Have you ever heard of the Tokyo neighbourhood, Koenji? Are you thinking about visiting this unique area of Tokyo or even staying in Koenji, and wondering what are some things to do, places to visit and restaurants to check out?
There are so many neighbourhoods and areas in Tokyo. Besides the famous towns like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku, there are many incredible places and spots in Tokyo that are worth a visit. If you’re looking to visit a local neighbourhood and check out some hidden gems, Koenji might be a great place to check out. In this Koenji area guide, let’s have a look at what to do in Koenji, where to eat and drink in Koenji, where to stay in Koenji and some hidden gems in the area.
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What is Koenji
Koenji is a retro district of Tokyo in the Suginami Ward. It is a few stops west of Shinjuku on the Chūo Line. Before the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Koenji was known for its historical temples and shrines. Post-earthquake, many traders and businesses took their work to Koenji due to the mass destruction in and around central Tokyo. As Koenji started to gain further recognition, more stations opened around the district creating an influx of people coming in and out of Koenji daily.
As Koenji segregated itself from Japan’s reconstruction after the earthquake, it withholds the old school vibe to this day and many people come to feel a sense of nostalgia in the vast backstreets of Koenji.
There are many things to do in Koenji from visiting the historical temples to browsing the many vintage thrift stores along Pal Shopping Street. In this blog, we will recommend things to do and eat in Koenji and let you discover the beauty of this vintage utopia.
Things to do in Koenji
Shopping in Koenji
Pal Shopping Street
When this arcade was completed, the name of the shopping street was changed to “Pal”, which refers to “friends”. It is known as the arcade where friends gather. It is a landmark of Koenji, with many people visiting to go thrift shopping or look for unique items.
Koenji, along with Shimokitazawa, is also famous for its many second-hand clothing stores. The cluttered storefront display has become established as one of the sceneries that are typical of Koenji.
The history of the Koenji Vintage clothing district stems from its ‘hippie culture’ back in the 60s, as many activists of the time set the tone for Koenji being a big contrast from normal Japanese society. It advocates that people can live life without following materialistic trends. As a result of this, many thrift stores were founded in which they sell an array of vintage clothing. You can make your way down the retro district browsing the affordable, one of a kind second-hand clothing.
Here are some shops you might want to stop by when you visit Pal Shopping Street.
Both of these stores have a lineup of products exclusively for women, and they have a wide range of small items purchased from Europe.
Safari is a store that sells items for adults who want to call it vintage rather than used clothing. If you are a second-hand clothing enthusiast, this is a well-known store that you should definitely stop by when sightseeing in Koenji.
Hayatochiri is a cool and unique store with abstract pieces that bring together performative art and fashion into one. The owner, Goto san makes many of the clothing items himself, so if you are into one-of-a-kind pieces this is the place to go.
ZOOL PURPLE is the largest vintage store in Koenji and has a variety of different styles from punk to street fashion, you will be able to find an edgy piece of clothing to accentuate your style further.
Vintage Record shops in Koenji
Koenji is not only a paradise for vintage clothing but vintage records too! If you want to take a look at vintage records there are many stores where you can find an array of unique and rare records that you can’t find anywhere but Koenji.
If you’re a fan of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Be-In Records is your dream store. With crates and crates of records dedicated to the band members, it is a place to check out to lose yourself in the vast amounts of records.
Record Shop Base
Record Shop Base sells all kinds of CDs, vinyls, cassettes, records and many other punk and hardcore genres of music.
Shrines and temples in Koenji
Mabashi Inari Shrine 馬橋稲荷神社
If you are feeling like going to one of Koenji’s famous Shrines we recommend Mabashi Inari. The shrine is around a 10-minute walk from the station and is located in a residential area. It is rumoured that the shrine was founded during the Kamakura Period (1885-1333,) and is an important site for the locals.
