Neighborhood Travel Guide: Koenji, Tokyo

Kōenji prides himself on being brave with a punk spirit. Its anti-consumer spirit is evident in thrift stores, old buildings, and low-cost, no-frills bars and restaurants, while its innovative bravery is evident in the shops. live street art and music venues. It is a stop on the JR Chūō-Sōbu Line, a suburban line that connects central Shinjuku with the western suburbs.

Koengi Hikawa-jinja

This otherwise ordinary neighborhood has Japan’s only shrine devoted entirely to the weather. For ¥500, you can purchase a prayer plate at the temple office for weather-related requests (like the sun on your wedding day).


Mural City Project

Image from bna-hotel.com

There are six (and counting!) murals by different artists on buildings in the vicinity, as part of a project to bring more street art to Tokyo. See website for location.


SUBStore

Image from experience-suginami.tokyo

On Friday and Saturday nights, indie musicians often play on the floor here, but the small and cozy SUBStore is no ordinary venue: it’s an old record store that’s also an Indonesian restaurant and sometimes an art gallery.


Kosugi-yu

Image from japantoday.com

A rare early 20th century bathhouse with an impressive curved gable roof. The interior is clean and modern, with 4 different bathtubs on each side (divided by gender). The lounge acts as a gallery for local artists.


Dachibin

The iconic Okinawa restaurant offers all the classics, like goya-champuru (fried bitter gourd) and rafute (braised pork belly). Several times a month there is also live music: sometimes Okinawan folk music, sometimes indie rock.


Cocktail Shobo

Image from timeout.com

This beautifully maintained, centuries-old home is both a cocktail bar and second-hand bookstore. In keeping with the vintage theme, the dishes and glassware are antique and the cocktails are made with vintage soft drinks. At lunchtime, come for a curry and a coffee.


Nantoka Bar

Image from zatsudan.at

Every night, a different character runs the show here, setting the menu and the mood (nantoka means “something or other”). It was a low-budget, impromptu operation in an old dilapidated building. For when you really want to go with the flow.


Poem

Image from koenjifes.jp

Open for more than 50 years, Poem is an old-fashioned coffee shop, with low tables, leather banquets and poured coffee.


Shimon-ya

It’s a very casual izakaya with transparent plastic tarps at the entrance, beer cans upside down on tables, and a loyal following (thanks to its very affordable prices). The menu is full of charcoal grilled skewers; Don’t miss the gyūsuji nikomi (stewed beef tendon). It’s under the elevated train tracks, where there are plenty of other restaurants and bars as well.


Hayatochiri

Image from timeout.com

Tokyo’s quirky clothing store, a tiny space filled with one-of-a-kind remakes, is all about making a statement about pop art.


Sokkyo

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An avant-garde flea market where the selection is reduced to very random and very interesting. There is a discreet “open door” sign on the front.


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