Thursday 30 May 2013

A successful lightning raid on Kichijoji!

I am going to start with something completely random today as I was so excited to see what appeared to be my first Geisha in 4 1/2 years of living in Japan!  She was on the same train as I was!  I wasn't 100% sure if she was a Geisha but I really wanted to take a photo and did so discretely.  I was amazed, everyone else on the train was treating it as though it is a daily occurrence!  I guess this is what it feels and looks like to view Japan through a foreigner's eyes!

I had resigned myself to doing another post of random thoughts this week as the weather forecast was predicting rain for todayAt 2pm, the rain had still not come so I made an executive decision to get to nearby Kichijoji as fast as I could and see how much of the area I could take in before the rain arrived.  I grabbed my umbrella and power walked to the train station.  Just as I was nearing the station, I realised that I had left my wallet at home.  Cursing myself I turned around and rushed back home to grab it.  As I was heading back to the station, I felt a couple of drops of rain.  I pushed on undeterred and jumped on the express train which stopped only two times out of a total of eight stations between where I live and Kichijoji.
Kichijoji, I think, originally had a similar vibe to my favourite Shimokitazawa, but I think it has since "grown up" and while some of it retains it's cute, artsy, bohemian atmosphere, it now has a lot of large shopping centres and huge department stores.  It was voted in 2011 as the number 1 place in Japan that people wanted to live.  I had visited Kichijoji a couple of times when I lived here before, and had vague memories of what it was like.

Upon exiting the station (lucky I chose this exit as the other side of the station was a lot more modernised!) I saw this view.

The street was barely wide enough to fit a bus and it was also doubling as a pedestrian street.  Intrigued I wandered off down the street to see what it contained.  It was one of those cool little shopping streets that I love so much.

Restaurants (of every cuisine imaginable) and shops lined both sides of the street.  That blue sign you can see on the building on the left hand side of the picture above is a large karaoke chain.  Karaoke in Japan is a lot of fun.  Unlike some other countries, in Japan you don't have to sing in front of a bar full of strangers.  You get your own little karaoke room where you and your friends can go and enjoy a few drinks and a lot of fun.  Many people, when they first come to Japan insist they will never try karaoke, but eventually their resistance weakens and they succumb to the temptation, and are then addicted for the remainder of their time in Japan!

I'm not too sure, but I think this was a sign for a game arcade....

The Japanese have made the making of the rice cracker into an art form (as you would expect since Japan has been making these since the Edo period in Japanese history, beginning in 1603).  The Japanese name for these delicious savoury snacks are Senbei (sounds like Sembei).  There are an enormous variety available, but they usually consist of the rice cracker which has been baked or grilled over charcoal and coated in a sauce made of soy sauce and mirin.  My favourite ones have sesame seeds in the rice cracker.  It is not uncommon to see a shop dedicated to just selling Senbei such as the one below.

A nice little bakery with a lovely name.  After all, there's nothing quite like Granny's cooking!

This ramen shop had a few people in it, but the shop signage was determined to attract attention!

Some parts of the artsy bohemian times still remain!

 A final look back along the street

before heading back out into reality again.

There is a department store chain here in Japan that has quite a unique and funny name if you are Australian.

For quite a while after I first arrived back in 2000 I kept referring to this shop as "Oi Oi".  Oi in Australia is used to get someones attention, kind of like "Hey!"  Finally a bemused Japanese person kindly told me what the correct pronunciation is; "Marui"......

I saw a sign next which intrigued me.

It intrigued me because in my hometown of Port Lincoln, when I was younger, there was a pizza shop (the Japanese characters there say "pizza") also called Tony's.  I walked down the side street for a closer look.

Sure enough, Tony's was a New York style pizza and sandwich shop.  I would have gone in, but my stomach was wanting something else.

This is something that I thought people might find interesting.  A Japanese style car park.

