You could spend an entire week in Tokyo and never really leave the “inner circle” the neighborhoods that sit within the circular route of the city’s Yamanote train line. But you really should, if only to make the short trip out to Kichijoji, Tokyo’s original bohemian hangout and an excellent place to spend an afternoon or a full day.
Kichijoji sits on the Chuo Line, a ten minute ride west of Shinjuku station. It’s madness to come out here on a sunny weekend in sakura season, but on a weekday afternoon, the crowds are thin and you have the attractions mostly to yourself.
And what attractions are those? Here are a few:
- Inokashira Park – I. love. this. park. That’s a pretty strong statement but there’s something here for everyone. Shaded paths for running or wandering, a sprawling lake where you can rent a paddleboat, a quiet shrine, “street performers” on weekends and in the summertime and tasty Thai food from the terrace of a garden eatery. Other parks in Tokyo, like Shinjuku Gyoen, definitely have their own appeal, but Inokashira feels like a huge, safe, neighborhood hangout. Come with your kids, your grandma or your significant other – no one feels out of place here.
- Ghibli Museum – If you’ve ever seen the creative and colorful films of Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Ponyo”, “Princess Mononoke”), you’ll be just as captivated by this whimsical museum hidden in a corner of leafy Inokashira Park. From a larger than life Robot Soldier (“Castle in the Sky”) to a climbable cat bus (“My Neighbor Totoro), a visit here is an adventure into the absurd. It’s a bit like Alice falling into Wonderland, only with more of a Cotswolds feel to Wonderland. The two downsides to the Ghibli Museum are the advance ticket reservation process and the lack of English signage.
- Inokashira Park Zoo – It might not boast any pandas like Ueno Zoo, but it’ s one of the city’s more kid-friendly animal exhibits. Sure, there are the usual suspects – monkeys, tropical birds and Hanako, the elephant – but in my opinion, the hands-on guinea pig house steals the show. The zoo also breeds mandarin ducks that are later released into the park.
You can get to Kichijoji from either Kichijoji or Mitaka stations but I love the wander from the south side of Kichijoji to the park on the street right before Inokashira street. You’ll pass by funky boutiques, trendy design stores and cafes that serve food both indoors and out. If you’re not pulled in by the sights and smells of menus along here, get your food fix on the leafy terrace of Pepa Cafe Forest, a casual eatery on the far side of the park offering a pan-Asian menu with an emphasis on Thai dishes. The open-air atmosphere and comfy chairs – we sat on couches for our meal – makes for a great place to kick back and the spring rolls with excellent peanut sauce are worth ordering two plates worth.
Kichijoji is one of those neighborhoods where you could wander all day and still feel like there is so much more to uncover. Have you been there? Share your discoveries in the comments below!