Exploring Tokyo's Koenji neighborhood
NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan - Located west of Shinjuku, nestled in the Suginami ward, is the small district of Kōenji. The community itself was named after the numerous Buddhist temples that populate the area, particularly Kōenji temple in Tokyo.
The area was originally built post-World War two and many of the buildings that surround Kōenji train station have remained virtually untouched to this day. The district has also avoided the major modernization of the 1980s in Japan and oozes the retro charm and character of pre-boom Japan, with most of the houses and shops in the area being small and quaint.
Kōenji has become a center for Tokyo’s counter culture. Small restaurants, cafes and “Live Houses” which offer live music, are on almost every street. It is also known for having a young population and as a center for retro culture multiple used records, old electronics and several vintage clothing shops in the area.
Stepping out of the south exit at KōenjiStation the first sight that can be seen is the PAL Shopping Arcade. PAL is an open air mall of sorts, with the arcade being out on the street but with a glass roof that hangs above it.
Lining the street are several clothing, yakitori ya (restaurant) and cafes.
South past the market, on the same street, rows of vintage clothing stores, selling hats, dresses and 90’s sportswear can be found. Hidden among these stores are small cafes that can sit two or three people. The signature drink at one cafe being the coffee cone latte, a drink placed inside an ice cream cone.
North of the train station is “Look Shopping Street,” which is populated with the majority of the district’s second hand stores. While areas like Shibuya have vintage stores, Look Shopping Street has both the quality and rare clothing items found there but at a substantially lower price.
To the west of the district is an abundance of rare and vintage record shops. Those stores feature music, not only from Japan but around the world. Everything from jazz to pop music can be found here for the casual music fan to the serious collector. In addition, live houses, the Japanese name for music venues, also populate the area. Every sound from alternative rock to free-form jazz can be heard coming out of these tiny hole-inthe-wall joints that have been a part of the community for more than 40 years.
Kōenji is a district that, while existing in the present, is steeped in the sights and sounds of yesterday. The stores,restaurants and the locals that populate them exude a laid-back vibe that is contagious in the best way possible. While it’s certainly off-the-beaten path,it’s well worth the trip.