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Kichijoji uncovered

Inokashira park

The Keio Inokashira line links, amongst other places, two of the grooviest hideouts in Tokyo. Near the Shibuya end, for the younger crowd, the place to be is Shimokitazawa; at the other end, for slightly more mature with-it Tokyoites, it's Kichijoji. But there is one prize Kichijoji holds over and above its small cousin - Inokashira Park. Matt Wilce looks at the sights and delights of one of Tokyo's better kept natural secrets whilst Francois Trahan gives an in-depth look at the eclectic selection of restaurants, bars and shops galore to be found in the winding streets that lead there. All in, at a mere ten minutes from Shinjuku station, it's a recipe for a delightfully different day out.



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INOKASHIRA PARK: Lakeside arts and wildlife

Inokashira Park is the lifeblood of Kichijoji. It is a popular place to relax-Tokyo style, that is. Don't always expect a haven of tranquility. On weekends the park can be just as crowded as the shopping district, and positively overflows with entertainment. But catch it on a weekday evening or after hours, the smell of pine trees lingering in the warm spring air, and its tranquil beauty will be sure to offer a calm interlude.

Inokashira park

Inokashira Park was the first park founded by an Emperor to be opened to the public. An Edo-period wood block print shows the emperor Tokugawa Ieyasu using water from the park's pond in a tea ceremony. The natural spring in the park also dates from the Edo period and from the 17th to the 19th century water from Tamagawa-Josui (the river that runs through the park) was used for drinking by Mitaka city residents.

However, mythology also gives the park a less benevolent patronage. The goddess Benzaiten, who is enshrined within the park in the small Meiseisan Taiseiji temple, is a jealous goddess, it seems. The local story is that if you take your date to the park, you will split up soon after. Perhaps Benzaiten commanded the fate of the famous novelist Osamu Dazai, who committed suicide here with his lover. They were found drowned in Tamagawa-Josui at the edge of the park. And in 1993 a dismembered male body was discovered in plastic bags, distributed amongst the park's trash cans. The killer has never been found.

Inokashira park

However, the legend doesn't seem to deter many couples and Inokashira Park is one of the most popular spots for a romantic day out in the whole of Tokyo. At the heart of the park is a large lake divided into two sections. The larger section is devoted to pleasure boats which are popular with dating couples. Dividing the lake is a bridge, on the other side of which is a nature reserve given over to various water birds, turtles and koi (carp). On the street leading to the park from Kichijoji station you can pick up food to feed these continuously ravenous fish.

Street Art
Weekends and national holidays are when Inokashira Park is at its most entertaining. Approaching from Kichijoji station, you will be greeted by the impromptu flea market which runs down the steps and spills over into the park. Here, everything from Indian chai (tea) to secondhand clothes is on offer. Amongst ethnic goods and hand-made hats are young artists who sell postcards and prints of their work.

Dotted along the banks of the lake are a plethora of performers-I counted 18 different acts one afternoon. These range from the excruciatingly bad-a very camp rendition of Carpenter's songs on a mini-Casio keyboard, to the excellent-a jazz tribute group. In addition to the regular singer/songwriters, like Hase-san, who performs every weekend (look for his jaunty cap), there are several kids' entertainers, jugglers and even somebody who can inflate a rubber glove with his nose, if that's what you're looking for. Less child-friendly were the pair of psychotic ventriloquists whose dolls look like something from a cheap 1970's horror movie. The three kids squatting next to them didn't seem too disturbed...yet. And don't forget your very own Japanese Michelangelo: the tall man amongst the trees daubed with white paint, wearing a scrap of cloth around his loins, posing neoclassically. Nobody seems surprised to see him-maybe because he has been performing his witty tableaux here for years.

Inokashira Zoo
If people-watching and drinking coffee are just not educational enough for you, visit the zoo, the smaller part of which is within the main park along the far end of the lake. Here, there is a generally unimpressive selection of captive seagulls and a modest aquarium of catfish. The larger part of the zoo is situated on the other side of the main road along the Musashino end of the park. The entrance fee for both areas is JY400 for adults and is almost worth it. The main zoo has a large petting area with guinea pigs, a monkey enclosure, squirrel house and raccoons-all popular with the kids.

The "main attraction" is the Asiatic elephant, but seeing such a fine animal in a cramped cage and barren outdoor enclosure was pitiful rather than impressive. The elephant was brought from Hokkaido to recuperate from a skin disease (maybe frostbite?) and it certainly looked less than happy. Other "attractions" include a hothouse, which apparently contains tropical birds (none were visible and I suspect that the bird calls were actually taped), and some small children's rides. If you are under twelve and like cute animals you should enjoy a visit to Inokashira zoo. If you are over twelve, you may have concerns about the quality of the enclosures and be somewhat disappointed by the limited variety and quality of the animals.

At the far edge of the zoo are three large exhibition halls, which feature sculptures by the local artist Nishimura Seibo. Nishimura designed the sculpture for the Peace Park in Nagasaki, and a smaller version of his statue is on display here. Some pieces are impressive due to their size and the mock studio showing the construction process is interesting. However, his style will not inspire all, and the military and mythological sculptures often seem rather at odds with the rest of the zoo.

