Koenji is a quaint yet lively neighbourhood in the eclectic Suginami ward. It’s only situated a few minutes train ride away from the cool Shinjuku city but it’s oh so very different! It’s laid-back vibes and old-fashioned buildings can only be described as retro – the total opposite of the capital city.
Koenji is like the sister city to Shimokitazawa. Both neighbourhoods offer a relaxed atmosphere for day time exploring and lively night time entertainment hot spots. However, whereas in Shimo (as it is fondly known as) you may come across some eclectic hipster locals and wild street art, Koenji offers a more edgy punk scene.
Both, though, provide amazing experiences and are prime examples of what a melting-pot of sub-cultures and underground scenes Tokyo is made of.
Whether it’s some Japanese op-shopping, bar-hopping across some unique and funky live houses, or paying respects at a historical shrine, Koenji is a one-stop destination for travellers.
Check out how Koenji looks like in this virtual tour:
History of Koenji
Like most neighbourhoods in Japan, Koenji actually has quite a colourful background.
It started its roots as an unknown little town on the Omekaido Highway. After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that rocked the Kanto region, many locals were displaced. This resulted in a rapid rise of population in Koenji.
By the 1950s, Koenji had developed into a popular neighbourhood that was known for its tea and coffee houses. It’s also home to Tokyo’s premiere Awaodori festival, one of the biggest festivals of the region occurring every August.
Over the years, it’s become known as one the ‘cooler’ suburbs to be seen in Tokyo. Throughout its history, it’s also played a part in being home to Tokyo’s punk scene (1970s), and was also a major protesting site in the early 2000s!
It’s retro, edgy vibe is what makes Koenji so unique today. It’s avoided most modernisation developments to be one of the many suburbs littered across Tokyo with a still-authentic underground culture.
Expect to feel nostalgia when you visit Koenji!
The 5 Best Things To Do In Koenji
1. Shop Vintage!
Everyone knows that the number one thing to do in Koenji is to become a hipster!
When you’re walking along the streets of this uber cool neighbourhood, you’ll notice that you’re in amongst crowds of young fashionistas. The looks may not quite be runway style, but they’ve definitely carved out their own style here.
If you’re interested in emulating the same kind of look, there are plenty of shops here for you to explore. Koenji is actually home to many small strips of shops and you will find that there are small numbers of vintage clothing stores clustered together. We recommend starting the moment you head outside of the station.
Their cute and boho shop exteriors will draw you in and the wonderful collection of unique, one-of-a-kind clothes on the racks will keep you there for hours!
2. Visit a Bookstore
For those who do not know, Koenji is quite the hub for secondhand books! If you plan to explore the smaller strips of shops around the local neighbourhood, you will notice that there are quite a few unassuming bookstores which are hidden gems for everyone – especially collectors.
For a fan favourite, check out the Ehonya Rusuban Bansuru Kaisha. This place is as vintage as it gets, and offers a wonderful collection of children’s books from all over the world. Even if you walk away emptyhanded, throwback to your childhood here and experience some nostalgia.
- Address: Japan, 〒166-0003 Tokyo, Suginami City, Koenjiminami, 3 Chome−44−18 1F
- Hours: 2:00pm – 8:00pm (Closed Wednesdays)
3. Relax at Shinseji Temple
What people don’t realise is that despite the grungy reputation Koenji has, it’s home to a few hidden temples that offer a welcome respite from the crowds.
This peaceful temple is not something you would expect to see in the middle of the city. The grounds itself are surrounded by lush green trees, there is a beautiful pond to relax by and get lost in your thoughts, and there are some interesting statues for you to explore as well.
Lastly, this is also a wonderful location for cherry blossoms during spring time. If you’re in this area, definitely swing by this temple to enjoy the blossoms in peace!
4. Bath at an Sento
After a long day of walking, what better way to relax than a local sento? Kosugi-yu has been around since the 1930s and it draws a colourful of a crowd as a peacock’s feathers.
As you would expect of a Japanese bathhouse located in the thick of Tokyo’s most eclectic neighbourhood, Kosugi-yu’s popularity not only stems from its plethora of bath types to experience, but also its progressive attitude. Over the years, its welcomed various people from the growing sub-cultures of Tokyo, accepting tattoos wholeheartedly as well as collaborating with local artists and businesses to liven up the atmosphere.
It’s definitely not a wholly traditional bathhouse, but that’s what makes it fun!
- Address: Kosugi-yu Koenji
- Cost: 460 yen
- Hours: 10:30am – 9:30pm
5. Experience Awaodori in August
The Koenji Awaodori is one of the biggest festivals across the entire Tokyo region. During this two-day festival, 10,000 dancers fill up the streets of Koenji, drawing a massive number of crowds.
The roots of the Awaodori festival goes back to Tokushima in the late 1580s, when a local daimyo celebrated the completion of a castle by generously feeding his people lots of alcohol. This culminated into plenty of dancing on the streets, and thus Awaodori was born. (Allegedly!).
Date: 12 – 15 August 2021
The Best Cafes In Koenji
Tokyo is home to literally thousands of funky cafes to explore, and Koenji may be home to some of the coolest ones yet.
