Known as 'Anime Town', Suginami City – which is classed as one of Tokyo's special wards – makes good on its reputation with a lineup of around 70 production studios, including Gundam creators Sunrise Inc. A central part of the local economy, the industry even runs its own, visit-worthy Suginami Animation Museum. The ward is also popular for its shotengai (old-school shopping streets), which are found outside practically every station in Suginami City. An essential part of the local experience, each shotengai has its own colour and vibe. In this guide, we've focused on the coolest 'hood, Koenji, but we've also featured interesting spots to visit in Asagaya, Ogikubo and Nishi-Ogikubo. Here's a snapshot of each area before you get stuck into our pick of the top 50 things to do:
Koenji: Famed for its underground music scene and scores of hip eateries and bars, Koenji hosts Tokyo's premier Awa Odori (dance) festival in August and lays claim to the title of 'Tokyo's coolest neighbourhood' year-round.
Asagaya: This area has served as the base for a wide range of subcultural communities since the radical '60s, but is now most renowned for its high concentration of anime studios and its refined entertainment scene, which includes an annual jazz festival.
Ogikubo: An unmissable stop on any Tokyo ramen tour, Ogikubo is home to some of the city's most venerable noodle houses. Its cultural history is just as rich, having been the centre of activities for several Showa-era literary greats.
Nishi-Ogikubo: Curiously combining quaint antique shops, scruffy cafés, upscale apartment buildings and dirt-cheap watering holes on the western edge of Suginami City, Nishi-Ogikubo gives off a quiet vibe while offering plenty to explore.
Packed with restaurants and niche vendors carrying a variety of Asian goods, this retro street hints at how Koenji came to be nicknamed ‘Japan’s India’. Lanterns illuminate the alleys from nightfall and contribute to the energetic atmosphere. Ramen lovers: stop by the underground Nibangai (2nd street). Koenji Street
This tiny restaurant on a Koenji backstreet specialises in transforming simple shellfish dishes into something more special, for example sashimi becomes a French fusion mille-feuille. Ask for the sake tasting set if you can’t decide on which nihonshu to pair with dinner. Abusan
The figurines, DVDs and comic books lying around are impressive, sure, but the true attraction at this tiny otaku paradise is the owner/bartender who, when prompted, will mix you a drink based on your favourite fictional character – no matter who or what it might be. 44Sonic
After switching from advertising to shoe shining, the owner of this shop moved into shoe making and now produces made-to-order leather footwear, impeccably crafted from wooden moulds. He also does repairs and stocks other goods – check out the leather sleeve for paper cups. Amakusa Factory
This long-standing sweet shop sells the best dorayaki – soft red bean paste between two slices of honey-flavoured sponge cake, presented in the cutest rabbit-shaped package. Eating in? Try their heavenly anmitsu dessert (boiled beans, agar jelly cubes and molasses) topped with bean jam. Usagiya
Love secondhand books? Love drinking? Love snacking? Do all three at this quiet ‘book bar’ whose characterful owner creates dishes often inspired by fiction – for example, the Taisho Croquette, made from tofu pulp and fish paste, is based on a recipe in a novel. Cocktail Shobo
Established in 1949, this ramen shop is famed for its home-made noodles and soup, made from a rich niboshi (dried sardine) broth along with vegetables, pork and chicken bones. Added to that is a soy sauce-flavoured sauce, giving it a distinct Japanese taste. Harukiya
Built on the site of the late music critic Motoo Otaguro's residence, this Japanese garden features a stone-paved walkway lined with gingko trees, a tearoom, a lake brimming with carp, and a villa that was once Otaguro’s office but is now open to the public as a museum. Otaguro Park
Using fish from Tsukiji Market, this delicatessen specialises in fish goods, from fried fish balls to fish paste, fish cakes and chikuwa (a traditional fish snack). They also have a large oden pot at the front of the store, giving you the chance to enjoy this winter 'hot pot' year-round. Kamajyuu Kamabokoten
Their main business may be paper and stationery, but where this quirky shop really shines is in the curiosity section: old medicine pouches, price tags, letter sets and stamps line the shelves, in perfect but unlikely harmony with the more modern wares. Hachimakura
Originally a popular yakitori restaurant, Torimoto Honten moved to a backstreet and transformed itself into a purveyor of fine seafood and spirits. Fresh fish is shipped in from Hokkaido and you can sample rare young salmon year-round. They still sell yakitori, but the seafood’s a must. Torimoto Honten
With six floors of hot-spring baths, standard and stone saunas, massage zones and rest areas, Nagomi no Yu puts your average public bathhouse to shame. The third-floor cafeteria serves washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) and sake, while bathing suits and amenities can be borrowed at the reception. Nagomi no Yu
