Yokai In Suburbia; Secrets Of the Unassuming city of Chofu
Not far from downtown Tokyo, there is a non-descript bedroom community called Chōfu . But there is more to Chōfu than meets the eye(or eyeball daddy in this case). Chōfu was the home of one of Japan`s most famous manga artists, Mizuki Shigeru for more than 50 years. He is most famous for GeGeGe no Kitarō, a manga series about monsters and spirits called Yōkai. To me, the series has a bit of a Scooby Doo/Munster’s/Addams Family vibe to it, spooky but funny. Mizuki Shigeru`s influence in Chōfu can be seen in characters from GeGeGe no Kitarō appearing at Tenjin-Dori Shopping Street, Chōfu station, and a GeGeGe themed café and gift shop. I love monsters and especially Yōkai, I visited countless attractions in Japan themed around monsters and spirits. My apartment is filled with plushies, figurines, and keychains of international monsters like bigfoot and the Chupacabra and Japanese Yokai like Kappa, Tanuki, and a few of the Chōfu characters. So of course, when I found about Chōfu, I knew I had to make a trip.
GeGeGe no Kitarō
The manga,GeGeGe no Kitarō was created by Mizuki Shigeru in 1960. It was adapted into a very popular anime series in 1967 and modern iterations of it continue to this day. Mizuki Shigeru drew inspiration from folk beliefs and customs from different parts of Japan. He brought many obscure and bizzare Yōkai into the mainstream. Without Mizuki Shigeru, we likely wouldn’t have Pokémon or Yōkai Watch. Themes of pacifism and humanism can be seen throughout his work because of his wartime experiences. He was drafted in World World II and was sent to New Guinea where he saw the horrors of the war. He contracted malaria and lost his left arm during this time. In many of his manga, he gives a detailed account of wartime atrocities, directly confronting Japan`s history ,framing war as elites forcing the less privileged to fight and die in wars. In GeGeGe no Kitarō, He was unafraid to show the evil people are capable of but offer reconciliation by shining a light to unique local customs and practices. By doing so, it went against nationalization and fought back against the erasure of communities` distinctive cultural traditions to create a homogenized modern Japan.
Characters of GeGeGe no Kitarō
Ge Ge Ge is a Japanese onomatopoeia for cackling laughing. Kitarō refers to the name of the main character. GeGeGe no Kitarō is about a half-human and half Yōkai who tries to unite the human and Yōkai worlds. He is joined by a colorful assortment of Yōkai characters who I will list below.
＊All the pictures below except for the one of Kitarō are figurines that I bought when I went to Sakaiminamoto, the hometown of Mizuki Shigeru. I plan to make a post about there shortly.
The main character who born into a cemetery after the death of his parents. He is the last member of the ghost tribe. He is missing an eye, he injured it after crawling out of a grave. It is usually covered by his long brown hair.
Kitarō`s father died from diseases but came back as an anthropomorphic eyeball. He is a very loving father to Kitarō and helps guides him through the Yōkai world . He also loves sake and baths(just like an alcoholic bird).
Nezumi Otoko(Rat Man)
Na na na na na na na na Rat Man .Unfortunately, Nezumi Otoko is not a rich vigilante who fights crime in a rat costume. He is instead an ugly Yōkai that is a cross between a rat and a man. (There is a chance his mother is named Martha too). He is always trying to trick and con people out of money. He is a notorious trickster and irksome to even his friends. He says he has never taken a bath so that might be one of the reasons he annoys his friends.
It is a large anthropomorphized wall that is protective of its friends. It is my favorite character and one of my favorite Yōkai in general. There is something very amusing about a monster that is just a sleepy wall with eyes.
Check out the theme song of the original TV version of Gegege no Kitaro! You can get a better understanding of the tone of the show if you have not seen it before. It reminds me of the Addams Family‘s theme song.
Tenjin-dori Shopping Street
Alongside the Tenjin-Dori shopping street close to Chofu station, there are many statues of GeGeGe no Kitarō characters. The street heads to Fudaten Shrine, a shrine famous for a statue of an ox that will give you luck if you touch it.
This abandoned-looking building is actually a GeGeGe no Kitarō cafe and gift shop called Kitarō Chaya . It was crowded when I went so I could not get a good picture of the outside but I found one on Wiki Commons. The building perfectly captures the spirit of the manga and show from the old-fashioned and deteriorating appearance to the whimsy of giant geta(wooden sandals) on the roof and images of characters hidden throughout the exterior.
Inside, there are decorations from the GeGeGe wherever you look. The benches have eyes to look like Nurikabe and Yōkai plushies and figurines line the walls. I was lucky enough to be able to sit with Kitarō. I was probably more happy than a grown man should be in this situation but it is important to do what makes you happy. Sitting with monsters is what makes me happy. The menu has items themed around some of the characters. I had the Ittan-momen(cotton roll Yōkai) sundae while my fiancé had Medama-Oyaji sweet bean soup. They were both really cute and delicious. There also is Nurikabe shaped konjac on a stick and a GeGeGe late where you can choose from four different images to be drawn on top.
In the room next to the cafe is a small but jam-packed with merchandise giftshop. Here you can buy GeGeGe no Kitarō clothing, towels, mugs, snacks, plushies, and much more. I opted for a large stuffed Nurekabe that currently sits on my couch. Once you leave the gift shop, you will see statues of Kitarō and Nezumi Otoko, a great photo op. On the side of the gift shop is an outdoor seating area with a large wooded cutout of GeGeGe No Kitarō most beloved characters.
Other Attractions in Chōfu
Kitarō Chaya is located just outside of a temple called Jindaiji. Jindaiji Temple is one of the largest and oldest Buddhist temples in Tokyo. The spacious ground is beautiful and meticulously maintained. Visitors can go here to pray for good luck or to find a partner. It is usually not very crowded but I went a day or two after New Years which is a time where Japanese people go in mass to visit temples to pray for a good year. My Omikuji(fortune-telling strips of paper) was a great blessing (大吉, Dai-Kichi), the best one. It means that good things will happen for me in the new year. A Pandemic did start that year which isn’t great but I also proposed to my girlfriend and for reasons mysterious to me, she said yes.
Jindai Botanical Park
Finally, located next to Jindaiji is Jindai Botanical Park. I did not visit as it was winter as the time when I went to Chōfu . It is known for its roses and is one of the top attractions in Chōfu . It is massive in size. It is wonderful place to visit if you like flowers.
How to Get to Attractions in Chōfu
From Shinjuku station take the Keiō Line and in around 20 minutes you will arrive at Chōfu Station(￥250 one way). Tenjin Dori and Futaden Shrine are a little more than 5 minutes away on foot from the station. Jindai Temple, Kitarō Chaya, and Jinjai Botanical Gardens are close together and they can be reached from the station in 25 minutes by walking or you can take around a 17-minute bus ride to the temple. Take bus number 34 from bus stop #14 heading to Jindai Temple, get off at “Jindaiji”, the final stop. It costs ￥210 one way.
These attractions may be closed as part of Corona prevention measures so please check their websites in advance before visiting.
Kitarō Chaya(Japanese website)
Jindaiji Temple(English website)
Jindai Botanical Gardens(Multilingual machine translation available on website)