For those that have been following my blog for a while, you may recognize the ending of "-ji" there in the name. This final character is used to name temples, and Kichijoji itself roughly translates to "The Temple of Lucky/Auspicious Omens." This Buddhist temple was moved to Bunkyo on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu - the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate and the man credited with the expansion and reconstruction of much of traditional Edo (what is now Tokyo). Bunkyo is a ward within Tokyo that today holds the Tokyo Dome, the Headquarters of the Judo community, and the University of Tokyo Hongo Campus.
As was prone to happen in those days, a small town built up around the temple. It was therefore named Kichijoji-Monzenchou (吉祥寺門前町), literally "The town built around Kichijoji." Traditional city planning measures allowed homes to be built very close together. Even today, you can see older areas of the city that have only centimeters of space between the buildings. Homes and shops were made to be light in order to withstand the frequent earthquakes in the area. They were therefore built out of wood. Due to the high volume of wooden buildings in a small space, coupled with the dry summers and winters here in Tokyo, the city was very prone to large and destructive fires. The most famous of which was the Great Fire of Meireki in March 1657. This fire lasted three days, claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, and destroyed up to 70 percent of the city. By the time the fire was extinguished, the temple and its surrounding town were destroyed.
A new era of reconstruction began. The shogunate decided to repurpose the land for daimyo residences. The previous residents of Kichijoji-Mozenchou in Bunkyo were moved to the present-day Kichijoji in Musashino. Although this present-day neighborhood does not hold the Kichijoji temple, it did keep the name as a tribute to the original town.
By far one of the most popular things in the area is Inokashira Park. This park is busiest in spring due to its large number of cherry blossom trees, but it is enjoyed year-round by Tokyo residents for its beauty and greenery.
|Inokashira Park Spring, J. Peterson, Wikimedia Commons ©|
Called Yokochou (横町) in Japanese, these backstreets and side alleys hold a variety of small bohemian-style shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy the traditional side of Tokyo, this is definitely it. Due to its distance from the city center, you can find things a bit cheaper here. I found a great pair of running shoes for roughly 5,000 yen. You would normally have to spend between 8,000 to 10,000 yen to find the same item in other parts of Tokyo. I even found a small shop that sold only handmade goods. There were handmade linen tablecloths, handmade wooden spoons, and handmade cups and plates.
This is one of Kichijoji's most famous yokochou. Here you can find small bars where you can sip beer or hoppy, a favorite of older Japanese businessmen. Hoppy has a taste similar to beer, but it is made with shochu and contains about 1% alcohol. It was especially popular in the past when beer was considered too expensive for the general populace.
|Hoppy, Hykw-a4, Wikimedia Commons ©|
A covered shopping arcade, this was one of my favorite spots in all of Kichijoji. It really reminded me of Kyoto's downtown covered Shijo Street near Nishiki Market. By far one of the most interesting places here is a small croquette shop called Satou Kichijoji. If you click this video (Japanese-only), you can see the meat croquettes that have made it so popular. This shop was amazingly busy. I think we discovered it around 2:00, and there was still a line of 50 people waiting to buy meat croquettes. When we left around 7:00, the line was longer if anything. In fact, it was featured on TV the other day. Despite the shop's small size, it sells 3,000 meat croquettes a day.
The other place I really enjoyed was a traditional geta shop. Geta are the Japanese wooden clogs. This shop had ones that were handmade from bamboo and tatami. As well as ones that were wooden. They had everything from the traditional-style geta that are worn with kimono to modern-day styles that are more comfortable for every-day use. We spent a while talking to the shopkeeper about the different styles as this kind of shop fairly rare today.
|Geta, Haragayato, Wikimedia Commons ©|
Finally, if you're looking for something a bit more upscale, there are the department stores in the area. I'm particularly fond of Atré, because it has such a eclectic variety of goods. This one had a small chopstick shop, a variety of florists, a stationary and bag shop, among others.