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
The Japanese tea leaves here are top quality, inexpensive and delicious – we recommend the ‘deep steamed tea’, known for its anti-carcinogenic antioxidants. You can also pick up Japanese teapots and packs of seaweed. Chadokoro Tsukiji
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
Folk toys and tea might sound like an unorthodox combination, but this cutesy shop gets the mix just right with powerful brews and charming traditional kokeshi dolls and clay figurines displayed in every corner. Nishiogi Itochi
Best dish on the menu? The Chateaubriand, with beautifully marbled meat slowly grilled to perfection at the hands of skilled chefs. Place meat on rice, pour on special-recipe tamari soy sauce, and dig in. Be sure to book ahead. Sato Briand Nigou
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
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
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
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
An invaluable refuge for artsy types with a couple of hours to burn, Mizunosora gallery is found inside a beautifully remodeled home and hosts a new exhibit every month, while the café at the back serves up basic drinks like coffee and tea. Mizunosora
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
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
Vintage decor creates a comfy atmosphere at this charming shop and diner that sits inside a renovated Japanese house. Browse kitchen products, food seasonings and natural-fibre clothing, and enjoy meals prepared using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Re: Gendo
Missing home cooking? This casual American restaurant comes to the rescue with BBQ spare ribs, the El Pato burger (with 100% beef patty), and other home-made comfort foods including pizza, pasta and bread. El Pato
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
A pottery shop featuring both antique pieces and works by contemporary artists, including owner Fumihiko Oshima’s own designs. Also hosts special monthly exhibitions of pottery, woodwork and metalwork. Rozan
Although small, this park is home to colourful playground equipment enjoyed by throngs of kids. Rumour has it the park served as a model for one featured in Haruki Murakami’s novel ‘1Q84’. Koenji Chuo Park
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
With vegetables delivered directly from organic farmers, a daily changing menu, and coffee brewed with organic coffee beans, this is a natural-food gem. They also sell the delicious spices used in their dishes. Poleyale
One for the cat fanatics, this cramped store stocks all sorts of fun, handmade items with cat motifs, including impressive, surreal artworks. The resident kitty lives in the back and will see you off at the register. Nekonohitai
Free yourself from bad luck with a special prayer available only at this beautifully refurbished shrine that’s devoted to the sun goddess Amaterasu and frequently hosts traditional wedding ceremonies. Asagaya Shinmeiguu Shrine
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
Not all kissaten (old-school coffee shops) in Tokyo are worth the moniker, but this one sure makes the grade: stained-glass windows, antique clocks and the soft jazz soundtrack make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Monozuki
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