The Mabashi Shrine has three torii gates, out of all three gates, the most striking is the stone gate that stands out with carvings of dragons on each side. This is called soryu or paired dragons. In fact, this gate is one of the three Dragon Gates in all of Tokyo. The images of the dragons show one climbing while the other is descending. It is believed that if you make a wish while touching the rising dragon, it will deliver your wish to heaven to be granted. The tricky part is figuring out which one is which.
Koenji Hikawa Shrine 高円寺氷川神社
Koenji Hikawa Shrine is a shrine located in the south of Koenji. This old shrine is a village shrine, which is one of the guardians of Koenji along with “Koenji Tenso Shrine”. The official name of this shrine is “Hikawa Shrine”, but to distinguish it from the others, it is known as “Koenji Hikawa Shrine”.
Although the Koenji Hikawa shrine building was burned down during World War Ⅱ, the current Koenji Hikawa shrine building was finally reconstructed in 1974.
The shrine is home to Japan’s only “weather shrine”. People come to pray for good weather for important days here. In the past, children used to play a game to predict the weather by throwing geta. If it landed upright, the weather would be good, but if it landed upside down, it meant bad weather. To go along with this, this shrine has a unique geta-shaped ema.
Koenji Temple 宿鳳山高円寺
The name of the area, Koenji, is derived from the name of this temple, Koenji Temple. It is known that Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third shogun of Tokugawa, used this temple when falconry hunting and the crest of Aoi Mitsuha derived from hunting can be seen on the temple grounds. The Ssangyong Torii in Koenji Temple is one of the three torii gates in Tokyo along with Shinagawa Shrine and Mabashi Inari Shrine.
Koenji Tenso Shrine 高円寺天祖神社
The origin of this shrine is said to be in 1087. A man named Yamashita Kyushichi, who was very religious, visited the Ise Shrine, received the spirit of the deity, and built a temporary shrine building on this site and dedicated it to the deity. The current worship hall was built in September 1831, and the main hall was built in February 1888. After the Great Kanto Earthquake, the number of residents of the shrine increased and the shrine was rebuilt in 1926. The Edo-period hall of worship and the Meiji-period main hall were rebuilt to retain the traditional appearance of the shrine.
Concert venues in Koenji
Koenji is home to many street musicians and is renowned for having a fantastic underground scene. As a result, there are many different venues that you can visit with friends and enjoy listening to unique artists.
20,000 Denatsu is the most well-known music venue in Koenji, it is famed for hosting many punk and heavy metal bands.
SUBstore Tokyo is more than just a venue, it is a record store, bookstore, coffee shop and bar all in one. The laid back and relaxing atmosphere has drawn many customers who are looking to listen to some chill live music and are attracted here as it has become one of the prime spots for people to go whilst in Koenji.
Live music Jirokichi
Jorokichi has always been a famous place to go for locals as it recently celebrated its 45th anniversary in February of last year. Since its opening in the late 70s, Jirokichi has hosted a number of bands and artists in its venue where people can enjoy the musical atmosphere.
Under the Koenji train tracks
As locals start to migrate back home to Koenji, you will start seeing swarms of people make their way West out of the station towards the hidden shops under the train tracks. The tunnel of izakayas and bars creates a sociable and intimate atmosphere you can’t experience anywhere but under the Gardo Shita, which translates to under train stations.
Shisha in Koenji
Koen shisha is a local shisha place in the Pal shopping street. Located near a lot of thrift stores and unique goods stores, this shisha shop is cosy, making it a great place for a break while exploring the area. You can get soft drinks for free here included with your shisha and you can even bring in your own drinks and food. They have unique flavours and the staff is friendly and you can fully relax here.
Shisha cafe 8g
This is a shisha cafe located just outside Koenji station, on the third floor of a building. The interior is eclectic. It is relatively spacious with sofa seats, making it a great place for you to sit back and relax. You get all-you-can-drink soft drinks with the shisha and you can also bring in your own food and drinks. They offer more than 250 flavours here and they have daily recommended flavours of the day for you to choose from.
