Local Japan: Living in Adachi-ku - Arakawa, Tendon and Shitamachi People

September 7th, 2017 By Kathrin Koehlinger
Local Japan

Adachi-ku Adachi. That is where my husband and I live and somehow Japanese often raise their eyebrows when I say that. Is it because of this melodious name? I love to say it out aloud. Adachi-ku Adachi. Adachi-ku Adachi. But maybe, just maybe, it is because they don’t know what to do with this information. Adachi-ku? Maybe. Adachi? Must be some part in Adachi ward then. Somehow I always ended up in “weird” places in Japan.

You know, nothing fancy like Umeda in Osaka or the hip Shimokitazawa in Tokyo. No. First I lived in Kaizuka, a small town in Osaka close to Kansai Airport. My Japanese friend’s comment: “Wow that’s far, but at least it is close to the airport”. Yes, how great. Because I board a plane every other day or so...But I was young then and couldn’t really get its charm because busy centers like Namba and Umeda were much more exciting.

Then, a little bit older, I moved to Obaku in Uji City, Kyoto prefecture. Uji can even be considered a famous place for its Green Tea production, it being partially the setting of Genji Monogatari - THE Japanese novel per se - and for its Byodoin - the lovely temple on the 10 Yen coin (yes, please check a coin right now). But that is Uji, not Obaku. Show a Japanese person the Kanji for Obaku and chances are high that they might not even be able to read them (it’s 黄檗 btw). And they might have never heard of it as well. Even English Wikipedia only lists Mount Obaku and the Obaku sect, mentioning its head temple Manpukuji in Uji. Well guess what, the temple is not in Uji but in Obaku (okok, it belongs to Uji but still)!

Later I moved with my husband to Kashiwanoha in Chiba, which again, made my Japanese friends laugh. It is part of Kashiwa City but my friends couldn’t believe that a town with such a funny name really existed. Apparently, it is rather weird for Japanese how they put the name of Kashiwanoha together (柏の葉) and they said they will never ever be able to forget this weird name. Ok then. So this was a short insight into my Japan story so far.

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View from Adachi - Kita-Senju is just across the Arakawa

Now I live in Adachi-ku Adachi and I love it. I know there are other nice areas but hey, you can’t have everything. And I don’t need to. After two months in Kashiwanoha we decided to move closer to Tokyo and the real estate lady from my husband’s workplace showed us five apartments. Long story short, we didn’t like four of them and took the one I actually found myself on the Internet. The difference between the places was huuuuge. Our apartment was the third viewing and the moment we got off the train and left the station we liked the place (it is a one-exit station, that’s how tiny it is!). It was a very residential area but with a certain atmosphere and there was a lot going on around the station. (To be honest, I already kinda decided that this is the place because of its choco croissant cafe and its Taiyaki shop. Yes, I am that easy). Do you know the feeling when you step into an empty apartment and start thinking where to put the couch and imagine waking up on the weekends and having a long breakfast? Both my husband and I could immediately see us living in this empty, rather spacious apartment and after seeing two other apartments on that day, we quickly decided on Adachi.

Two or three cafes, a big supermarket and several restaurants. And oh my, were we excited when we saw the 24-hours Bento store… There is a Taiyaki shop next to the station where you can get your Taiyaki filled with all the good stuff like custard cream, matcha cream or cheese. When you get off the train after a later hour, there is a Takoyaki van in front of the station where an old Ojiisan prepares fresh Takoyaki for you. Needless to say, this is perfect after having a few drinks out.I even love the vacant, run-down houses you can find here and there. I always had a thing for those places and I always wonder what it looks like inside and who used to live there.

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Not our apartment but one of the few run-down places in our neighborhood

6 minutes by foot from the station, my husband and I live in a 70sqm apartment. We were super thrilled when we found an apartment this huge and relatively cheap and so far, we didn’t have any issues with our neighbors. I just wish sometimes that my neighbor next door knew a bigger repertoire of piano plays, because it is getting kinda boring listening always to the same plays (and her flute play is not that good but thankfully she concentrates on the piano).

Next to our apartment building is a tiny supermarket I go to when I only need a few things. It is weird, but I was always wondering whether I would ever live in an area where I could say “oh, sorry it took me so long but I just had a chat with my neighbor/ bakery lady/ etc”. Now I found my Supa-san. Supa-san and his wife own the tiny supermarket and because I don’t know their names, I just call them Supa-san. The first three times I went there, Supa-san would always only tell me that my Japanese was good. Now we have lengthy chats about potato salad, Udon soup and how it is different from region to region and the right season to buy grapes. When I go to work in the morning and he stands outside, he wishes me a nice day. So now, I actually live in a place where I can say “this is my supermarket and my Supa-san”.

