November 30, 2018

The Yokai of Chofu

Located in the western Tokyo, Chofu makes for a wonderful day trip from the city center. The area is rife with references to GeGeGe-no-Kitaro.

A yokai spirit at Chofu's Jindai-ji from the anime and mange series GeGeGe-no-Kitaro by Mizuki Shigeru

Ever since I first published my wildly popular titled The Haunts of Yotsuya, I’ve been itching to do another piece on Japan’s supernatural apparitions. My own interests aside, there’s just something about ghost stories that adds an additional layer to both the travel experience and the entertainment value of the article. One lazy day, while perusing my ever-growing database of places to visit, I stumbled upon the area of Chofu. Somehow, I had added this location to my list and thereafter completely forgotten about it. Instantly upon my rediscovery of Chofu, I knew that it had to be my next destination. After all, it had been almost a year since the piece on Yotsuya and I was hankering for a good piece of folklore content.

So, what connection does Chofu hold with the other world? Glad you asked! Put succinctly, this region of Tokyo is the second home of manga artist Shigeru Mizuki who authored the acclaimed GeGeGe-no-Kitaro series. While I won’t get into too much of the plot here, those unfamiliar with the franchise should know that the manga centers around the theme of yokai. Made from the characters meaning “bewitching; attractive; calamity”; and “specter; apparition; mystery; suspicious,” yokai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. In GeGeGe-no-Kitaro, the primary focus of the story is the young Kitaro and his adventures with other revenants of Japanese mythology.

Anyway, while Chofu is definitely what I would consider to be a pilgrimage GeGeGe-no-Kitaro and Shigeru Mizuki fans, the area still offers more than enough allures for those less acquainted with the series. In fact, despite being only vaguely familiar with GeGeGe-no-Kitaro myself I had a blast despite never having read a chapter of the manga. Seeing as Chofu is so close to central Tokyo and other popular attractions like the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, it makes for a convenient, half-day addition to a variety of itineraries.

Getting to the Chofu Area

Let’s quickly review how to get to Chofu. Located in the Tama River area, this section of Tokyo can be easily accessed from Shinjuku via the Keio line. In fact, if you catch one of the express trains, the entire journey can be made in about 15 minutes not counting the time it takes you to get to Shinjuku Station. As always, be sure to refer to Hyperdia or a similar service to plan the best route and connections for you. Once you arrive in Chofu, make your way up a series of escalators to the central gates. For the coffee addicts like myself out there, note that there are two Starbucks in the immediate vicinity should you need your fix before setting out on your adventure.

Now one thing that is surprising about Chofu is that despite being part of the world’s biggest metropolis, the area has a surprising amount of green. Sure the area around the station is quite developed but further out you’ll find rivers, greeneries, and other natural charms. Historically, you can easily see why Korean immigrants from the 7th century chose Chofu a place to settle and nurture their own culture. Moreover, Chofu’s natural blessings were also heavily utilized by the local cloth making industry. In fact, the “fu” in Chofu is actually written with the character for cloth. I don’t know about you but I love learning little morsels of history like this…

Chofu’s Fudaten Shrine

The main hall of Chofu’s Fudaten Shrine in western Tokyo

OK, for the first stop on your visit to Chofu, I suggest that you hit up Fudaten Shrine. Located only a few minutes walk from Chofu station, this hidden gem is a treasure trove of interesting trivia. Though the timeline of the shrine’s foundation cannot be accurately dated, it is believed Fudaten shrine was already in existence as of the 4th century. From what the historians can gather, the shrine was originally located closer to the Tama River but was subsequently moved due to flooding in the late 1400’s. According to a legend told by an on-site monument, Fudaten Shrine is inexorably tied with the origins of Chofu itself. Allegedly, following the edicts of an oracle, a cloth was dipped in the Tama River and then dedicated to the budding Japanese empire. Thereafter, the emperor himself bestowed the title of Chofu on the land.

Know that Fudaten Shrine also has a strong association with the supernatural. The aforementioned myth about the founding of Chofu aside, Fudaten Shrine is prominently featured in the yokai manga GeGeGe-no-Kitaro. In fact, the sacred site is actually appropriated as the domicile of Kitaro, the main character in Shigeru Mizuku’s masterpiece. In the manga, Kitaro’s house is located in the woods at the back of Fudaten Shrine. Seeing as Shigeru Mizuki spent much of his latter years living in Chofu, it’s no surprise that his adopted home served as inspiration for his work. Even if you’re not interested in the series, it might be worth digging around in Google for some added context. It will help you better appreciate the shrine when you do visit.

