Our westernmost stop for this volume of The Tokyo Project brings us to Kichijōji (吉祥寺), a substantial mixed use neighborhood anchored on a cluster of covered pedestrian shopping arcades adjacent to Kichijōji Station. Kichijōji is part of the city of Musashino, which is still in Tokyo Metropolis but outside the 23 special wards that make up the core of the city. Day trippers often exit the station and head directly south to Inokashira Park, a very popular and picturesque public space that includes a zoo, or continue even further to places like the Ghibli Museum in neighboring Mitaka. But the large commercial center that includes the covered shōtengai, retail complexes around the station, and shōtengai along traffic bearing streets leading out into the neighborhoods is the signature feature of Kichijōji proper. This concentration of amenities is likely a significant factor that drives local opinion (e.g. here, here) putting Kichijōji consistently at or near the top of rankings of what neighborhoods are most desirable.
Kichijōji Station links the JR Chūō Line and Chūō-Sōbu Line with the Keiō Inokashira Line. The combination offers quick access into the center of Tokyo, with multiple services bound for Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo stations.
The station was in the midst of a large renovation when I visited, so the interface with the bus rotary and the shōtengai on the north side was temporarily a bit of a mess. I’ll be interested to go back and see how it looks after everything is finished.
Kichijōji Sun Road Shōtengai (吉祥寺サンロード商店街) is a signature image of Kichijōji, especially after extensive renovation between 2004 and 2010 that included repainting the arcade support structure in turquoise. The unusual color makes Sun Road easy to pick out from a lineup.
Because of the large, translucent roof panels, the light this day was a mix of the overcast sky with the halogen lighting in the arcade. It has the feeling of a safe place to dry off and get warm on a rainy day.
It’s a fairly wide street, so no trouble for merchants to push stock displays out beyond the storefront.
A Matsumoto Kiyoshi is a Matsumoto Kiyoshi is a Matsumoto Kiyoshi.
Chain stores sit side-by-side with independent businesses.
There is just one traffic bearing street that intersects Sun Road. The crossing features a very wide extension of the shōtengai roof that spans the full width of the street, covering the zebra stripes and signal below.
North entrance to Sun Road
There is a lot of area to cover, so after walking Sun Road I started a snake pattern going out toward the northwest and returning back to the center a few times to get to all of it. Here we’re headed out past the Kichijōji branch of Loft.
On the left is the Kichijōji branch of the Tōkyū Department Store. We’re moving along the Kichijōji Taisho-dōri Shotenkai (吉祥寺大正通り商店会), one of several lively shopping streets that extend to the northwest in what is referred to as Tōkyū ura (the back of the Tōkyū store).
Vehicles can use these streets, but the narrow width and high pedestrian volume keep speeds low and reinforce the social norms around sharing the limited space. Generally, pedestrians utilize the entire width of the street until a vehicle approaches.
Outdoor cafe seating on the back of the department store
School is out for the afternoon, so there are many students mixed in with the crowd.
Sliding over a block, we work our way back in via Showa-dori (昭和通り). I couldn’t detect a business cooperative managing the street, but there is a fairly high density of shops.
Some look like they’ve been here for quite a long time.
Showa-dōri leads directly into the west segment of Kichijōji Daiya-gai (吉祥寺ダイヤ街). Daiya is just a transliteration of diamond.
Matsumoto Kiyoshi is everywhere. You cannot escape. I do really appreciate the effort that goes into the storefront displays, which is largely consistent across locations.
This is genius. This machine is making hōjicha, green tea roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal. From the long chimney it puts off a wonderful aroma that doesn’t smell like anything else, which makes it difficult to walk past the tea shop without stopping to notice.
Satou is butcher, best known for its menchikatsu—breaded and deep-fried minced meat croquette. From what I’ve read, a shot like this with no line is a pretty rare sighting.
We’re crossing into the east segment of Daiya-gai.
Oh, there’s the line!
Nearby, Tsukata specializes in kamaboko—traditional fish cakes—most of which they serve deep-fried.
This part of Daiya-gai is somewhat melded with the north edge of Harmonica Yokochō, which you can begin to see down the narrow openings between a few shops in the arcade. We’ll circle back and head inside momentarily.
No, I didn’t just catch you preening yourself, honest.
Finally exiting Daiya-gai, we loop back around and head into Harmonica Yokochō (ハーモニカ横丁). This great little rats nest gets its name from the appearance of the openings of the narrow stalls that line the cramped lanes. It is said to have been a black market during the 1940s, but is now home to merchants, particularly a morning market, as well as tachinomiya (standing bars) and yakitori shops that come alive after dark.
Not much activity in the lull between the morning market and the after work crowd. Will have to come back for a night visit.
Most of the bars are very small, but open to the common lane. From other photographers’ work, I’ve seen that overflow is simply handled by taking your drink and walking a few steps out into the alley. Out of all the places we’ll see in Kichijōji in this post, Harmonica Yokochō is the best example of why it’s important to build autonomy, community participation, and time into planning models. It would be very difficult, probably impossible, to create a place like this from a blank slate. It can only be allowed to emerge.
Remnants of the morning market
Back in the light of day, we cross over the south and last section of Daiya-gai.
A quick slide down Kichijōji-dōri
Our last bit is a walk out and back through the Kichijōji Nakamichi-dōri Shōtenkai (吉祥寺中道通り商店会). It’s similar to Taisho-dōri and Showa-dōri, but with one key difference. The lane uses brick paving, not asphalt, so while it has the same single lane with red-painted sidewalk as the other two, it feels as if the pedestrians and cyclists have the greater share in the balance of power with motorized vehicles. It’s more like a plaza or market square. It is both a practical shopping street and an active neighborhood common space.
The beauty of the setup with shōtengai leading out from the transit station into the neighborhood is that it provides a predictable source of foot traffic for the merchants, while supporting neighborhood culture and facilitating sustainable mobility. You don’t need to get in a car when all of the things you need are on your way home.
This shop appears to stock every type of battery on the planet.
One of my favorite things about streets like this is the nature of interactions between merchants and shoppers. This is more than just a transaction. There is a warmness to the way small shop merchants greet customers and the time they spend explaining the product or asking about a need. They may be residents of the community themselves.
The cardinal rule of greengrocers: always put the most eye catching produce out front
There is a park where the shōtengai ends and Nakamichi-dōri continues into the residential neighborhood.
Heading back toward the station, the crowd has picked up even more. After school clubs are wrapping up and it’s getting close to dinner time.
The end of Nakamichi-dōri comes right up to the area along the north side of Kichijōji Station.
A few bits of Harmonica Yokochō wrap around the outside of the maze.
Wandering back inside for beer and a stand up dinner would have been a great way to end the day if I hadn’t had one more stop to make. I was glad to be able to see so much on my first visit to this side of the tracks. Kichijoji is a good example of what makes Tokyo work as well as it does, despite its size. Though a commuter town, it has a local culture and sense of gravity of its own. Having activity nodes like this distributed around the city and in the suburbs allows people to search for housing and neighborhoods that meet their budget and needs, without feeling like they have to move to the middle of nowhere to find it.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 2. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.