There goes Volks! Another venerable Kichijoji otaku landmark bites the dust. I wasn't a huge fan of the creepy goth dolls that made up the bulk of Volks' stock, but they've been here for what seems like forever.
It's been a hard year for Kichijoji. Earlier in 2006 it lost the legendary proto-maid cafe Anna Miller's. Then, after more than two decades of serving toy and model geeks, Post Hobby vanished once and for all from the hallowed halls of the Parco department store. "I swear to God," I muttered to Patrick as we cruised the sweltering streets of this once-glorious otaku city yesterday, "I'm going to break down and cry if Wave Be-J is gone when we get there." It wasn't, thank the toy-gods. But it's starting to look more and more like the last man standing.
I've always loved Kichijoji. My first visit in 1991 was -- fittingly enough -- via a "Romance Car" ride on the Odakyu line from Kanagawa prefecture, where I was spending the summer on a high school exchange program. A pair of model building friends had taken pity on my pathetic attempts to get my geek-freak on in Odawara. Thanks to them, I got my first grand tour of what was then Tokyo's Holy Trinity of nerd hotspots: Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Kichijoji. This being an era when manga and anime fans were still treated as social lepers rather than The Next Big Thing, the vast majority of the shops we visited were tiny affairs located on side streets and filthy alleyways, crammed to the rafters with toys and models, their dusty aisles redolent with a heady aroma of B.O. and paint thinner.
The otaku may have moved on to Nakano and Akihabara, but Kichijoji keeps chugging along. I've spent time all over Tokyo, including a year living in what I've come to think of as purgatory in the run-down suburbs near Kamata station, but I still think Kichijoji is where it's at. Quiet. Clean. Plenty of parks. Jam-packed with restaurants, galleries, and shops. It also still happens to be the nerve-center for Tokyo's nerds gone pro, being as it is a stone's throw away from most of the major animation studios (Studio 4C is right down the street; Ghibli's in Koganei, Gainax in Musashi-Koganei; Production I.G.'s a few stops away in Kokubunji.) The local Denny's is a legendary late-night feeding trough for anime insiders. It's even got its own spot on the pull-out map of Kichijoji included in that 1987 classic, the Artmic Design Works book. Artmic! There's another Kichijoji casualty: the legendary anime studio responsible for "Megazone 23," "Bubblegum Crisis," and countless other classics went under in the mid-90s.
Someone needs to put up a memorial to Kichijoji's lost otaku enterprises one of these days. In the meantime, you can find me knocking back glasses of cheap shochu in one of the tiny bars on the Harmonica Yokocho.