EXPLORE TOKYO | A guide to Tokyo’s neighbourhoods divided into sections
Located in the western part of the city, Koenji is undoubtedly an off-the-beaten-track destination when in Tokyo. Far from the shining lights of Shibuya or Shinjuku and the flocks of tourists, this is the right place to hang out if you’re looking for something original and local. Well known by locals for its creative scene and for being the left side headquarter of the city (Japanese are known as very conservative and traditional people also when it comes to art), Koenji is growing into the creative and underground heart of Tokyo, displaying a wide array of vintage shops, underground art galleries, folklore festivals, and live music gigs.
BAR | MOON STOMP
For sure bluegrass music or any kind of banjo sound is the last thing you would expect in Tokyo. Yet, at Moon Stomp, a bar located few steps away from Koenji station, you’ll find a group of Kentucky music aficionados who’ll play live every other night.
SHOP | WHISTLER AND CHART VINTAGE SHOP
Koenji is crowded with vintage shops. Whistler and Chart are without any doubt the most famous ones in the area. Owned by the same person, the two shops stand a couple of meters one from the other. Good quality clothing and leather shoes hang on the stalls on these two-floor stores. A perfect place where to find wool jumpers, velvet trousers, vintage Lacoste and Polo Ralph Lauren shirts.
FESTIVAL | MATSURI AWA ODORI
Matsuri is the Japanese word for traditional festivity. Most of them originate from local religion and its tie to nature: Shintoism. During this time thousands, if not millions of people, gather for one or more days to celebrate their kami (protectors) or the change of season. Every last weekend of August, Koenji hosts a huge awa odori festival: a dancing one. Thousands of choreographed dancers and musicians parade in the streets, each belonging to a certain area or gild of the city, with more than a million people coming to watch the show. Lutes, taiko drums, flutes, and bells shake the entire neighbourhood with food stalls filling every single street for two days. This is a big part of Japanese traditional culture to be seen in Tokyo.
FOOD | STREET FOOD VENDORS AND IZAKAYAS ALONG THE RAILWAYS
Koenji is a good place where to stop for some street food or eat something quick in an izakaya. Exiting the railway station, turn on your right just under the railways and explore the area’s hidden food stalls and small taverns. Sit down for a craft beer and a yakitori.
FOOD | BEST TEMPURA IN THE AREA
If you happen to be in Koenji and you feel hungry do stop at this tiny little shop “Tensuke” that cooks one of the best tempura you can find. Tempura was originally a Portuguese dish brought to Japan, where it acquired world fame. It consists of battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables.
More known than Koenji, Shimokitazawa is a very similar area in some regards. Known as the hippest part of the city, this area is divided into the northern and southern part (metro line works as a frontier) and it is crowded with vintage shops, artsy bars, second-hand bookshops, street music, and local products. Flocks of students crowd this neighbourhood in the week end, searching for the perfect brunch spot.
SHOP | EXPLORE MAGIC FLOWERS AND PLANTS FROM JAPAN
Walk down the manin street from the south exit of Shimokitazawa station and you will bump into this magic little nursery: a world of its own. Especially f you’re not Japanese you’ll be charmed by the beauty and strangeness of the plants and flowers. There’s hardly anything like the vegetation from another world that can surprise you and amaze you so much.