Last weekend I set off to saunter in Tokyo’s untapped neighborhood – Koenji, the city’s star district with an expanding creative scene and a center of alternative youth culture. The district avoided the major modernization of the 1980s in Japan and oozes the retro character – with small, quaint and tired-looking houses – which I loved. The area is replete with quality thrift stores and vintage record shops, as well as dozens of izakaya under the train tracks. Honestly, forget overrated and overpriced Golden Gai and Shinjuku’s Piss Alley. Along with Yurakucho district (next to Ginza), Koenji is THE place to enjoy some real izakaya grab. Just snatch one of the crate seats outside and enjoy your summer evening with a plateful of meat on a stick.
One of the most interesting things that I discovered about Koenji is that it used to be home to Tokyo’s punk scene in the 1970s and these roots are still reflected on the vibrant suburban underground culture. You’ll notice numerous live houses – music venues or live bars – where you can enjoy a drink (or three) while listening to young performers. From alternative rock to free-form jazz, most tastes are covered, and the setting definitely trumps your usual faceless concert venue.
Amidst all this edgy ambiance, you’ll also discover tranquil pockets of calm. I loved the Mabashi Inari Shrine I stumbled upon and will definitely be back in fall.
If you are curious to read more about Koenji, and find out what there is to do, shop and eat in this quaint part of Tokyo, then read my full article on Savvy Tokyo.
Have you been to Koenji? What did you like about it?
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