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A Place on the Chuo Line

This is a bilingual webpage about community spaces, small businesses, and culinary place making in a Tokyo neighborhood.

I have been living in Nishi-Ogikubo, more casually called Nishiogi, for 10 years. Arriving in Japan in 1998 directly from graduate school in Chicago, my wife and I have always lived on the city’s Chuo Line, one of the busiest train lines in the world, its bright orange trains snaking through the city’s busiest districts, starting in Tokyo Station, taking me from my university in Yotsuya, through the urban phantasmagoria of Shinjuku, then on through a series of dense but increasingly suburban communities, bustling Nakano, hipster Koenji, and family-friendly, jazzy Asagaya, where I lived a few years and where my daughter was born. Heading west, my current home Nishiogi is but a stop between the slightly sleazy Ogikubo and the slightly bohemian mini-city of Kichijoji, which is often ranked as the most livable neighborhood in Japan. Nishiogi is not even a Chuo-line stop on the weekends. What sort of place is it?

One popular Japanese magazine has described Nishi-Ogikubo in Tokyo’s Suginami District as the “neighborhood Japanese people most want to learn about.” This is an odd claim. Nishi-Ogikubo literally means Western Ogikubo, and has neither a distinct historical identity nor a very clear status as a “place.” Like many people, I arrived because it was impossible to find a place to live in popular and famous Kichijoji.

Yet, despite its interstitial status, Nishiogi has attracted a growing reputation as a place with both traditions and innovations: temple festivals, antique markets, artists and writers, small-scale fine dining and artisanal products. In most cases this reputation has been made through the activities of artisans, entrepreneurs, and community organizers working on a small, “human scale” contrast with the increasingly large-scale and corporate-scale commercial character of the more famous neighboring communities on the Chuo Line. Nishiogi is simply a “good place to live.”

This blog aims to document the enigmatic idea of a good place, and the people who make it a good place. It is meant as both a guide and a kind of popular Sociology. (Farrer, June 5, 2015, edited March 15, 2017)

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