Local Japan: The Unexpected Magic of Suburban Tokyo
Birds are singing, the sound of children riding bicycles goes by my window, and it is peacefully quiet. Looking out my window I see all the Japanese style small houses on my road, there are no skyscrapers in the skyline, and only occasionally a person or two. Not a description of Tokyo you would expect is it? But that is where I live; Tokyo. Well, Nishitokyo to be more specific. A suburban area of Tokyo just west of the center of Tokyo, close to the district of Ikebukuro. More specifically my new home lies between the Hoya and Hibarigaoka metro stations.
After spending 18 months living in Shanghai, China I felt my time there was up and it was time to move on to the next adventure. It is my dream to travel the world and the top 2 destinations on my list were China and Japan. Having now lived my dream of living in China, I made the decision to move to my next destination Japan.
I did not really care where in Japan I ended up whether a small, quiet village or a massive, bustling metropolis I knew that
either adventure would be an experience I would enjoy to the fullest. A few job applications and job interviews later, and I landed a job in Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world. To say I was excited would be an understatement.
I must admit that I did not plan to move to Nishitokyo when I decided to follow my dream to live in Japan. The company that I work for placed me in my apartment and initially I did not like my new living situation. But after talking to local Japanese and some other foreigners I soon realized that my expectations of living in the center of Tokyo were, perhaps, a little lofty. I soon realized that staying out of the center of Tokyo and commuting to work was how most Tokyo residents live. I have now begun to explore my neighborhood and have started to enjoy my new, unexpected living situation.
Life in Nishitokyo is very different from life in my home country of South Africa. Despite living in one of the biggest cities in the country (Johannesburg) it was not as urban as Tokyo, with no real public transport or metro. I trip to shops for me involved driving in my car, but here in Tokyo, it is just a brief walk away.
Convenience stores are a revolutionary new experience for me. There is a convenience store close to my apartment and to have 24/7 access to good food and some other things is something I love. No wonder why I heard so many people praising the Japanese convenience store before I came here. While convenience store food can be relatively healthy and delicious, it’s not much more effort to find restaurants that serve amazing food and grocery stores that have everything you need. Since I live between Hoya and Hibarigaoka stations I just have to pick a direction, take a brief walk, and I can find what I need. Feel like good ramen? There’s a place at Hoya station. In the mood for sushi? There’s a great place just 5 minutes from Hibarigaoka station.
On top of my new found independence from cars, I also find myself having to adapt to the concept of small living. My apartment is small (like so many other Japanese apartments) and it is taking some adjusting from the big family house that I am used to. Back in my home country of South Africa, I lived with my family in our large home that had a swimming pool and large garden. These things are standard in South Africa but are rare luxuries in the urban environment of Tokyo.
1 month ago I packed up my life in South Africa and moved to Tokyo. The first 2 nights in Tokyo I spent with a local Japanese couple in their apartment. They showed me their neighborhood of Tsukiji and even took me to the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market. But the holiday was not to last long as on my third day in Tokyo I went to check in to the hotel my employer had booked for me, ready to meet my new bosses the next day. That day after signing contracts and meeting my managers I was then taken to what is now my home here in Tokyo. And even though I have already lived here for a month there is still a lot of settling in I need to do, but I have begun to settle and am discovering new things about my neighborhood every day.
So just what is the city of Nishitokyo like? Well, to be honest, the description I can give you is not a complete one. I have only been living in my new home for 1 month and have, so far, only scratched the surface of what Nishitokyo has to offer. With that being said I will tell you what I have discovered in my city so far:
Nishitokyo is a suburb through and through; there are no skyscrapers, massive business districts or entire streets dedicated to just shopping. My neighborhood is filled with family houses that have small gardens and a few outside parks. There are many schools in the area ranging from preschool through elementary school to high school. Nishitokyo is also a very safe neighborhood and it is not unusual to see school children wondering around unaccompanied by their parents. Restaurants and grocery stores are easily accessible and supply all a family or person needs.
Of course, if you are a young person such as myself, the things I listed above don’t really matter too much (well, maybe the convenience stores matter), so besides the things that make Nishitokyo great for someone with a family, what else does this place have to offer?
Nishitokyo lies just a few stations from the major district of Ikebukuro which offers many attractions to young adults such as myself: bars, nightclubs, and an aquarium. But let’s keep it local and close to home. Near both Hoya and Hibarigaoka stations, there are many bars and restaurants on offer. In the mood for sushi? It’s here. Craving some ramen? There’s a great place right next to Hoya station. I’m really lucky in that one of the best soba noodle shops in Nishitokyo is just a few minutes walk from my apartment. There are quite a few bars, snack bars, and girls bars in the neighborhood, but that’s not really my thing. I much prefer the smaller, friendlier feel of a good Izakaya and there I’m in luck, with a quite a few near me (if I care to look). I have fallen in love with the Japanese izakaya thanks to the fact that every time I have gone into one there has been some locals happy to meet a new face, share a drink, and chat with me (although in their broken English and my broken Japanese). If you want something fancier (as I a do from time to time) then just the other day I found a hidden gem called Bar Breeze that serves amazing cocktails at a really good price. I love a good Old Fashioned and this almost hidden bar blew me away.
There are many places to be found here if you care to look.
The other day I finally found myself with some free time to explore my new neighborhood and so I did with my favorite method: getting lost on purpose. Every time I move to a new location I will explore the area by just walking around, no destination in mind, no direction, just go where you want to go. If that small street looks interesting, walk down it, go check out the building you see in the distance. Walk until you get lost.
It is with this exploration method that I found things I would never have expected: beautiful, small temples and shrines, lovely parks, and even an immaculate garden or two. It feels like every day I find something new in my area, and I adore that.
The great news is that everything I have found so far just scratches the surface. When I moved into my apartment it didn’t have much, but it did have a small book (in English thankfully) that welcomes you to the area and tells about all the amazing things you can do in Nishitokyo.