You drive your car in and stop it on that large metal disk.  The disk will then spin to whichever wall has a door in it and the car will be driven through the door onto a kind of elevator.  This next area is kind of like a shelving system for cars.  The car will be elevated to an empty slot on the shelf and then driven in.  When your shopping is done, you go back to the car park and the attendant goes to your car's slot and it is brought back down to you via the elevator again.  It is reversed back onto the disk which spins around until your car is facing the exit and away you go!  Space is of a premium here, and this style of car parking requires very little space.

But I digress, and my stomach was reminding me that lunch was well overdue!  I looked up and saw this guy looking down at me.

He seemed like he wanted me to try his ramen so I wandered off in search of his shop.  I eventually found it.

In the first photo, there is a long list, and pictures of, many TV shows that his shop has been on.  I thought, "Great, it must be good!".  Upon closer inspection, the reason why it had featured on so many TV shows is that it specialises in spicy ramen!  After having had a bad experience with a bowl of spicy ramen the night before I decided to skip it this time!  I kept on exploring and  ended up at this ramen shop.

I walked down the stairs to their basement level shop and was confronted with the dreaded ticket machine!

These can be almost impossible to understand for someone who cannot read Japanese (me).  This one had a couple of pictures to help me out (the best are the ones that have pictures for all of their menu items).  With some help from the shop staff, I purchased my tickets and went inside.  It was a pretty cool little place that seemed to be quite popular with students from a local high school.

Lunch came.....

and went in quick succession.

Feeling quite satisfied, I went off in search of the famous Inokashira Park that is in the area.

It was a little walk, and on the way, a couple of umbrellas came out as a few more drops of rain started falling.

Japanese teen pop culture is alive and well here in Kichijoji too!

Stepping down into the park brought back some memories

As did peering into the lake and seeing these huge fish again!

Inokashira Park is a famous spot for Cherry Blossom viewing when it is that time of year.  A lot of couples come to the park, rent one of the small paddle boats and enjoy a romantic time on the lake looking at cherry blossoms.  Being that it was not Cherry Blossom season added to the fact that I am single, I decided to give it a miss!

A view down the lake where the paddle boats go to look at cherry blossoms.

Japanese parks generally don't have a lot of grass, but have these amazing trees with foliage that shelters you from the weather, whether it be rainy or sunny.

You might find it strange that I took a photo of a toilet, but this toilet actually taught me a valuable lesson when I lived here before.  You see, this is where I experienced a Japanese style toilet for  the first time.  I quite quickly found out that I was facing the wrong way!  I never made that mistake again!

I had such a random strange experience at the spot in the photo below one time.  I was walking around the park when I suddenly heard a vaguely familiar sound.  Drawn towards this sound I started walking around looking for it's source.  Finally I walked through some bushes and saw a Japanese guy playing the didgeridoo, a traditional Aboriginal musical instrument.  Stunned that I had seen this, I sat down and listened for a while before walking off to leave him to play his music.

A couple relaxing under the trees.

Some of the tree branches are massive and some of them need to be supported or the branches droop down into the lake.

These guys seemed hungry

but then I looked up and saw this sign, so I had to leave them hungry.

Some of the scenery in the park is pretty good!

And the obligatory bank of vending machines.

This plaque tells the history of the park.  

All of those fish are safe.

Just call me the Pied Piper of Inokashira Park!

This was an amazing sight.  Bushes covered in fine spider web!

I next made my way back out of the park and started heading back to the train station.  The street going back had a lot of cool little shops, cafes and restaurants along it.

Satisfied at another day out, I jumped back on the train and returned home.  Just as I was walking home from the train station, the rain started!!  Mission accomplished!

I now have a bit of a request for some of my Japanese readers.  There are a few restaurants in my neighbourhood that I am not sure what kind of food they serve.  I have taken some photos and if you can help me by giving me an idea of what kind of food they might serve, that would be amazing.  Of course I know that the sign may only have the restaurant name, but if you can provide some information, that would be greatly appreciated!

I'm pretty sure this first one is a Chinese place that does Chinese ramen and other things.

I think this one might be another Chinese type place.

Again, any information would be appreciated!  Thank you.

And I hope you enjoyed this weeks post.  I know I enjoyed wandering around Kichijoji exploring for it!  Take care and I'll see you again next week.