This park is known for having 30 metres wide waterfalls. The refreshing sound of water echoes in the nature-rich park of Koenji, creating a calm space for its visitors.
In the summer, you can enjoy sitting in the shade under the trees and the atmosphere of the waterside, and in the fall, you can enjoy the autumn leaves, making it a healing place that makes you forget the hustle and bustle of the city. There is also a playground for children, making it a great park for families and friends to enjoy.
Restaurants in Koenji
Tensuke is a popular restaurant where you can enjoy exquisite tempura at a reasonable price, created by the owner who has mastered his skills, having worked at many famous tempura restaurants.
This restaurant is especially famous for its tempura egg, where an egg is cracked into sizzling oil, and wrapped in a light tempura batter. When creating this signature dish, the owner also performs a fun little dance to go with his cooking.
The most popular dish is the 玉子ランチ egg lunch, which is made from soft-boiled eggs and served with rice for 1,500 yen. Starting with the tempura egg topped with a sweet sauce to other tempura such as shrimp, squid, kiss, eggplant, and peppers, it is a delicious meal that is filling and delicious.
麺屋はやしまる Menya Hayashimaru
Menya Hayashimaru is a store that looks like a hideaway in the back of the Koenji station square shopping district. Both the soy sauce-based and salt-based broth are delicious. The specialty of this shop is Wontonmen for 900 yen (excluding tax). There are two types of wonton here, meat wonton and shrimp wonton, both of which are delicious. The noodles are medium-thick.
らーめん 太陽 高円寺店 Taiyo
Taiyo is located just after entering the Junjo Shopping Street at the north exit of Koenji. The signboard has a long-established atmosphere and the shop has a nostalgic feel. The signature soup here has a gentle soy sauce taste of dried sardines. A bowl of ramen starts at 500 yen.
If you want something spicy, this is the place for you. On the signboard, a big and challenging character “Are you sweating?” is written. The standard dish served here is Katsuura-style Tantanmen. Katsuura is a city located in the southeastern part of Chiba prefecture, facing the Pacific Ocean. Katsuura Tantanmen was offered to warm up fishermen’s cold bodies from fishing. The characteristic of Katsuura Tantanmen is that it contains a large number of onions and chilli oil. A large amount of chopped garlic is also prepared on top of the tantanmen here. You can adjust the level of spiciness as you please.
Agemonya means to shop with deep-fried items and just as the name suggests, this restaurant has a solid menu that sells deep-fried food. The crispy fried menus are all quite massive. The most popular dish here is the Karaage set meal. The standard price for 6 pieces of karaage is 800 yen, but you can change it to a menu of 970 yen for all-you-can-eat karaage. Each one is huge, about the size of your fist.
Cafe HATTIFNATT ハティフナット -高円寺のおうち-
Cafe HATTIFNATT is known for their cute latte art and cakes. Entering this cafe through the tiny door, you will feel like you are walking into a different world. Inside this cafe, you will find all kinds of pictures drawn and an attic on the second floor, on top of all the adorable details of the place. If you want to eat a little more, you can try their brown rice tomato curry, brown rice mushroom doria and avocado taco rice.
R-za Dokushokan Cafe
Walking into R-za Dokushokan Cafe is like walking into a storybook. The botanical features of this cafe mixed with the vast array of books make you feel as if you are in a fairy wonderland. It is a great place to cool down and relax after a long day and is recommended for anyone who wants to enjoy some ‘me time.’
The unique part about Doberry is, that you can bring your dogs, which also means, you might find dogs here. The seats are very spacious, and you can relax and take your time enjoying this place. I would recommend you try a few of their unique curries and rice dishes here. It is a cafe bar so there is also a liquor menu, making it a great day drinking spot.
Bars in Koenji
Kitchen Bar Noraya
Kitchen Bar Noraya is a place that might be small but they make up for it with their delicious food and great drinks, becoming the perfect place for people who want to socialise without feeling like the place is overcrowded. Of course, there’s no need to hesitate to come alone, this place is great for everyone.
