Kichijōji (吉祥寺) is a neighbourhood in the city of Musashino in Tokyo, Japan. It is centered on a compact but very popular commercial area to the north of its train station and to the south a little, with a full range of shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses. To the south of Kichijoji station you will find the Inokashira Park, a popular spot for people to escape the city and walk through nature while enjoying the atmosphere created by various street performers, artists and vendors. The area has consistently featured on best areas to live in the Tokyo Metropolitan area lists since the 1990s and placed No.1 on real estate giant Suumo’s annual survey in 2017.
At the heart of Kichijōji lives the Inokashira Park. It's real name is the Inokashira Onshi Koen which translates to "Inokashira Imperial Grant Park" as it was gifted to the people of Tokyo by the Emperor in 1913 and opened in 1917. The park features various attractions such as it's large pond, Inokashira Park Zoo and the Ghibli Museum. Inokashira is one of the greenest parks in Tokyo and with dense trees you can get the feeling of being in the forest while only being a 30 minute train ride from Central Tokyo Station and only a 20 minute train ride from Shinjuku.
Inokashira park is a popular destination for people who come from all over Tokyo who come to take in the lively atmosphere the park provides. Various vendors, street performers, musicians and artists alike gather to take advantage of the large crowds that are often strolling through the park on weekends and holidays. There are also a number of festivals each year held in the park such as Kichijōji Music Festival and the Kichijōji Anime Wonderland.
Springtime brings crowds of people to the park each year for Ohanami ("Cherry Blossom Viewing") which can be done on the various tree covered paths or on the pond from one of the paddle boats. One your stroll through the park you can also find the Benzaiten Shrine which is dedicated to the Goddess of "everything that flows".
Well known not just in Japan but around the world, Hayao Miyazaki has inspired the imagination of people all over the world with his fantastic creations and in the Ghibli museum they have been brought to life. Found on the western side of Inokashira Park the museum is dedicated to the studio’s work, as well as to illuminating the mechanics of the world of animation. Even though there are many references to the recognizable films of Studio Ghibli within the museum, you don’t have to be a Studio Ghibli fan to appreciate the amazing artistry on display, or be completely charmed by the exhibits.
Inside the museum it is a multi-storied mansion full of twists and turns, tiny doors, winding staircases, and a rooftop garden — recreating the mood of the enchanting Studio Ghibli universe. There is also no photography permitted inside which adds to the level of mystery for those who have not seen what wonders the museum holds.
Subculture and Atmosphere
In the late 60s Kichijōji developed a reputation as a "jazz town" due to the opening of several jazz kissaten (“coffee house”) by the late Iori Noguchi who was a local jazz-scene celebrity. This attracted many musicians, artists, college professors and like-minded people to live in and visit the area creating the casual, laid-back atmosphere Kichijōji has become known for. Noguchi's most famous establishment 'Sometime' has been holding nightly shows since 1975 and is still one of the top places to see live jazz in Kichijōji.
Small boutique stores that specialize in well-curated vintage collections as well as made-in-Japan stores are also very popular in Kichijoji. Kichijoji has become known for being the place to buy such niche items as subcultures have been allowed to shine in the trendy and open-minded neighbourhood. You can buy anything from vintage books, magazines, clothes to beautifully hand crafted japanese homewares such as plates, bowls and chopsticks.
Shopping and Restaurants
Kichijōji is home to many different narrow laneways that bring people from all over Tokyo who are looking for great shopping at the Sunroad or Nakamichi-Dori or a lively night scene at the creatively named Harmonica Yokocho.
In the Kichijoji Sunroad and Nakamichi-Dori you can find traditional independent shops alongside brand new chain stores here — truly, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for new shoes, fresh tofu, Japanese hand cream or a vintage kimono, you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for and more in Kichijoji’s shopping laneways.
Once a flea market after World War II, Harmonica Yokocho, named as such (“Harmonica Alley” in English) due to the small shops resembling the reeds of a harmonica, is now a dynamic series of crisscrossing laneways north of Kichijoji station. During the day it hosts small boutiques, cozy traditional craft goods vendors and even a fishmonger operating since the Showa Era, however when night falls and the red lanterns light up is when Harmonica Yokocho comes into its element. Small standing-only izakayas open up and you can get a true feeling for the dining and drinking culture in Kichijoji. It is a popular spot for people wanting to stop for a drink and some delicious yaki tori
While being outside of Tokyo and having a very suburban and relaxing atmosphere, the very short 20 minute train ride from Shinjuku certainly doesn’t give it the feeling of being outside the 23 wards. The combination of a great range of shopping, unique nightlife setting and one of the greenest and most picturesque parks in Tokyo leaves one with no shortage to do in Kichijoji.
This along with the surrounding universities keeping the vibe youthful and fresh with young people and students is the reason Kichijoji is ranking at the top end of Tokyo’s most sought after neighbourhood lists for the last 20 years. The area has been voted the number 1 place that people in Japan wish they would live, every year since the 1990s according to polls by the magazine CNN GO.