A statue in Chofu of Kitaro, the protagonist of the anime and manga series GeGeGe-no-Kitaro by Mizuki Shigeru

One final bit of advice before moving on. When making your way to Fudaten Shrine, you absolutely MUST do so via the Tenjin-dori shopping street. This avenue once served as the approach to Fudaten Shrine but in recent years, it has been transformed into the home of 50 or so small businesses. Often referred to by the nickname “Kitaro-dori,” the Tenjin-dori shopping street is decorated with statues of many of the main GeGeGe-no-Kitaro characters as can be seen above. There’s a decent number of these yokai scattered throughout the promenade so see if you can’t find them all. Besides, the statues make for great photo opportunities.

Chofu’s Ancient Jindai-ji

The main hall of Chofu’s Jindai-ji in Tokyo

The second spot on this ghost hunt that I suggest you visit is a temple called Jindai-ji. The complex is a little farther removed from Fudaten Shrine so you’re going to need to begin by backtracking to Chofu station where you can catch a bus. While the temple can be reached in around half an hour on foot, the bus is a far more convenient option for most. Of course, I am an glutton for punishment who often walks over twenty kilometers a day when doing location shoots so I can’t help you with what bus to take. Should you not be able to figure it out, be sure to inquire at the station. From what I observed, the bus will let you right out in front of the temple.

Logistics handled, let’s talk about what makes Jindai-ji so special. Though rarely, if ever, found on the digital map (at least as far as English language media are concerned), Jindai-ji is actually the second oldest temple in Tokyo after that abominable tourist trap Senso-ji. Legend has it that Jindai-ji was founded as far back as the year 733 and has been a place of worship for the Tendai sect ever since. Unfortunately, many of the current buildings are only around one-hundred years old but I’ve read that the temple’s Sanmon gate actually has a bit of history too it. Allegedly, the gate dates back to the Edo period (1603–1868) and features a different type of architectural style than the surrounding modern buildings so keep your eyes peeled for it.

A waterwheel in front of a soba shop outside Chofu’s Jindai-ji in Tokyo

Speaking of the Sanmon gate, one of the charming things about Jindai-ji is that the area immediately in front of the temple is akin to a tiny and quaint township. Located amidst a tranquil sylvan setting that, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous in autumn, this section of the Jindai-ji complex is home to a number of shops and soba restaurants. In fact, the area has a four-hundred year pedigree of producing these types of noodles and each joint has its own unique take on how to make soba (by hand, of course). Truth be told though, they all look fantastic so you really can’t go wrong. I ended up ordering what’s called tororo soba, a longtime favorite of mine.

Now one thing that you can absolutely not miss is the Kitaro-chaya. Located right at the beginning of the main approach to Jindai-ji, this cafe opened in 2003 and has a retro vibe to it. While the facility used to serve as an old-fashioned soba shop, it now serves a very different purpose. Inside, you’ll find a wide array of GeGeGe-no-Kitaro and other yokai related goods. Moreover, the back half of the establishment has a yokai themed cafe where you can enjoy original concoction based on Shigeru Mizuki’s beloved characters. There’s even a small exhibit of yokai paintings by the artist on the second floor along with other related items.

Other Attractions Near Chofu

A statue of a tengu on Tokyo’s Mt. Takao

As described in the opening passages, Chofu makes for the perfect addition to other popular attractions in western Tokyo. The itinerary that I’ve proposed thus far should only take a few hours or so to complete. As such, you’ll be able to easily tack on something else. The below list has some of my favorites that mesh well with a visit to Chofu.

The Jindai Botanical Gardens in Tokyo’s Chofu area

In addition to the above options, there are two other sites in Chofu that I’d encourage you, the reader, to check out. These are the Jindai Botanical Gardens and the Yukemuri-no-Sato Onsen. The former (pictured above) is located just behind Jindai-ji and is an easy add-on to visit. Though not a traditional garden per say, the grounds are stunning all year round and definitely worth checking out should you have the time. As for the onsen, I unfortunately cannot comment first hand. That said, I’ve read the hot spring is not designed with foreign tourists in mind so don’t go expecting English guidance.

Until next time travelers…