Their tea cocktails, especially their match-hai, are our recommendation. The food may be served in small portions but that enables the possibility to try out more dishes; which is definitely recommended, and if you come here with friends, there’s the option of sharing. We tried a couple of dishes, such as grilled avocado and fried oysters, two of the things on the list of our recommendations.
A-Side Amusement Bar
It had been years since I’d seen a foosball table, much less two in the same room, before walking into A-Side Amusement Bar. If foosball isn’t your thing, maybe their two darts machines are. The drinks are fairly-priced, and you will be served a large bowl of popcorn as well. The popcorn, by the way, isn’t microwave popcorn. They have an actual popcorn machine by the door, which is the first thing you’ll see walking in.
The atmosphere in A-Side Amusement bar is very casual and comfortable, more pub than a bar. It’s just the sort of place you’d bring your mates to, to play games and drink and shoot the shit.
Bar 365 is named this way not because it’s open 365 days a year (on the contrary, it operates only on weekends) but because everything on its menu, both drinks and food, are 365 yen. You could get a whole pizza for 365 yen here.
However, it’s not Bar 365’s great bang for the buck that caught our attention but its entrance: with the name ‘Bar 365’ engraved and glowing red in a black, charred, stone archway, it looks like the entrance to a dungeon or cave. The stone decor follows you from the entrance, up along the stairs and straight into the bar itself. The walls are stone, as is the floor.
Your food and drinks are being served alongside poker chips. These poker chips serve the same function as plates in a sushi conveyor belt restaurant; it’s to keep tabs on how much you’ve ordered. All in all, Bar 365 is a great place to have a date or to have a nice, chill evening with a small group of friends.
Bar Phular looks like both a tavern and a modern bar. The bar area looks older, a real backstreet-alley-in-Victorian-times kind of vibe. The other side of the bar where the tables are is more ‘regular’ in that you could probably find a similar setting in many other bars. We highly recommend sitting at the bar instead, where there are large jars filled with roots-infused alcohol, little trinkets such as small displays of jewellery (which are for sale), and tiny puzzles such as a cube you have to unlink or a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Bar Phular also offers cigars which are kept in a temperature-controlled box, all fancy-like.
Hotels in Koenji
Top Edge Hostel Koenji
Top Edge Hostel Koenji is with the convenient access from the Tokyo downtown area. The hostel is located 5 min walk from Shin-Koenji station. This area is famous for subculture and live house (Rock, Punk, Folk). Koenji is underground traditional town. There are vintage secondhand clothing stores, bar, live house, small general store. We provide furnished room.
Air conditioner, refrigerator, wireless LAN, laundry machine, drying machine. We make communication go smoothly among guests. Between guest and local people as well. There is bar space. We also provide the leisure such as Tokyo Bay cruising.
Address: 166-0003 Tokyo-to, 杉並区高円寺南２丁目２１−７, Japan
Grapehouse Koenji (women-only)
GrapeHouse Koenji – Hostel is a women only hostel. We are located 8 minutes walk from the JR Koenji station through the local shopping street. The guests can relax amongst a women only environment. A kitchen to cook is also available.
This is a small facility with one private room(up to 2 persons)and one dormitory room(up to 11 people.) We use ‘tatami'(Japanese straw/rush mats) for the living room and the small Japanese style table. There is a place for guests to interact . Please enjoy Koenji city too.There are lots of hip bars and restaurants, vibrant at night. For shopping you might enjoy vintage clothes shops or small specialized shops selling assorted goods.
Address: 165-0034 Tokyo-to, Nakano-ku, Yamato-cho 3-1-5, Japan
Koenji is an incredible neighbourhood that, despite being located in central Tokyo, has a lot of local and unique things to offer. Not only will you be able to enjoy thrift shopping here, but you can also check out one or more of the shrines and temples and experience the local history and culture. On top of all of that, you get to try out the different delicious restaurants and bars nearby. Enjoy your adventure around Koenji, and refer back to this guide whenever you need to!