Don’t go looking for a Starbucks here; instead, look for the cafes with the unique exteriors because you’ll most likely find the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had inside.
Because Koenji is quite the hub for aspiring creatives such as musos, artists and writers, you’ll often come across them inside these cafes. Most cafes avoid the modern look for vintage and retro, with vines artistically covering the front, wooden furniture and funky artwork displays.
This cute cafe is one that will bring out the inner child in you. You’ll feel like you’re entering the door into another magical world, and the wide selection of pizzas, salads, and lattes will appease everyone. There’s even a loft seating area where, to get to it, you’ll need climb a wooden ladder!
- Address: 2 Chome-18-10 Koenjikita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0002, Japan
- Hours: 12:00pm – 11:00pm
Classical fans, rejoice! This cafe prides itself in playing only the most soothing of Viennese classical music for its patrons. Grab a coffee in the afternoon after a full day of exploring and relax to the wonderful sounds of Mozart.
- Address: 2 Chome-9-5 Asagayakita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0001, Japan
- Hours: 12:00pm – 11:00pm (Closed Tuesdays)
Floresta Bakery is best known for their adorable animal doughnuts which are made from organic ingredients. They’re a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop that not only sell doughnuts, but ice cream, cakes and coffee as well. However, if you’re planning to visit, definitely a few of their specialty.
From penguins to bears, to cats and frogs, they’ve got all the animal bases covered. However, not all designs are offered every day. They also offer a limited number of each doughnut so the cutest ones usually sell out quick. Get in early if you can!
- Address: Floresta Bakery
- Hours: 9:00am – 9:00pm
The Best Restaurants In Koenji
Japan is one of those countries where, everywhere you eat, you will be excused if you think it was the best dish in the world. The calibre is high in this country, and most places aim to please.
In saying that, Koenji is actually home to some amazing restaurants. Whether it’s Japanese cuisine or an overseas-influenced dish, you won’t be disappointed in our suggestions.
One of the top-rated restaurants across Koenji is actually a humble tempura restaurant! This small restaurant commands a long line almost every day. Most, however, will say that the wait is worth it. The tempura is always fresh, hot and crunchy here. The specialty is the Tamago lunch – literally a tempura soft-boiled egg over rice.
- Address: 3 Chome-22-7 Koenjikita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0002, Japan
- Hours: 12:00pm – 2:00pm, 6:00pm – 10:00pm (opens until 3:00pm on the weekends, closed Mondays)
A favourite amongst locals, this place serves up some of the tastiest katsudon you’ll ever try! Three generations have come and gone here, and the original recipe still draws people from all over. Think crunchy fried pork cutlet soaked in the perfect portion of sweet dashi, onions and egg. Delicious!
- Address: 3 Chome-31-16 Nishiogikita, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0042, Japan
- Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: 11:30am – 3:00pm (Closed Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays)
Here is a restaurant serving up another Japanese classic – soba noodles! Honmura-an uses only the freshest of ingredients to produce its buckwheat noodles. These noodles are produced fresh daily. You can even watch the chefs prepare these noodles right in front of you through the glass screen!
- Address: Honmura-an Koenji
- Hours: 11:00am – 9:30pm (closed Tuesdays)
The Best Bars In Koenji
The clubs and bars here are some of the most unique across Tokyo. Most of the time, punk rock is king here. However, over the years, the tastes of most of these venues have relaxed a bit and now you will likely hear all kinds of music being played.
This one has been around for a while, and is best known for its garage, punk and psychedelic music. Everyone who knows Koenji, will know U.F.O Club. You’ll sometimes hear these types of venues being called ‘live houses’ in Koenji – it’s a local slang.
- Address: Japan, 〒166-0003 Tokyo, Suginami City, Koenjiminami, 1 Chome−11−6
- Hours: dependent on the act, please check the website
This bar is an otaku’s dream. From the floor-to-ceiling display shelves filled with DVDs, figurines and comic books, it’s literally a paradise for those into the Japanese anime and manga scene. Best part about this club is that the bartenders will mix you a drink based on your favourite character!
- Address: 2 Chome-12-4 Asagayakita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0001, Japan
- Hours: 7:00pm – 12:00am
This self-proclaimed ‘book-bar’ is a favourite amongst those looking for a more chill bar-hopping experience. Despite its reputation, it’s got the works: drinks, snacks, and cool vibes. Fun fact: the small dishes on the menu are inspired by fiction novels loved by the owner!
- Address: 3 Chome-8-13 Koenjikita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0002, Japan
- Hours: Mon-Fri: 6:00pm – 9:00pm, Sat-Sun: 12:00pm-3pm, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
How To Get To Koenji
Koenji is literally a few minutes away from Shinjuku. From Shinjuku Station, take the orange Chuo Line towards Mitaka and hop off at Koenji. It will cost you 160-yen one way and take roughly 6-minutes.
This quaint little neighbourhood has so much character and so much to offer that it would be a waste if you didn’t explore it!
It’s so very different to the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku, and whilst it does lay claim to being more old-school than modern, it’s worlds away from the traditional cities such as Kyoto.
We highly recommend breaking up your crazy itinerary (we know you have one!) with a chill day at Koenji to get to know this ‘other’ side of Tokyo.