Japan, Urban Walking
Comments 16

Inokashira: Back to the Source


TOKYO, 2013

I seemed to spend half my waking life on the Chuo Line when I lived in Tokyo. Now I was once again jumping into one of the familiar orange carriages at Nishi Kokubunji, playing a little game of Guess the Next Station from Memory as our kaisoku (rapid) train sped inbound: Kokubunji, Musashi-Koganei, Higashi-Koganei, Musashi-Sakai, Mitaka — and then the next stop on my high-speed visit to places from my Tokyo past: Kichijoji.


A salaryman takes a short-cut through Inokashira

I used to love just about everything about Kichijoji, starting with its name, but not counting the crowds surging park-wards down the backstreets on weekends and holidays. Today, though, a lovely Thursday morning, was something else. Time for some caffeine (the Starbucks was still there; the green-tea gelato joint, sadly, was not), and then I descended to Inokashira Park, a favourite hangout in 2000-2003 and again in 2007-2008.


Tall trees & an outdoor stage

No time, regrettably, to stretch out like I did in the old days, with headphones, latte and novel, watching the gals go by. In fact there weren’t many gals there at all, which helped immensely with my tight schedule.


It’s so easy to lose track

I’d seldom seen the place this quiet. On weekends it was always buzzing, with craft stalls, buskers and couples a-plenty doing a circuit or two around the pond. But for crowds, noise and atmosphere, you couldn’t beat Hanami — cherry blossom season. Around 250 cherry trees, venerable specimens leaning onto crutch-like supports, their trunks often swathed in protective straw matting, surround the pond, many leaning far out from the banks to shed blossoms oh-so-poetically into the water.


Ancient cherry tree on the pond path

For that brief week or two when the park was roofed with pink and cream, every square foot of Inokashira was precious real estate. Companies, it was said, would send scouts there early to claim a space for their colleagues; evenings were rowdy and uncharacteristically laid-back, for Japan, the ground a patchwork of blue-plastic tarps. Families, friends and cubicle-neighbours would sit late into the night, among rising peaks of garbage, eating, drinking and singing — some would still be there when the mid-morning sun broke through the blossoms.


A cherry with water views

I wonder why I have no photos from those evenings. Too busy celebrating the ephemeral brilliance of the blossoms and life itself by getting hammered out of my skull, probably.


The Japanese love to wrap things

(This being Tokyo, you had to take your nature hit when you could get it. I remember being moved to compose a haiku on one early Springtime visit to the park (I was young, or at least younger). It started promisingly — carp, or blossoms, or bamboo, or crows — but ended with a fantasy of bringing down a pesky news helicopter with a surface-to-air missile. Basho had it easy…)


Another ancient cherry

It seldom snows convincingly in Tokyo, but I remember one day in early 2008 when we got some and I rushed to the park to test my Winter gear (and rabbit hat!). Chris and I were living near the park at that time. We started off house-sitting for this western couple who wanted us to mind their guinea pigs. The place was filthy and the pigs were smelly and obnoxiously squeaky. Plus we still had to pay rent!


Inokashira under snow

We moved to a Kichijoji guesthouse for a month or two before our big Japan walk, sharing a tatami-mat room, doing private English lessons, living with an international assortment of nice people and annoying nutjobs. Here we are with our gear — way too much gear:

My tent & our gear from the guesthouse window

My tent & our gear from the guesthouse window

But today it was warm and I was packed light. I circled the pond (clockwise, of course), which, fed by seven springs, was an early water source for Edo (Tokyo)…


Park wildlife


Pond colour


Local & visitors

..with a brief detour to the boat rental place where (it embarrasses me to admit) I once spent an odd half-hour in a swan-shaped paddle-boat with two other (male) English teachers on my first visit to the park.

