Jiyugaoka

Jiyūgaoka (自由が丘) is a suburban neighborhood (Japan, not US style suburb) surrounding Jiyūgaoka Station, served by the Tōkyū Tōyoko Line and Tōkyū Ōimachi Line. It includes the formal Jiyūgaoka municipality in Meguro Ward, but also spans into nearby Okusawa in Setagaya Ward. Fans of novelist Haruki Murakami will recognize Jiyūgaoka as Aomame’s home in 1Q84. It’s also the birth place of the famous Mont-Blanc (Japanese version) cake, from the shop of the same name, which has sated many a sweet tooth through the decades. Though not as dense or hyper as many parts of central Tokyo, the neighborhood is still quite compact. With an abundance of shopping, services, mixed commercial and residential blocks, greenways and pocket parks all organized around the train station, Jiyūgaoka is the epitome of the walkable neighborhood. It’s no wonder that it’s frequently referred to as one of the most desirable places to live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

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I arrived early on a Saturday morning, so while most folks were probably enjoying a good snooze, a handful of other early risers and I more or less had the place to ourselves for a few hours.

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The upper platform is the Tōyoko Line, which can take you north to Shibuya or south to Yokohama.

Jiyugaoka

Jiyugaoka

The lower level is the Ōimachi Line, which runs east to Ōimachi and west to Mizonokuchi.

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Jiyugaoka

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The west side of the station opens into a bus and taxi rotary, and the neighborhood beyond.

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Jiyugaoka

There are many grade level rail crossings (踏切 fumikiri). In Japan, these are such a ubiquitous feature of any area that’s at least moderately developed that the crossing gates and trains themselves become part of the neighborhood fabric. I have to confess that I’m a bit of a sucker for fumikiri. If I didn’t have a whole neighborhood to cover, I probably would just sit and watch these go up and down every time trains pass.

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Between the two rail lines on the northeast side of the station, there is a pocket of compact lanes loaded with a wide variety of places to eat and drink.

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More fumikiri

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The banana and bun that passed for my breakfast just weren’t cutting it. Luckily, this Yoshinoya branch was open early.

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Recycling

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I moved north along Jiyū Street.

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More fumikiri

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Now heading west

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Kumano Shrine (熊野神社)

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Headed south, back toward the station

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Corner pharmacy

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Boutique block with pedestrian streets

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Preparing the day’s sidewalk display

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I think this cat is glaring at me.

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Jiyugaoka

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Shopping street along the west side of the Tōyoko Line. Though I didn’t notice at the time, that’s the Mont-Blanc storefront on the left edge of the frame.

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Jiyugaoka

Another pocket of pedestrian shopping streets, this one directly adjacent to the station on the west side

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Jiyugaoka

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Though this Daimaru Peacock supermarket has a parking deck next to it—

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—if you arrive by mamachari there is ample space right at the front door.

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More fumikiri

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Jiyugaoka

This is south of the station, in the greenway—aptly named Green Street (グリーンストリート), more formally Kuhonbutsu River Green Road (九品仏川緑道)—that runs all the way from the western edge of Jiyūgaoka municipality in the west to Midorigaoka Station in the east.

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This is one of the locations of the underground bicycle storage system featured in an episode of Danny Choo’s Culture Japan (skip to 24:55).

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Jiyugaoka

This Shiba Inu was a far more cooperative subject than the cat I met earlier.

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Jiyugaoka

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More fumikiri

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This grocery, konbini and many shops down the lane are all bunched up right at the corner of the station and lead out to the residential areas to the south.

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Another pedestrian street runs along the Ōimachi Line on the south side of the station. This is what transit oriented development looks like.

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My final leg was to start walking Green Street toward the east, ending up at Midorigaoka Station. Though it quickly becomes more residential after leaving the immediate vicinity of the station, shops, benches and squares dotting the greenway keep it a nice mix of public and private space.

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Yet more fumikiri

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Midorigaoka Station

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In the US, discussions about development can quickly become dysfunctional. On one side, transit and density advocates point out the unsustainable nature of car dependence and clamor for big changes to the way we live. Anti-transit and density folks argue equally strongly to preserve or further entrench the status quo in suburbs and exurbs, citing concerns about deteriorating quality-of-life, crime, etc. Both sides can often see these as tradeoffs, reducing or eliminating any zone of potential agreement. I think they both fail to think creatively about how you can have your Mont-Blanc cake and eat it too. You can be dense and have good quality-of-life. As Jiyūgaoka demonstrates, you can have great quality-of-life. You might even decide you don’t need a car.

Jiyugaoka

This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.

Additional volumes: Volume 2, Volume 3