Laid Back. Live Music. Liberal. Lively. These aptly describe the vibe of Koenji—the dormitory town that appears to have been stuck in time (in a right way). This area hosts to multiple stores of second-hand clothing and vintage records. Koenji is the only town in all of Japan that is exempted from the Japan law that prohibits stores from selling electronics made before 2001; thus people who have a stronghold of vintage items would find Koenji a haven. This retro vibe is also reflected in the architecture of the area, tiny and old-fashioned.
More than just the face of retro, Koenji has an amusing music scene. You would see musicians armed with their instruments and singing a tune. Koenji also has earned the title the “punk rock music capital”. However, regardless of your music preference, you are undoubtedly welcome here.
Koenji also hosts the Awa Odori festival, a summer merriment showcasing drum beats, dancing, and food. Aside from Awa Odori, other festivals grace Koenji and make this laid-back town a stage for music, dance, and other forms of performance arts.
As a dormitory town, Koenji is a cauldron of cheap food treats and live music places. Also, only in Koenji that you’ll find stores selling second hand (but never been opened) liquor or sake. Koenji also houses hole in the wall food joints that springs by the sidewalk and at times uses soda crates as chairs and tables. Interesting, right? Let’s delve more into the food scene around Koenji.
Those craving some authentic Okinawan food, crash into Dachibin. Owned by Junko Takahashi, he makes recreating Okinawan dishes, with ingredients coming all the way from Okinawa, at an affordable price point his mission—which carved a name in a food scene for 30 years. A tempura set meal for ¥1300? All possible at Tensuke Tempura. There is no paper menu available, but there’s an English-speaking chef who can assist you. For those who love to get a yakiniku overload, head on to Gut’s Soul that offers eat all you can yakiniku for as cheap as ¥1,280 for 90-minutes. Feeling the need to have your daily fill of gyoza? Akaten in Koenji has perfected on the dish in its quaint stand—gyoza. Who doesn’t adore great food at a low price? Shimonya is a famous yakitori place in Koenji for people looking for affordable yakitori.
And after the feast, one can detox and have a sip of tea (or even buy actual leaves) from Chadokoro Tsukiji. Bean lover? Koenji is also a home to artisanal coffee shops like Hattifnatt Koenji, with its artsy décor and a vast array of latte flavors or Coffee Amp, which prides itself with single-origin beans and “juice” and “drop” blends. But for those who love to have an after-dinner drink, head on to Bar Secret Base Zero, 44Sonic, or Muryoku Muzenji for live music and drinks.
Koenji may feel like it has been left behind with the modern-day Japan façade, but this districts untouched old-school charm, music, and free-spirited feel is truly worth the experience.
Aleli is a wanderlust whose main itinerary is to culture soak in the places that she sets foot on, sinking her teeth in the gustatory offerings that the place has to offer and knowing the story behind it. Food for her is a marriage of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the rich history of every city she explores and uses the pen as her tool to share to the world each unique experience she unravels.