A shopping heaven for the stylish and edgy, many second-hand clothing stores filled with unique finds line the streets of this famous neighbourhood. Conveniently located just ten minutes from Shinjuku, it’s also known among locals for hosting the Koenji Awa Odori Festival annually, which sees large crowds gathering to celebrate together.
The lively area has around 14 shopping streets that vary in size and atmosphere. Some of the best second-hand shopping can be done at PAL Arcade and Look Street; be sure to check all shops on either side of the train tracks so you don’t miss out on a good buy!
As night falls, Koenji transforms into a party town and you can swing by old-school Japanese-style pubs or underground clubs staging rock gigs. Often featured in pop culture works, it has even appeared in Murakami Haruki’s cult favourite “1Q84”.
The Tokugawa Shōgun Family and Koenji
Japanese speakers may recognise that the name Koenji (高円寺) is derived from the name of a temple. Home to 12 temples and a shrine, the one which the neighbourhood takes its name from is Shukuhozan Koenji Temple (宿鳳山高円寺), constructed in the mid-16th century.
This was where Tokugawa Iemitsu would stay the night whenever he visited to practice falconry and hunting. The scenic area also played host to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s dog kennel, which stretched all the way from Nakano. Both neighbourhoods continue to uphold their historical ties to the Tokugawa family even today.
Furudogu Gonnosuke – Antique Shop
Entering this shop, you will feel as though you have been transported back in time. From old furniture, rock and seashell collections to jewelry, cutlery, toys and other nostalgic items, you can find almost anything in here!
The owner shares that foreigners prefer uniquely Japanese items such as kokeshi dolls and that most of his customers are young people looking for one-of-a-kind products.
This beautiful café is an ode to classical music and fine art, run by an elegant lady for over sixty years.
Showcasing carefully curated paintings, the whole café has a European vibe and a German name because of the owner’s fondness for German classical music. Even the house is built in a way that provides the best acoustics for the music.
This quaint little gem hidden on the third floor has lots of lush greenery and even an aquarium which adds to its romantic atmosphere. A library-themed café operates on the floor below, so you can enjoy some alone reading time.
The entire place has many books and artwork, and audiobooks are played occasionally in place of music.
All C’s Café
A short walk from Koenji Station’s north exit, this café features an interior resembling a gingerbread house, complete with comfy sofas and plush toys.
Indulge your sweet tooth with their range of kawaii cookies, cakes and other tasty pastries and dishes.
Nothing beats the nightlife at Koenji. The moment you step out of the station, you’re immediately surrounded by good vibes — pubs with lighted lanterns in all colours, the irresistible aroma from roadside yakitori stands and people drinking at al fresco tables.
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, we decided to head to some nomiya (飲み屋) and izakaya (居酒屋), the more traditional Japanese drinking establishments which are well-loved for their affordable food and drinks.
Found just a stone’s throw from the station, this homely pub has no table cover charge and unbelievably cheap prices!
With an English menu available and a team of dedicated, friendly staff, this charming place is where you can easily meet new people and make new friends!
Our final stop of the night was a spacious izakaya located under the trains tracks near Koenji Station. Decorated to reflect a more nostalgic side of Japan, there is also a huge variety of dishes to choose from.
Staff recommendations include the Stamina Yakko, a concoction of tofu with ladyfingers, kimchi, natto and eggs, as well as their Mochi Pizza. Do come early on weekends to secure a seat as it can get really crowded!
(This feature first appeared on WAttention Singapore magazine, Jul/Aug 2018 Vol. 45)