It’s finally getting to the point where it’s warm enough to be very pleasant biking to work each morning. It takes me about 25 minutes from my house to school, depending on my luck with traffic signals and how furiously I’m biking. The first and best part of the ride snakes through a heavily wooded section of the beautiful Inokashira Park. There’s always a sweet dewiness clinging to the place when I run through it in the early morning. And I’ll always pass some merry solo strollers, with dogs or bikes of their own, carelessly lounging in one of the benches. I don’t know why someone would arrive anywhere at 8am by their own volition, but I definitely throw them a wistful glance as I sweep through, with my neck craning towards the pretty wet canopies, nearly off-seating myself from my bike. I have an idea of following their example this Saturday and taking with me a thermos of coffee, a bagful of delicious Japanese pastries, and the Samuel Beckett novels that I picked up in my bookstore’s tiny English section last week, and biking to one of these appealing benches to spend the late morning hours lounging there myself.
This wonderful park is one of the many luxuries of living in Kichijoji; probably my favorite luxury. The wooded corner that I bike through is one of the farther stretches of the park, towards the famous Ghibli museum. I usually stick to the main drag of the park, with the wide glass-like pond in the middle speckled with row boats and swan boats, either bank connected through a series of high-arching wooden bridges. I guess I like this part best still because it’s the liveliest section by far, with the arts and crafts fair held every weekend, in addition to some other events sometimes, like little symphony concerts or once I even saw a cheerleader performance. Also this part is where my coffee man is— the kindly Japanese man who runs an adorable little coffee kiosk and who always makes some comment to me about the weather after handing me my coffee. The other day I initiated this little ritual myself with some inane comment like “it’s windy today, huh!” and I think he was delighted.
All parts of the part are uniformly beautiful, though, varying in their grassiness, shadiness, liveliness, etc. Towards the Ghibli museum end there’s a small range of tennis courts that I’m trying to coerce one of my co-senseis into visiting with me. I actually haven’t played tennis since gym class sophomore year of college (I think), but she also says she’s equally out of practice and has 3 tennis rackets in her house that students have left behind over the years. Also this is just another place I pass by wistfully and envision myself enjoying someday.
This wide-stretching and glorious park is only one section of the “Tokyo suburb” we call Kichijoji. Actually there’s technically no district called Kichijoji. The city of Tokyo is divided into 23 districts, none of which is called “Kichijoji”. Kichijoji is the name of the train station, but it’s divided between the districts of Musashino-shi and Mitaka-shi. But Musashino-shi stretches so far as to actually contain my school, and yet no one would ever say that my school is located in Kichijoji, since it’s 2 stations away from Kichijoji station. It’s a bit confusing, but I guess all of this is to say that there’s no specific limits of the Kichijoji neighborhood, and therefore no clear definition of its encompassing area.
When I tell Japanese people that I live in Kichijoji (a completely reasonable answer to the question of “where in Tokyo do you live?” despite it not being a district— Tokyoites describe their location either by nearest train station or by district) I inevitably get the follow-up question of “where in Kichijoji?” Probably just out of curiosity, but also because they suspect that I’ve sort of exaggerated the invisible limits of “Kichijoji” to conveniently encompass my own apartment, since Kichijoji is the most popular place in all of Tokyo to live right now.
And when I defend my first answer with the follow-up answer of “right next to Inokashira park” they’ll usually sigh and say something to the effect of “must be very expensive…” I honestly don’t know why, but my apartment is decidedly cheap— it’s $200 a month less than I was paying when I lived a ten-minute walk from my school. I feel like this unresolved mystery makes me unconsciously search for tricks in my apartment everyday. Like I find it very annoying that there’s a literal parade of children walking to school in the morning, every morning (weekends and holidays included), right outside my window, just gabbing away to each other to the point where I want to throw a shoe at them from my window— so is that why it’s cheap?? Are these kids a trap? Or sometimes when my downstairs neighbor is readying his room for sleep and shutting the thick, sliding doors of his closet, I can hear this movement distinctly from my own room. So is that it? The floors are rather thin? And it goes on like this for awhile. But so far I’ve yet to find a true deal-breaking fault that can explain the price I found.
Often when I’m wandering around Tokyo, especially through the charming little residential neighborhoods, I like to play a game with myself where I pick out the apartment I would most like to live in, and then day-dream about my daily life there for a few minutes. I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel this way, but, if I could, it would be lovely to hop around between various apartments and neighborhoods, staying in each place for a few weeks at a time (but somehow without the hassle of moving around all of my belongings and going through the tedious logistics of moving). The novelty of a new area and the new life it represents is really enticing to me, but after this novelty wore off I’d be ready to move again. Since this most ideal nomadic lifestyle is unrealistic, though, I also play a game of trying to think of, if money was no object and the choices endless, where in Tokyo would I most want to live? And, astoundingly, as many times as I’ve gone through that exercise, I always come to the same conclusion: within a 2-3 block radius of where I already live.