Higashi-Kurume Summer Festival
City: Tokyo, Japan
My Home: One-bedroom apartment
Higashi-Kurume is a great place to raise a family if you are foreigners in Japan. There's an international school (Christian Academy in Japan) within walking distance of the train station (Seibu Ikebukuro line), several beautiful rivers and parks, and many little fields where you can buy fresh produce directly from the farmers.
April's Guide to Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo
There are lots of restaurants and and plenty of shopping, but since it's suburb of Tokyo, it's still a quiet and safe neighborhood. And if you want to go downtown, in just a few minutes the train will take you right into the heart of Tokyo city.
1. Go-to Shop for Gifts
There are department stores (like Ito Yokado) to buy things from, or you can buy from local thrift stores and flea markets for more Japanesey charm (great gifts to send to relatives back home).
2. Best Vintage Shop, Thrift Store, or Flea Market
The local international school (Christian Academy in Japan) has a huge school-wide market called "Thrift Shop" every April and October. It's open to the public. But you can also find local flea markets, particularly in the fall. A great place to find Japanese antiques is in Kawagoe, not too far from Higashi-Kurume, at the Narita-san Betsu-in temple, where they host a flea market once a month (I've found some fantastic treasures there).
3. Favorite Coffee Shop, Café, or Restaurant
Unfortunately, it doesn't have a Web site, but it's just outside of Higashi-Kurume train station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. "Reno's Bistro" has fantastic wings, burgers, and beer. The owner studied culinary arts in Europe (Italy, I believe), and you can really see his talent in his food. Delicious, great presentation, and well worth the price.
4. Best Place to Pick Up Groceries
Surprisingly, we buy most of our groceries at a local 99 yen store (just outside the west exit of the train station). It's cheaper than most grocery stores for the same quality. We buy our produce directly from farmers in the area since they each build their own booths right next to their fields. Once every 2 or 3 months I go to Costco and stock up on meat. We bake our own bread.
5. Best Place to Buy Flowers
There are lots of lovely florists in the area, especially on the west side of the train station.
6. Best Neighborhood Park
If you come out of the west exit of the train station and turn left (headed south), stick as close to the train tracks as possible. Within five minutes you'll see a park on your right side (just after you've passed the train crossing). A great place to take your kids. But if you want beauty, you have to go to the local bamboo forest (takebayashi park). Ask any local foreigner (there are plenty, especially near the train station on a week day) and they can give you directions in English.
7. Best Spot to Take Visitors
We love to get lost in our own neighborhood. Just pick a direction and go! You find so many interesting things that way. Little hole-in-the-wall shops, rivers filled with ducks and koi, beautiful personal gardens, ancient temples, etc.