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50 things to do in Koenji

Explore Tokyo’s coolest 'hood, along with its neighbours Asagaya, Ogikubo and Nishi-Ogikubo – all of which form part of the special ward Suginami City

Things to do in Koenji #4: Make some noise

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.

1

Discover the soul of Koenji...

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

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Koenji
2

Boost health with Japanese tea leaves...

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

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Koenji
3

Sample French fusion shellfish...

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

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Koenji
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4

Make some noise...

Punk, hardcore and noise bands are on stage day and night at this incarnation of Koenji 20000V, which used to be an institution on the Koenji live scene. This new spot breathes life back into the area once hailed for its unique energy. Higashi-Koenji 20000 Den-atsu

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Koenji
5

Drink with otaku...

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

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Asagaya
6

Slurp the finest soba...

Serving soba since 1924, Honmura-an uses the finest locally produced buckwheat, ground fresh every day, for its noodles. A glass screen lets you glimpse the making of the soba, and the Japanese garden designed by bonsai artists is ultra pretty. Honmura-an

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Ogikubo
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7

Order bespoke leather shoes...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
8

Prepare for a sugar overload...

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

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Asagaya
9

Sip a cuppa with dolls...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
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10

Indulge a meat craving...

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

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Asagaya
11

Read, drink, snack...

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

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Koenji
12

Sleep in Showa-era style...

Registered as a Tangible Cultural Property of Japan, this inn carries the atmosphere of the Showa era (1926-1989) and has famously appeared in anime series such as 'Mawaru Pengu indrum' and 'The Idolmaster'. From ¥6,000 per night. Ryokan Seikou

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Ogikubo
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13

Try sardine-flavoured ramen...

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

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Ogikubo
14

Step into Motoo Otaguro's garden...

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

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Ogikubo
15

Appreciate artisanal coffee....

A specialist coffee store that roasts their own Single Origin beans. On your first visit, ask a member of staff to recommend a type of coffee to try – you won’t be disappointed. Coffee Amp

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Koenji
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16

Stock up on all things fish...

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

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Asagaya
17

Satisfy your curiousity...

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

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Koenji
18

Savour fine seafood...

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

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Ogikubo
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19

Have an onsen, eat washoku...

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

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Ogikubo
20

Wade through a style maze...

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

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Koenji
21

Shop for unique vintage...

Sokkyou (‘improvisation’) is both the name and concept of this vintage shop, which stocks women’s and men’s clothing that ‘defies classification’. Items are from the ’20s to ’90s, with some pieces dating as far back as the Meiji era (1868-1912). Sokkyou

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Koenji
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22

Feel at home with art...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
23

Collect comics...

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

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Koenji
24

Soak with the locals...

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

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Koenji
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25

Immerse yourself in anime culture...

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

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Asagaya
26

Let this tempura egg surprise you...

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

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Koenji
27

Browse and eat...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
28

Sweeten up with honey...

Besides honey made in Japan, this shop on Kyokai-dori shopping street sells over 60 varieties of honey imported from nine countries as well as honey-based beauty and health products. Definitely try the Ogikubo roll cake. Mère De L'abeille

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Ogikubo
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29

Enjoy coffee in a loft...

This café’s charm lies in its unique decor and design – colourful illustrations adorn the walls and you can’t help but feel like a kid as you climb the ladder to the loft seats, where you can enjoy coffee, fruit tea or something off the food menu. Hattifnatt

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Koenji
30

Find comfort in home-made meals...

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

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Koenji
31

Mix with local stars...

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

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Asagaya
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32

Make friends with phak chi...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
33

Pick up antique or modern pottery...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
34

Visit a cult music bar...

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

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Koenji
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35

Find inspiration in a park...

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

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Koenji
36

Combine coffee and Chopin...

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

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Asagaya
37

Munch on crispy katsudon...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
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38

Relax and be healthy...

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

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Koenji
39

Catch a Showa era flick...

This spaceship-like building with a ‘hanging’ garden features a mini cinema that shows both obscure and well-known Showa-era Japanese film masterpieces, and also houses the Zamza Asagaya Theater and the charming Restaurant Yamaneko-ken. Laputa Asagaya

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Asagaya
40

Watch the drama play out....

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

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Koenji
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41

Taste Okinawan home cooking...

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

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Koenji
42

Source rare picture books...

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

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Koenji
43

Be a kid in a bar...

Love model car racing? Then you'll fit right in with the regulars at this bar, where most of the floor area is occupied by a lovingly crafted miniature race track, vintage models and spare parts. Check out the cars on sale, too. Hideaway Garage

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Koenji
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44

Overload on cat cuteness...

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

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Koenji
45

Improve your luck...

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

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Asagaya
46

Pair craft beer with spicy jerk chicken...

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

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Ogikubo
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47

Have a Hanoi-style helping..

If you're not one of those fancy types who like their meat all nicely chopped up and domesticated, this Vietnamese barbecue shop will be a fun experience. Their spicy chicken legs, squid and shrimp work nicely after a night out at the bars. Binh Minh

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Koenji
48

Forget the daily grind...

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

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Nishi-Ogikubo
49

Count the curry spices...

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

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Ogikubo
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50

Eat curry with owls...

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

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Koenji

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