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Kichijoji

Like Brooklyn is to Manhattan, Kichijoji is to Tokyo – with some damn good spare ribs and octopus!

If you want to see real local flavour in an easily accessible Tokyo neighbourhood, take the 15 minute ride to Kichijoji. Kichijoji, in the Western area of Tokyo, is about 5 stops on the express train from Shibuya on the Keio Inokashira line (¥190 / $2 USD) and is to Tokyo what Brooklyn is to Manhattan – a cool little area where a lot of people live when they want a city feel but with a bit more space.

Often heralded as a destination for the Spring cherry blossom viewing, there is a great deal more to Kichijoji than just cherry blossoms. Feeling every bit a part of the vibrancy of Tokyo, Kitchijoji features some excellent shopping, great dining, and a couple of distinctive sights that make it well worth the trip.

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Shopping
Head out the North exit for some excellent shopping. Kichijoji has it all – from department stores like OIOI Marui, Tokyu, Parco entertainment emporium, and Isetan to cool, ironic and street smart boutiques…even vintage clothing at stores.

There’s also a large Yodobashi Camera at Kichijoji-hon-cho, this is the famous Japanese electronics emporium – selling everything from computers, stereo components, cameras to just about any electronic gadget you could dream of.

Unusual finds abound around every corner.  In fact, if you are outdoorsy or just have an affinity for New England fashion, I saw the first LL Bean I have ever seen outside of the US!

We were blown away by the 6 floor Muji with everything from jewelry boxes, trash bins and jelly drinks to bicycles, towels and rice cookers. I love Muji….the aesthetic is something like a Japanese zen cross between Ikea and Container Store. Also with really cool and simple clothing…a higher end version of the Gap with simple basics in neutral colors. I am almost ashamed to admit we spent a good 2 hours prowling this single store!

Nakamichi Street, more known for dining, is also a great shopping destination with lots of cute and cool stores. Well worth a stroll, one could kill a couple of hours here browsing in and out of the shops.

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Sightseeing
While walking around the area is entertaining in and of itself, there are a couple of special things to see in Kichijoji – Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum.

Inokashira Park opened in the early 1900’s as a gift from the emperor to the general public. Today it is a place which is a highlight destination for hanami during cherry blossom season. There is a zoo and street performers on on Saturdays and Sundays, making it a lively weekend destination. Also notably it carries the legend of Benzaiten, a vengeful goddess of love. Benzaiten is said to seek revenge on all courting couples by casting a spell upon them that brings about an untimely end to their love. It is said couples who venture out onto the pond in a boat are particularly vulnerable to the curse of Benzaiten.

Or visit Ghibli Museum on the west end of Inokashira Park, the museum of all things Ghibli….the Disney of Japan. Lose yourself in cells of animation, characters and the mazelike structure of the museum which seems to physically embody Ghibli motto ‘let’s lose our way together.’ Please note, if you do plan to visit the museum…strangely one cannot buy tickets at the door, they must be purchased ahead of time, check out article for info on how to get tickets : Our Trip to the Ghibli Museum.

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Drinking and Hanging Out
There’s a bar on practically every corner, from English pub-style to Reggae-themed to the ubiquitous izakaya. We honestly would not be able to properly cover the assortment of options without weeks of trying them all (a fun idea, but I do have a day job!).

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Our friend Troy who has been living Tokyo for 8 years and in Kichijoji now with his wife Kana, took us to Aladdin Bar. This is a crazy, tiny hookah bar that looks and feels a bit like a tree house. The stairs are more like a ladder up to the 2nd floor, in fact Paul had to turn sideways to make it up. Aladdin Bar is a good place to have a beer or two and smoke sheesha. There are many flavors on offer, but I might recommend that you avoid the Jasmine Rose. It sounded like a nice idea…maybe even tea inspired…but it really tasted more like a woman’s perfume.

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Eating
Troy tells us that Nakamichi Street is littered with great French, Italian and of course Japanese restaurants. We were here for some spare ribs – in fact, to some degree this really was the main reason for our Kichijoji jaunt. Troy and Kana pretty much sold us when they said something like, “the best spare ribs we have ever tasted…” OK – wherever that is, we are there!

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And so we found ourselves at Shutters on Nakamichi Street in Kichijoji. We feasted on 3 different kinds of spare ribs (¥2000 / $20 USD each) – soy sauce, basil and salt & pepper. The soy sauce version was hands down the group favourite with the Salt & Pepper coming up as a close second for me. But all of them were really incredible – generously seasoned, kissed with smoke and slow cooked to the point that the ribs were so tender and succulent that the meat fell from the bone.

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The other highlight of the meal was the Octopus Grilled in Butter, Escargot Style (¥1500 / $15 USD). This was a close competitor of the spare ribs as a favourite dish. It’s a rather simple preparation of octopus and butter browned in an escargot dish, served with chunks of crusty bread. It was simple, but not short on flavour. It was a race to the finish of this dish, with Paul and I both sopping up the last bits of browned goodness from the dish with the bread.

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We also shared a 3 Cheese Risotto (¥1600 / $16 USD) and Spaghetti with Garlic and Red Pepper (¥1500 / $15 USD) to round out the meal and complement but not interfere with the flavourful preparations of the spare ribs and octopus.

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The meal was finished off with Apple Pie a la Mode. OK, so this is not traditionally Japanese, but like with most dishes the Japanese adopt from other cultures they manage to one-up the execution and presentation of the dish to improve upon it.

A rich and heavy meal? In retrospect, yes it was ridiculously heavy, but totally worth it. Between the spare ribs and the octopus, this is a meal that is living large in my taste memories at the moment.

For more info on Kichijoji, including detailed shopping, bar and restaurant listings we recommend the following sites:

http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Kichijoji

http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyofeaturestoriesarchive299/264/tokyofeaturestoriesinc.htm

http://www.sunnypages.jp/search/kichijoji

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