garden that feels like a natural extension of the park itself. With the setting and atmosphere, you may expect to be forking out a small fortune here, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reasonableness of the pricing.
Address: Inokashira Parkside Bldg B1F, 1-21-1 Kichijoji-Minamicho, Musashino-shi (Toriyoshi 4)
2. Peppermint Cafe
If the park’s fringe isn’t good enough, head to the Peppermint Cafe, within the bounds of the park itself. This place serves good, though not particularly authentic Thai food, all within an appealingly verdant setting. You do pay a small premium for the location but service is good and it’s unlikely you’ll be leaving with any complaints.
Address: 1-15-14 Musashino, Kichijoji Minamicho
A cheap pick straddling the border between eating and drinking. This old-style izakaya is famous for its yakitori, the smoke from which fills the air here. Don’t be put off though, the smoke is joined by the sound of chinking glasses and good times, and through the smog you should be able to make out the outline of salarymen letting loose, so you ultimately won’t mind. Yakitori is cheap (80 yen per stick) and the beer reasonable. Enjoy.
Address: Musashino-shi, Gotenyama 1-2-1
4. Village Vanguard Diner
Japan has a thing for Americana, most noticeable in its love of the hamburger. This joint, connected to quirky book/miscellaneous store Village Vanguard, serves up some of the best. Eat your burger surrounded by American kitsch and a whole lot of hungry fellow diners. Places like this are common in Tokyo, but this one is well worth checking out.
Address: Musashino-shi Kichijoji Honcho 2-20-1
A few drinking/nightlife options now:
5. Craft Beer Market
A chain, yes, but a pretty good one. This branch serves nice Okinawan style food, but the main event is the extensive beer selection. Try a tipple from Japan or further afield all for a pretty good price.
Address: Minamicho Musashino 1-1-24
Just a dozen seats and no seating charge, a rare combination. And there’s plenty to keep you planted on one of those seats as well; over 400 rum varieties and nearly as many whiskies making this one of the best-stocked bars in the city. Plus, only a short stumble from the station.
Address: 4F, 1-20-15 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino-shi
7. Shooting Bar EA
Guns and booze, what can go wrong? The owners of this place clearly saw a gap in the market; people flock here to drink and shoot air guns as if it were perfectly natural. A bizarre but fun option.
Address: Sawada Bldg 2F, 1-5-5 Gotenyama, Musashino-shi
8. Craft and Romance
The latest in Kichijoj’s craft beer explosion, Craft and Romance offers over 30 types to suit all guzzlers. The atmosphere is light, the service good and the roof terrace is a real treat in the summer.
Address: 7F, 1-5-3 Kichijoji-Minamicho, Musashino-shi
From Tokyo or Shinjuku, take the Chuo Line Rapid service heading toward Tachikawa (25 mins from Tokyo, 15 mins from Shinjuku).
From Shibuya, take the Keio Inokashira Line which terminates at Kichijoji (20 mins).