I would like to say that we were drunk but I don’t think we were. I don’t know what we were thinking — maybe we thought it would be a good way to meet girls? If so, it didn’t work, for some reason. I’m just glad that nobody took pictures:




I concluded my visit with a quick visit, via the footbridge, to the Benzaiten shrine perched over one end of the pond:


The Benzaiten shrine in the background


Inari, the fox god, one of my fave Shinto deities


Water dippers



Ema — wooden prayer tablets — at the shrine

But my Kichijoji pilgrimage wasn’t quite over yet — I had one more highly pragmatic quest. That was to locate the foreign-foods store I used to frequent in the alleys on the far side of the station. I had almost given up the search, close to tears (I don’t eat well in Korea) when at last…


A shrine to all that is beautiful & edible

After some grateful aroma-inhaling and label-savouring, I also got the chance to practise some absolutely crucial Japanese:

Sumi masen, bejimaito-ga arimasuka? (Excuse me, do you have any Vegemite?)

Hai! the lady answered. Arimasu! I bought two jars, enough to see me through my remaining time in Korea. But I didn’t stop with the Vegemite. I could have done without the weight, but for the next couple of days I ate like a god:


Worth the weight

I’m still a jar and half, writing this, from desperation. And I’d be back to the park, for one last dose of Tokyo weirdness. Stay tuned…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. This is a very interesting travelogue,if I may call it that.I wondered why you had to pay rent when you were house sitting for them,some people are too cheap.Apart from some of the words you used,which I couldn’t understand,your description is superb!

  2. Robert says

    Goat, a great read as always, and educational too – being a junkie, as you apparently are too, Japanese for “vegemite” will come in handy when I visit there some day. Only thing is, I don’t see the bottles in the photo – you sure you didn’t do them both in one hit?

    • They’re there, Robert — upper right, carefully wrapped. Those Japanese and their wrapping fetish…

      Good to hear from a fellow Vegiejunkie!

      • Robert says

        Oh yeah, now I see the distinctive yellow lids, partially obscured by what appears to be camo mesh. Looks like you’ve saved those jars from a tour of duty!
        On a totally unrelated topic, in the words of the late Lou Reed, “hey baby, rock ‘n’ roll”

      • I know, man — Lou’s death is the biggest news in my part of the world today (ie, my headspace; I doubt it affected many people in Korea!). Flirting with the idea of my first ever obit!

  3. I guess you’re going to get a lot of visitors analysing your gear photo? Well, I’ve done so! I like how you’ve got the inner soles out of the shoes? Plus, I’m sure I see an actual goat between the trekking poles? Either that or it’s a very aggressive looking ram. Oh yeah, those snowshoes look quite nice. They’re not the ones you left under a bridge are they…?!

    • Yeah, I hope those snowshoes went to a good home. They were just about brand-new.

      That’s my lucky goat. His name is Ed. I thought it was a stroke of genius taking him with me on the Hokkaido walk, given the Japanese fondness for anything “kawaii” (cute). What I hadn’t realised was that I would see just about nobody in the whole freakin’ place — so all that cuteness was wasted (except on me). Lightweight too!

  4. You appear to have a huge spider in two of your photos. Traveling companions? I’d never heard of Vegemite before. I clicked on the link. Is it great eating or just great sustaining food? Beautiful photos.

    • I have a thing for spiders in photogenic locales, Judy.

      Vegemite is probably the most iconic Australian “food”. It’s no exaggeration that you would find it in just about every kitchen in the country. Also no exaggeration to say that non-Australians usually detest it. But they don’t usually eat it properly. Thinly spread on bread (with butter ideally) or toast — or crackers. Excellent with cheese, tomato, lettuce. High in Vit B! Other countries have their own version: Promite (NZ), Marmite (UK). Even Switzerland has a similar product, I believe, Cenovis (?).

  5. I’ve had Vegemite, and Cenovis too, but I must say I was rather disappointed. Naturally, it’s full-blooded Marmite that’s the real thing! (I’m aware this is a very controversial statement, and I take no responsibility for any ensuing web wars.)

    • Well, I’m just glad you didn’t mention Promite. Those bloody weird New Zealanders…

      Actually, if I’d had any bread in the house I would’ve got me a V-mite fix this morning. Need some Vit B and salt after my mini-Lou Reed bender tribute last night!

  6. I’m with Solitary Walker – nothing beats Marmite!
    Cool post. I suppose it’s not that long since Halloween so I can forgive the eight legged freaks. 😉
    Seriously, though, those shots are brilliant.

    • Thanks! I should have had some V-mite this morning. Not sure about Marmite but Vegemite is great on the morning after drinking.

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