I have only lived for six months now in Adachi-ku and I know there is so much more to explore. I love that I am rather close to everything (in Tokyo standards) but far enough from all the crowds. On a nice day, I walk from our apartment in Adachi to Kita-Senju, which takes only around 30 minutes. I can walk along the Arakawa river where high school kids play baseball or people just go for a walk, like me. During hot and humid summer days, there is always a pleasant breeze at the river to cool you down. I cross the bridge and get into Kita-Senju’s Shitamachi area. Kita-Senju does not seem to be so popular among tourists but I guess that is not so surprising when Ueno and Asakusa are not far away. But Kita-Senju has its own charm and I am discovering it every day anew. Sometimes I just sit in Starbucks located near the station’s west exit because when you have a counter seat near the window you can just watch the train tracks with people living their busy lives. Kita-Senju has two big department stores right next to the station; Lumine and Marui. The first weeks that was basically all I knew but after a while I started to discover other parts. There are countless restaurants and cafes around the station. Honcho Dori marks a great starting point for exploring, no matter whether you go out during the day or the night. You will find there all sorts of restaurants and izakayas - a restaurant where you feel like you just stepped into a forest (with according background sound), a Texmex restaurant with great burgers, an Okinawa-style bar and plenty more. Leave the station and turn into the insignificant-looking street with Mcdonalds on its corner and after a few meters you will be surrounded by dozens of bars and restaurants. A weird experience when you really expect nothing by turning the street in the night and then there are suddenly all those people having the time of their life.

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Kita-Senju station area - you will always find some performancers here or hosts trying to pick up girls

For weeks now, my husband and I were looking for a Tendon restaurant because, well, Tendon obviously?! What can be better than fried everything in a rice bowl with a great sauce?! How excited were we when we finally found one in Kita-Senju (of course, not talking about that horrible Tendon Tenya...that taste...that pain...). We entered the small restaurant that apparently hadn’t changed for the last 30 years and had a lovely evening with amazing Tendon and lovely owners who were incredibly welcoming and talkative. We have become regulars at the place and are always greeted with a big smile and some extra side dishes on the house. Just last time we went the owner finally asked us whether we actually lived here or were tourists coming and going every few weeks. I was really surprised because we had been coming and going for the last six months but for him it just wasn’t so important what we were doing here. I like that about Adachi.

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Our favorite Tendon place in Kita-Senju

I have only lived for a few months so far in Adachi-ku Adachi but slowly but surely this big “mess” of unknown spots, areas and people is making more and more sense. When I turn one street, I know where I will end up. When I go to that restaurant I know what to expect. Places get attached with memories. A while ago I made the terrible decision to not walk but take my bike to Kita-Senju (normally not terrible, just in my case). As I am rather clumsy, I tore my shin open at the pedal and it started bleeding really badly. I managed to get to the drug store (I get sick when I see blood…) and the store clerk was kind beyond any words, stocking me up with everything I needed, sitting me down on a chair and patching me up while I tried not to look at the blood.

This is why I love Adachi-ku. Never once have I faced any hostility. My Japanese is not perfect, which is partly due to my enormous laziness to sit down and study. But most of the times I have no problems understanding what the other party wants and I can get my point across. However, I don’t look Japanese and often when I enter a restaurant or a shop and approach someone there, for a split second you can see it in their face how they try to remember English sentences they learned in high school. I always immediately talk in Japanese and you can see their relief and somehow they just start chatting away with no concern whatsoever. I love this about Adachi-ku. It happened to me a lot in other places that even though I spoke Japanese, they were often reluctant to answer in Japanese and used English or worse didn’t really use either and addressed me as if I was retarded. Of course, these are minor problems but I know some people can understand the frustration. I don’t want to be best buddies with the Ekiin and I don’t want to discuss with him Murakami’s kafkaesque worlds but if he could just give me the directions in coherent Japanese sentences I would be extremely grateful. Doesn’t happen often, but sometimes. But hasn’t happened yet in Adachi-ku. Somehow I end up talking about the ripeness of pineapples, the Tendon obachan who doesn’t like matcha (not even matcha ice cream…), the origin of okras or Higashimaru instant udon soup.

And I know I might still be wearing my pink-colored glasses but I really like to say: I live in Adachi-ku Adachi.

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Arakawa Fireworks