Koenji’s most chaotic (and famous) collection of clothing stores. You’ll find unique brands like Hayatochiri, Southpaw, Garter and Ilil, as well as the office of contemporary artist collective Chim-Pom, which turns into a shop called Kane-Zanmai on weekends. Kita-Kore Building
As the so-called ‘headquarters’ for Japanese fans of foreign comics, ACBD stocks American comic books translated into Japanese. They also have a great selection of English paperbacks and mags. The clientele is diverse and regulars enjoy fun ‘reunions’ at the store, so we're told. ACBD
Throw off your inhibitions and bathe with the regulars at this wonderfully old-school sento (public bathhouse) featuring an impressive menu of soaking options, including a scented bath and a milk bath. If the water feels a tad hot, try concentrating on the majestic Mt Fuji murals decorating both the men's and women's sections. Kosugi-yu
Asagaya has long been known for its many anime-related shops and businesses, and that reputation was enhanced by the 2014 opening of this cluster of around 16 different establishments – including a figurine workshop, a cosplay dress-up shop, an anime creation college, and stores with a variety of gashapon machines – under the Chuo line tracks between Koenji and Asagaya stations. Asagaya Anime Street
You wouldn’t think a tempura soft-boiled egg served over rice could be so delicious, but the Tamago Lunch dish at this counter seat-only speciality tempura spot is simply irresistible. The chefs’ unique frying ‘performance’ is pretty cool, and the owner speaks good English. Tensuke
Mingle with film stars, manga artists, musos and other creatives at this lively street that stretches along the elevated railway tracks from the north exit of Asagaya Station. You’ll find everything from izakayas and mom-and-pop restaurants to coffee shops and upmarket eateries. Star Road Shopping Street
In Nishi-Ogikubo, this Thai restaurant is the bomb. It’s small, tucked away, reasonably priced and reminds us of the kind of restaurants found in Southeast Asia. The spice is mostly mild and coriander (phak chi) is the star of the show, featuring even in their cocktails. Handsome Shokudo
Operating a 40m² music bar decorated with everything from Hello Kitty to Buddha, the eccentric Muzenhoshi (‘no-good monk’) can be a little unfriendly towards young female patrons but retains a cult following in the neighbourhood. His cocktails taste far better than their cryptic names suggest. Muryoku Muzenji
Classical music fans will love whiling away hours in this café that’s styled on a Viennese music hall (on a scale of 1:25) and plays favourites like Bach and Mozart. The owner cut no corners in the acoustics, either – he even made the plethora of speakers himself. Violon
Although it looks like any ordinary Chinese restaurant, this eatery is famed for its katsudon. The recipe is three generations old and combines a crunchy fried pork cutlet with sweet dashi, onions and egg, on rice. Even the fiercest critics fall for it. Sakamotoya
Pritzker award-winning architect Toyo Ito is the creative behind the interesting tent-like exterior of this public theatre, founded by Suginami City. Aside from staging dance and drama, they host readings of plays and illustrated books at the café, and hold 'story time' workshops for kids. Za-Koenji Public Theatre
As advertised, this restaurant will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a mini Okinawa in the middle of Tokyo. Relish Okinawan dishes – don’t leave without trying the perfectly seasoned Goya Champuru (stir-fry) – in a lively atmosphere that’s also great for just sharing drinks with friends. Dachibin
A hidden haven for picture book enthusiasts, this store stocks both Japanese tales and a variety of foreign books from as far afield as Czech Republic. Prices range from cheap to ¥10,000, and you can pick up interesting souvenirs such as palm-sized books, Russian pin badges, postcards and more. Ehonya Rusubanbansuru Kaisha
Enjoy an array of craft beers carefully selected from around Japan. Pair your brew with a complementary dish of Jerk Chicken, which is marinated for 24 hours in the house sauce made of 15 different spices and fruits, then grilled slowly over a charcoal fire. Mouth watering yet? Craft Beer Stand Turquoise
This small, European-style curry shop is run by a husband-and-wife team who spend an entire week preparing their curry stock that’s based on fond de veau and 36 spices. We recommend the Wagyu Java Curry with the seasonal veg as a sidedish. Prepare to queue. Tomato
Always wanted to get up close and personal with an owl? Here you can sip on tea or coffee carefully selected by the owner, or enjoy a bowl of curry, while engaging in a stare-off with the feathery creatures. It's more tranquil than it sounds. Just be careful not to touch them – although the owls have been trained to be around humans, being touched makes them a tad stressed. Cafe Baron