8 Best Things to Do in Koenji

Places to visit in Tokyo
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Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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When it comes to sightseeing in Tokyo, many visitors tend to focus on the eastern part of the city, such as Tokyo Sky Tree and areas like Asakusa and Ginza, but this time we’ll take a closer look at the western part of the city. More specifically, we’ll dive into the history and attractions of Koenji, which is located in the northeastern part of Suginami Ward and is only about 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station on the Chuo Line. Koenji has developed its own unique culture, and in this article we will introduce a list of recommended sightseeing spots and activities in this lively and vibrant neighborhood.

The History of Koenji

Koenji Station is surrounded by traditional shopping streets

Koenji has developed as a town embracing many different subcultures, and as a result, a wide variety of shops are doing business there. In 1964, the construction of an elevated railway was completed over Koenji Station, running from east to west, making it more convenient for visitors. Surprisingly, there are no big shopping malls in the Koenji area, but the neighborhood is home to a number of shotengai. The station’s north exit leads to an eating and drinking district full of interesting bars and great places to eat, and the south exit leads to a shopping district with many shops selling second-hand clothing. Koenji is an area full of local charm with an interesting history, and it has maintained a somewhat more authentic Japanese feel than some of Tokyo’s more touristy areas.

Things to Do in Koenji

Here are some of the things we recommend you try when visiting Koenji, as well as some attractions not to be missed. Use them to put together a fun walking itinerary for a day out in this nostalgic neighborhood!

1. Koenji Awa Odori Festival

The Koenji Awa Odori festival was born in 1957 with the aim of enlivening the local community and has now become an annual summer tradition. About 10,000 people participate in performing the Awa Odori dance, and one million spectators enjoy the excitement of the festival. Watching the long lines of people wearing colorful costumes and engaging in the energetic Awa Odori dance is truly a sight to behold. On the day of the festival many food stalls line the streets, making it easy to snack your way through a wide range of delicious festival treats.

Official website: Koenji Awa Odori Festival

2. Koenji Engei Festival

Rakugo is one of the types of entertainment you can see during the Koenji Engei Festival

Another well-known festival in this area is the Koenji Engei Festival. For ten days in mid-February every year, various kinds of performances are held in the streets throughout the neighborhood. Koenji has always been home to a large number of entertainers and musicians, and performances are sometimes held at bars and soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurants in an effort to support the performing arts community. The Koenji Engei Festival is said to have been inspired by this type of support projects, and it features a wide variety of entertainment, including rakugo (traditional Japanese storytelling), street performances and magic shows. During the festival, everyday places such as kindergartens, cafés, shrines, temples and bars, become stages for these performers. The Koenji Engei Festival is a wonderful event where you can easily enjoy many different types of Japanese entertainment.

Official website: Koenji Engei Festival

3. Thrift Shopping

Koenji is famous for being the perfect place for thrift shopping and is home to many different kinds of shops selling second-hand clothing. There are two main types of second-hand clothing stores: those that specialize in selling any type of clothes that have already been worn by someone else, and those that specialize in selling vintage clothes or clothes from limited edition collections. The former are often sold at low prices exactly because they are second-hand, while the latter are sometimes much more expensive because some items are very valuable or sought after. You may be able to pick up a bargain or your new favorite clothes at a second-hand clothing store in Koenji!

4. Bar-Hopping

Koenji’s narrow alleyways and their many izakaya are great for bar-hopping

If you venture into Koenji’s maze-like alleyways, you will find a world of welcoming watering holes. Many restaurants and bars are located within a few minutes’ walk from the station, and in the evenings they become crowded with businessmen engaging in drinking sessions with their colleagues on their way home from work. The food offered at the bars includes yakitori, oden, gyoza and other dishes that go well with alcohol. Spending an evening bar hopping in Koenji sure makes for a fun night out!

5. Visit Local Shrines

Hikawa Shrine Koenji
A weather deity is enshrined at Koenji Hikawa Shrine

One of the best ways to enjoy Koenji is to visit a local shrine. There are several shrines in Koenji, but we recommend heading to Koenji Hikawa Shrine. This is a rare shrine which enshrines a deity that governs the weather, and it’s often visited by people seeking to ward off bad weather disasters or wanting to become weather forecasters – here, they ask the weather deity to listen to their prayers. Recently, this shrine has become increasingly popular after being featured in “Weathering With You” (天気の子), an animated film directed by Makoto Shinkai.

Official website: Koenji Hikawa Shrine

6. Music at Live Houses

Live music venue
Koenji is still home to a lot of live music houses

Koenji is also very popular among music lovers. Half a century ago, the area was home to many live houses frequently hosting rock concerts, and the neighborhood is still dotted with many such venues as a remnant of that era. Today, aspiring musicians showcase their abilities and perform in front of the audiences at these venues. If you are looking for a place to enjoy the voices of live musicians, Koenji is a great option for you.

7. Kissaten (traditional Japanese coffee shops)

A traditional kissaten set

Koenji has a long-standing culture of coffee shops and traditional kissaten, and these establishments can be found on virtually every corner in the shopping districts. Some are minimalistic and chic while others have a distinct old-world vibe, so why don’t you go café-hopping around Koenji to find your favorite?

8. Go to a Sento

The last thing we will introduce here is Koenji’s sento (public bathhouses). The bathhouses in this area have a long history and are highly treasured by the locals, and many of them are located in old buildings which gives them a nostalgic vibe. The admission fee of around 500 yen is also very reasonable. Visit the sento of downtown Koenji for a truly authentic experience!

We’ve mentioned a number of different things to do in Koenji, but which one caught your attention the most? Koenji is a place where you can enjoy vintage clothing stores, listen to live music and eat and drink to your heart’s content – we highly recommend visiting this retro neighborhood while you’re in Tokyo!

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