Despite the limitations of the zoo, the hoards still pour in as part of the Inokashira Park day-out experience. But catch the park on a rainy day and you can walk undisturbed through the pine trees and watch the carp in peace. On a warm weekday night, stand in the center of the bridge and look at the stars with only your date and a lone jogger for company. On the weekend, enjoy the performers and the flea market, take in the sights and sounds, or take to the water in a swan boat. The park has many facets, many moods, and endless surprises.

Matt Wilce


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STREETS OF KICHIJOJI


Whilst Inokashira Park is a favorite relaxation spot for many, the street leading to it offers plenty to sample to make your day a complete escape from the daily grind, from coffee shops, clothes, art and trinket stores, to bars and restaurants. And the range of foods is quite surprising, too: Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, German, Italian, and various Japanese as well - anything you want is probably there somewhere. Even if all you need is a breather and a walk in the park, you're sure to get caught up in the variety of Kichijoji.

1 Havana Club. Cuban music and dance bar and restaurant. B1, open 5-11pm, closed Tue. Tel: 0422-42-1660.
2 Shabu Kichi. Second floor shabu shabu restaurant, open from noon until 11pm.
3 Miss Saigon. Vietnamese restaurant. B1, open 12-3pm, 5-10:15pm daily. Tel: 0422-71-1932.
4 Riu. Chinese restaurant, serving lunch specials. 1F, open all day.
5 Tom Yum. Thai home-style cooking in a cozy setting on 2F. Open 5-10pm. Tel: 0422-20-4044.
6 Doutor. Ubiquitous coffee and sandwich chain.
7 Olive Noki. Spaghetti and pizza restaurant open all day.
8 Aces Gallery. Prints and photos, specializing in European stuff.
9 Peppermint Cafe. Trendy "Thai Asian Foods Paradise Restaurant Bar," serving Asian food and Guinness on tap. B1, open 5:30pm-1am (last order 12am). Tel: 0422-79-3930.
10 Zool. New and secondhand clothes. 2F.
11 Mugendo. Asian clothes, art, jewellery, accessories, etc.
12 Starbucks. Recently opened. The terrace is pleasant on a sunny morning.
13 Iseya. Big sukiyaki and yakitori izakaya. There are a few stools out on the street, but go inside for views of the park.
14 Donatello's Cafe. Serves coffee and great Italian ices in creative flavors (try lemon-tomato). Great view of the park.
15 The steps lead to Inokashira Park (see opposite), including rowing (JY600/ hour), pedal boats (JY600/ 30 minutes), feeding the ducks, pigeons or crows.
16 Torioshi. Japanese restaurant halfway up the steps. Right on the park, but only open at night. Very popular place.
17 Primi Baci. Italian restaurant on 2F with an open kitchen, serving excellent Tuscan cuisine. Terrace overlooks Inokashira Park. Open 11:30am-2:30pm, 2:30-5:30pm (tea) and 5:30-10:30pm Mon-Fri, 11:30am-10pm Sat, Sun and holidays.
18 Vic. Foreign foods and goods shops. Also stocks furniture, appliances and all sorts of things.
19 Ja-da Clothing. Recycled clothing.
20 Creative AI. Hairdressers on 2F.
21 Saika. Clothes, pottery and trinkets.
22 SOS. Small clothes shop.
23 Konig. German cafe, serving sausages and sauerkraut with your coffee.
24 Toneri. Japanese restaurant on B1. Open at night; serves oden and a good selection of sake.
25 Copa Jalibu. Loud reggae bar and restaurant. Cocktails JY650-JY750, snacks, soups and salads JY600-JY900. Open 6pm-2am Sun-Thu and 6pm-4am Fri and Sat. Tel: 0422-46-2900.
26 Biosphere. Wines and spirits. Serves all types of foods and drinks.
27 Mont Martre. Coffee and cake shop.
28 Oh! India. Curry and ice cream.
29 Gladrags. Around the corner, offers a large selection of streetwear.
30 Borderline. Vintage guitar shop.
31 Firetrap. New and used clothes.
32 News. Clothes and shoes.
33 Irohado. Secondhand clothes, toys and gadgets.
34 Karudei. Coffee shop.
35 Minx. Streetwear and fashion. 2F.
36 Mumtaj. Indian restaurant, open for lunch and dinner on 2F.
37 Jazz Boo. "Vintage clothing"... a fancy name for secondhand clothes.
38 Santa Monica. More secondhand clothes.

To get there: Kichijoji station is on the Keio Inokashira line (17 minutes from Shibuya by express) or the JR Chuo or Sobu lines (10 minutes from Shinjuku by express). To get to Inokashira Park, take the park exit from the station. Walk straight down the street to Marui Dept. store, turn right and then take the first street on your left. The park is down the steps at the end of that street. Alternatively, get off the Inokashira line at Inokashira-Koen station, which brings you to the Mitaka end of the park.

Francois Trahan

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