Tuesday, January 5, 2010


In Western Tokyo, twelve minutes by train from bustling, jam-packed Shibuya is the place I have called home for almost fifteen years. It is the little town of Kugayama, a part of Suginami Ward, situated along the Inokashira Rail Line, and home to a little under 20,000 people. There is an abundance of green in the area, and most areas off the three shopping streets are surrounded by trees and small parks. The Kanda River runs through Kugayama and is bordered by walking paths stretching for long distances, and this too is an attraction for people wanting more nature with their life inside the megalopolis of Tokyo. Come to walk along the Kanda in spring and you will find yourself engulfed by soft pink clouds of billowing cherry blossoms. In talking with one of Kugayama’s native sons, I learned that water and environment played a big part in development of the area from as far back as the 17th century.

The older Chinese characters for the name Kugayama indicate that the area was at one time raised, not in the sense of a mountain, but something like a crown of land. If my understanding is right, that topography changed, or was flattened sometime in the early 1930s with the coming of the Inokashira Line. Kugayama Station began operation on August 1, 1933 and since then the town has been connected to Shibuya at one end, and Kichijôji at the other. But even today the town is not completely flat. From my window here I am able to see a steep slope rising on the far side of the Inokashira tracks.

Something I didn’t know until today was the town’s connection to anti-aircraft protection during the last year of WWII. There were two huge anti-aircraft gun emplacements in the area as a defense against the B29 air raids that devastated Tokyo during the last months of the war.

During the time I have lived in Kugayama there have been some noticeable changes. Perhaps the biggest overhaul came a few years back with the rebuilding of Kugayama Station. The B&W photo above shows the street in front of the station as it was in 1979, and the color picture was one taken recently, though from a different perspective. The watercolor is that same view about thirty-five years ago. The bottom photo shows a view across Kugayama from my veranda.

It has been a good place to live, offering me a comfortable and manageable distance from the non-stop steel, concrete and neon of central Tokyo.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your observations and history of Kugayama. I lived there 1991-1995 at "Bear Heights" on Iwatsu Dori and above the kimono shop. There was an onigiri shop, a couple of butchers and a bookstore on the South side of the tracks near me. -- Robertson Adams, Miami Florida


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America