Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kajiwara 梶原

It's Saturday. A day to relax, do chores around the house, and errands around the neighborhood. While I spend a good deal of time hanging around Oji, about a 15 minute walk or 5 minute streetcar ride away, my immediate neighborhood is Kajiwara (both are in Kita-ku).  

A view of Kajiwara from my rooftop. For perspective, the population density of Kita-ku is 16,000 people per square kilometer (41,000/sq mi). Contrast this with Kansas City, which is 500 per square kilometer (1,500/sq mi), or Chicago which is 4,500 per square kilometer (11,800/sq mi). Yeah, it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around that.

To get to the shopping street of Kajiwara, I walk about 3 minutes through the narrow lanes of the neighborhood. Most of them look something like this:

The Kajiwara shopping street. It stretches from the street car stop off to the north for about four blocks. The street has a few restaurants and a variety of shops, from a toy store to a cosmetics shop, housewares, a few clothing stores, a sweets shop and a two dentists, a coffee shop, and a variety of vegetable stands, grocers, and a fish monger. 

Late Saturday afternoon in Kajiwara.

There is also a small Jizo statue next to the cosmetics shop.


What I like about the neighborhood is that it is just that- a neighborhood. The shop keepers are really friendly and the pace is slower than in many parts of Tokyo. Old folks socialize by the senior center on the shopping street, and there are occasional festivals. There are a number of convenience stores, but they are outnumbered by the local shops. It is quiet at night. While it might not be a glossy as other parts of Tokyo, it has an easy pace, and is very liveable. Despite the high population density, it never feels crowded, which is something I can not say for many parts of the city. 

The neighborhood has a shitamachi (low city) feel; historically shitamachi was the geographically low part of Tokyo, or the area near the river, as contrasted with yamanote, which was next to the mountains. Shitamachi housed the merchant and artisan classes, and was home to the city's entertainment districts. To me, the small house on the corner of my block exemplifies the shitamachi lifestyle- the grandmother of the household sells candy and ice cream from a tiny  room-sized shop on the first floor, only open on weekend days when the neighborhood kids are out and about, and with no regular schedule. One wouldn't even know that it's there, if not for her handmade sign and for passing it during open hours. Much of the neighborhood is like this, shops are closed for vacations, and hours are abbreviated. The shopping street is bustling in the morning, but most things are closed by dinner time. It stands in contrast with the 24-hour convenience stores and is an interesting niche in a fast-paced mega-city such as Tokyo.

No comments: