Local Japan : A month in Kiba
If you arrive in Narita, like me, you haven’t seen the city yet. The Airport is quite far from ‘actual Tokyo’ so you will see the underbelly of the city, the streets that aren’t in any tour guides, the real life Tokyo without the pretty lights and fancy colours. When you are using the famous railways of japan to get to your new home, you are immersed into the ‘actual Tokyo’. You will see more suburbs when taking a JR line train however it is very likely that you will have to change to the metro eventually and from that point on you’re underground, so you won’t see any city whatsoever. For this exact reason, the area you will stay in will very likely be the first part of Tokyo you will experience directly, in my case Kiba. My arrival happened exactly as described however immediately I found a friend and immediately started a long distracting conversation with one of my new housemates from the sharehouse I had booked, whose flight happened to arrive almost simultaneously with mine and therefore got picked up together with me. The sharehouse is located in Shiohama, a tiny area south of Kiba, with Kiba station being the closest one by far. My first impression suggested that Kiba is south from the station, you would find yourself walking next to an absurdly broad looking street, covered by one of many expressways, placed approximately 15 meters above ground level.
Right next to one of the more modern looking office buildings is a small branch from the so called Ito-Yokado department store chain; it also contains the closest
grocery store to the sharehouse. Even further south, you would cross a bridge, leaving Kiba and entering Shiohama.
(The districts in this area are all divided by what seems to be rivers, which are actually canals that are more or less part of the ocean. This is why there are several beautiful bridges.)
From there, it is a short 5 mins walk, but still packed with useful places, including two convenience stores, two delicious ramen stores, an Indian curry restaurant, a Sukiya (which is a Japanese fast food chain) and probably everyones favourite, a bento shop. After spending the rest of the day getting to know most of my other housemates, being told about the sharehouse guidelines and ignoring my seven hour jet lag, I went for a refreshing eight hour sleep with plans to explore northern Kiba the next day. Northern Kiba holds one of the reasons why Kiba is definitely worth a visit; Kiba park! At the time I arrived it was late March, a perfect time to admire the beauty of cherry blossoms and Kiba park has tons of them. Whoever thinks Japanese cherry blossom trees are overrated should go visit Kiba park in Hanami Season (the Japanese term for the time when the cherry trees are in full bloom, literally translating to “flower viewing”). Entering from the south, a tree lined walkway (already including a few cherry blossom trees) will lead you to a big open field, where several locals are engaging in sports and other ways to spend their free time. Further back, you will see a collection of multiple trees with all of them carrying beautiful cherry blossoms.
Going past the trees, you will find yourself on a paved open space with stairs leading up to an astonishing bridge, leading out of the Kiba area but not leaving Kiba park (the park has an elongated shape and stretches from northern Kiba into the Hirano area).
After a long stroll through the entire park and back to the sharehouse, we had to gather for another information meeting before leaving for the city office in the Toyo area to get our residence registered. Toyo lays east of Kiba and seems to be a residential area like Shiohama, just larger. It is packed with smaller supermarkets, cafes and, of course, convenience stores, with most of them looking rather unique and less like branch stores (even though they probably were). Going to the city office was, as expected, just as boring and time consuming as anywhere else but the employees there were way friendlier than what I was used to from Germany. Not far from the city office is another big grocery store with a better assortment of goods than Ito ́s but sadly a little too far away from home to be a daily alternative.
Over time, the Toyo area turned out to be a viable place to spend free time, with its unique little cafes and also an affordable laundry shop, where you actually can wash your clothes with warm water, which seems to be a rare find in Japan.
After my first weekend, my Japanese language course started, which meant commuting from Kiba station to Kudanshita (a six station train ride) on a daily basis for the next four weeks and experiencing the Tokyo rush hour every morning. You have probably seen videos on the Internet where they show Japanese people in suits forcing themselves into the train, layer by layer; this is not a thing that happens just sometimes, but rather every single day. Depending on the station you are boarding the train from you may have the unfortunate experience of rush hour. Kiba is certainly not the busiest station of them all but still I found myself having my face pressed against the door most of the time. This may sound like an absolutely awful situation to be in but it is actually not as bad as it seems. Its not hard to get into the train, as it is acceptable to use force to a certain extent and getting out is not a big deal either as basically everyone in the door area will leave the train and wait for those who need to get out. The new daily routine left me and the others exhausted every day. Having lost all motivation to further explore the city, we spent most of our time either in Kiba park or at home, appreciating the fact the we were basically surrounded by places to grab food. This gave us a reason to try all of them. Besides the bento shop, our favourite place was definitely the Indian curry restaurant, where you can get a set including a salad, your choice of curry, an infinite amount of homemade bread and a glass of cold tea or lassi as a drink, all for around 800 yen. Right next to the curry place is a traditional ramen restaurant, where you have the chance to take off your shoes, go upstairs and enjoy your bowl of ramen sitting on the floor, watching Japanese TV. With basically no one of us speaking Japanese on conversation level, difficulties with ordering food where inevitable. Translated menus are very uncommon, especially in a place like Kiba or Shiohama, where tourists are a rare species, but the Japanese are so kind and helpful that they will basically do anything to help you understand their menu. Never has it happened that we ended up ordering anything without having at least a clue about what it was going to be and never have we ever had food that didn’t taste at least “good”. The weekends were drastically different from the weekdays. No school, long hours of sleep and most importantly, motivation to travel around and explore! During the days, we used the conveniently placed Kiba station to get to severalfamous places in Tokyo, with most of them being within half an hour of traveling (which is not much for Tokyo standards). For example, me being one of those who love Japan for their entertainment media industry, I just had to go to Akihabara as soon as possible. So we looked up the quickest way to get there and were surprised to find out that it wouldn’t even take us half an hour. With daytime flying by, it was time to check out Kiba ́s nightlife eventually. As mentioned, Kiba is still a busy-sh area and Japanese office workers love to go out with their colleges after work. So one day we decided to try out karaoke. Findina karaoke place in Kiba or Toyo is no big deal, there are definitely enough of them. At first, just a few of us were planning to go there but in the end, half the sharehouse (about 20 people) came with us and we had an absolute blast. The place provides multiple rooms for smaller groups of around six people and a big party room for larger groups, perfect for us. This combined with an all you can drink menu that wasn’t all that expensive gave us an unforgettable evening and a rather painful next morning for some of us (thankfully not including me). Karaoke is definitely a thing you should try, even if you think it will be the most embarrassing experience in your life; everyone will join in for your song anyway. With all that stuff to do and my daily routine on weekdays, time flew by quickly and I soon had to leave Kiba for my new home in Saitama, as I had only booked my room for the time I went to language school. Kiba is definitely a place to consider when looking for a place to stay and if you like good company and want to save money, a sharehouse is an option to look out for.