Japan is cool. Tokyo is cooler. Kōenji is cooler still. This little neighbourhood is just twenty minutes from the centre of Tokyo city. If you’re after something unique and off the beaten track, this creative hipster paradise is perfect for you.
Kōenji is funky, historical and VERY ~now~. The streets of Kōenji are lined with vintage stores where you can get ceremonial kimonos or ripped 90s tees, hole-in-the-wall bars with local live music and contemporary eateries serving traditional foods with a modern twist. Oh, and did we mention the street art that sits comfortably alongside old school Japanese architecture? Yep, this is the place to be.
Architect and lover of the neighbourhood, Keigo Fukugaki, tells The Guardian that Kōenji locals are one of a kind: “In most of Tokyo, people are conservative. Here, it’s different. Anything goes, as long as you’re not harming anybody.”
Knowing how to balance the old with the new is something Kōenji excels at. After all, the neighbourhood is named after the temples in the area and a quick walk down the streets will give you a glimpse into a bygone era of Tokyo.
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Many of the buildings aren’t as modern as the ones you’ll find in the city-centre and that’s because Kōenji got skipped in the 1908s building boom of Japan. The artists and young people that live there don’t seem to mind though, and embrace the districts retro personality and underground culture.
One thing Kōenji is famous for besides the excellent vintage shopping and hipster vibes, is the Awa Odori festival that’s held each year in August. The dance festival is one of the biggest in Tokyo and attracts over 1.2 million visitors to their small streets to watch 100 muscians and dancers weave their way to the ‘finish line’ in their traditional yukata, geta and straw amigasa hats.
It really is a neighbourhood worth exploring without a plan. Stumble upon a hidden local secret serving the best soba noodles you’ve ever had. Find that perfect vintage get-up to complete your wardrobe. Buy your first piece of art. Even just escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for the day!