To stroll around Kichijoji on a Sunday is to participate in a Tokyo ritual. I spend most of my Sundays there. Enjoying their day off, thousands of relaxing Tokyoites come to wander its park, lake and hundreds of stores and restaurants. There is a festive, albeit Sunday-sober, atmosphere, and for the visitor, some memorable sights.
The popularity of the park and trendy shops help Kichijoji regularly top magazine polls as the best place to live in Tokyo. Most of the shops are north of the station. But avoid the bland generic department stores if you want to see Kichijoji’s unconventional character.
Crowds fill the aisles of second hand clothes stores selling US import sweaters at triple the price of Uniqlo’s Chinese made designs. A local butcher, Sato, attracts queues of 100 customers all hoping to buy some of its famed deep fried beef mince. At Village Vanguard, cheese and chocolate coated squid is just one of their many curious products.
Food options on both sides of the station are cheap, varied and well-advertised. Lunch usually costs no more than 1000 yen. In the last six weeks, I have eaten at different restaurants on each visit, none spectacular, but all satisfying. Numerous Thai and Vietnamese establishments, mostly staffed solely by Japanese, have good value lunch deals.
South of the station, everybody heads to Inokashira Park. Most people amble their way around the lake. Here, you can see children laughing and talking on a rare day out with both parents. Families stop at the small zoo, or the slides, while older people linger around the temple and scenic spots. Couples might hire a boat for a lake cruise, while drunks seem to enjoy sitting on the park benches, slurring.
Dogs get the most attention in the park, from curiosity more than fear. Kichijoji’s dogs wear clothes. Spot the terriers in tartan, a Chihuahua in a t-shirt and socks, and the husky dog chasing the backside of a poodle. They are mind-boggling. In a lakeside café, I recently spotted a bearded collie with a ponytail fringe, eating a scone.
Competing with the dogs, the park has an eclectic mix of free live entertainers on Sundays. Appreciative crowds gather to watch: a suited white man juggling tennis balls; a pink-haired, pink-heart-suited clown bending balloons and the local legend, an old man in a cowboy hat and leathers singing Kylie.
By the lake, local artisans sell their peculiar wares. I spent some time admiring some knitted scarves before realising they were dog sweaters. Further along, an ink-painted postcard of a pink lipsticked Buddha smoking cannabis made a fine 100 yen souvenir.
If you tire of the park’s bizarre reality, Shinjuku and Shibuya are only 15 minutes on the train. And the make believe world of animator Miyazaki Hayao’s Studio Ghibli is just a 15 minute walk. He doesn’t have to go far to get his inspiration.