GO BEYOND ASAKUSA
Let's face it, if you are visiting Tokyo for the very first time, you may have booked or will book a hotel in the ASAKUSA district.
And that's cool. ASAKUSA is centrally-located and easily-connected to other accessible areas of Tokyo, plus it offers lots of pedestrianized zones and a look into 'old' Tokyo. And if you are traveling solo, Asakusa offers heaps of hostels and capsule hotels to choose from.
WHERE IS KICHIJOJI
KICHIJOJI is a town west of central Tokyo on the JR Chuo Mainline. From Shinjuko station, it is a merely 15 minutes ride on the train and KICHIJOJI station is serviced by both fast and slow trains.
You might have not heard of KICHIJOJI, or if you did, it may be in connection with the Studio Ghibli Museum, since it's practically stone-throw distance from it and the beautiful Inokashira Park, a popular destination during cherry blossom season.
REACH KICHIJOJI FROM THE AIRPORTS
If you land at Haneda International Airport, we highly recommend to reach Kichijoji by the limousine bus service, especially if you land early in the morning . The journey is less than 1 hour as there's virtually no traffic before 7.00AM.
You can simply get on the bus and relax without worry about changing train or subway lines and walking around the often complicated subway tunnels. The bus will pick you up outside the Arrival terminal (at a designated bus stop) and drop you outside Kichijoji JR Train station.
Getting the tickets is simple, once you exit the baggage claim area and customs, the Train and Bus ticket desk is right in front of you. In 2018, the cost of a single adult ticket from Haneda to Kichijoji, is about US$12.
Arriving or departing from Narita is another story. Since the airport is way outside Tokyo, we wouldn't recommend the limousine bus for this journey as it would take 2 hours, or longer, to reach Kichijoji. It really depends on the traffic and time of day. So getting the train is the best option. From Kichijoji it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes by train, with a change at Shinjuko for the JR Yamanote Line and then in UENO for the Keisei Skyliner. There is also a direct train from Shinjuko to Narita (The Narita Express), however it's more expensive and, although direct, it takes longer than the Skyliner.
From Shinjuko to Narita the total cost of the ticket is around US$25. There are companies that allow you to purchase the Skyliner tickets online, however, we found that there is no need for that. You can easily use your SUICA card to pay (machines have English language) without the need to print vouchers and queue up anywhere to exchange the pre-paid online vouchers for tickets. Trains are every 15 minutes in both direction so you can book your seat with ease.
WHERE TO STAY IN KICHIJOJI
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Since this is not really a touristic area, don't expect to find dozens upon dozens of hotels, however there are a few options starting with the one we stayed at, the Kichijoji-Daiichi Hotel.
Listed as a 3 stars hotel, expect it more to be a 4 stars.
The Kichijoji-Daiichi Hotel is situated 5 minutes walk from the train station, so unless you have a gazillion pieces of luggage, there is no need to get a taxi. It is also very easy to find, since it's on one of the main roads. The hotel itself offers comfortable accommodation, a restaurant and free WiFi in both the lobby and your room.
Since it offers a good variety of options, breakfast also is worth a mention. Whether you are looking for a light and healthy option, a continental or Western one, or if you are going all-in for a traditional Japanese breakfast, you won't be disappointed. Last, but certainly not least, as a guest of the Kichijoji-Daiichi Hotel you get to play bowling for free any time of day. If you go in the morning though, be ready to be put to devastating shame by the local senior citizens!
Rooms for 2 adults start from US$115 per night or $139 per night including breakfast.
(Price inclusive of 8 % VAT, City tax, 10 % Property service charge)
If instead you'd prefer to be as close as possible to the train station, then the Kichijoji Tokyu REI Hotel is the answer. It offers modern accommodation with a cafe, massage services and rooms with free internet. Each room is equipped with a fridge, an electric kettle and a flat-screen TV. The en-suite bathroom comes with a bathtub and a hairdryer.
Parking is also available at Kichijoji Tokyu REI Hotel.
Single rooms start from US$115 per night excluding breakfast.
(Price inclusive of 8 % VAT, City tax, 10 % Property service charge)
One of Kichijoji's fantastic features is the Harmonica Alley situated on the north side of the train station. Here, you'll find a criss-cross of tiny passages where bars, restaurants and shops are juxtaposing one to the other. While during the day all seems to be sleepy, as soon as the sun sets, the air fills with a frenzy mix of people enjoying drinks in the tiny venues, smoke, and mouthwatering aromas coming from the many BBQ delights being grilled. TIP: Let your nose guide you!
If you or your children are fans of the legendary Studio Ghibli films created by Hayao Miyazaki, then a visit to the Ghibli Museum is most definitely a must.
If you plan on visiting the museum, you must treat it as an operation needing the same level of strategy as a military operation would. No kidding!! Tickets for this venue are perpetually sold out, 2 months in advance. So, make sure you book your tickets with the authorized agent in your country as soon as you can, 2 months before your visit. No tickets are sold at the museum. Tickets are also sold via the Lawson convenience stores in Japan, but we strongly advise against waiting to be in Japan to buy them.
Another important thing to note is that you cannot just walk in whenever you feel like it. They have specific times at 10:00 AM, 12:00PM and 2:00PM. You have a 30 minutes grace period to get in, since queues are always around the block, but if you arrive after the 30 minutes grace period, be prepared to wait until the following slot opens.
Tickets are non-transferable, and non-refundable since the date is printed on the ticket, you cannot go the day after simply because you turned up too late for the afternoon slot on your booked day.
Do you see why we advise to be strategic about this?
If you are coming from central Tokyo, calculate a good 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach the Ghibli Museum. Try to aim for the 10:00 AM slot, so that if you arrive late, you can get into the museum at the other designated times.
On the other hand, you could do what we did, and stay in the cool neighborhood of KICHIJOJI, wake up, have breakfast stress-free and then either walk 20 minutes to the Museum or catch any of the many local city buses going down Kichijoji Dori for a 10 minutes ride. TIP: You can use your SUICA card on buses. Ticket price ¥210 Bus No.: 01, 02, 03, 04, 06, 11, 12, 13, 92. The bus stop is right where Inokashira Park begins, you really cannot miss it.
So, these are our initial highlights of Kichijoji, stay tuned to discover our favorite hangouts and restaurants in the neighborhood. Have you been visiting Kichijoji? Tell us below what were your favorite things in this happening district of Greater Tokyo!