Koenji is one of the many low-key suburban centers that contradict Tokyo’s image as a futuristic neon-lit metropolis. The compact, low-rise neighborhood—known as the birthplace of Japanese punk and featured as the home of one of the protagonists in Haruki Murakami’s novel IQ84—spreads out haphazardly around both sides of the station that bears its name, on the Chuo-Sobu line in Tokyo’s west.
Koenji is a laid-back version of the more renowned funky youth culture centres Harajuku and Shimokitazawa, its shopping and entertainment districts a mix of old and new, traditional and modern. Koenji is a treasure trove of used clothing with many excellent recycle boutiques; a haven for music collectors with its second-hand vinyl and CD stores; a wonderful jumble of down to earth restaurant and bars; a cultural destination with a smattering of temples, various live music venues and a contemporary Toyo Ito designed performance space, Za-Koenji; and home to a summer Awa Odori festival that sees around a million visitors crammed into its streets over a long weekend. But perhaps best of all, it’s simply a great place to wander around with a camera in hand to soak up some old-school Tokyo atmosphere served up with a funky twist.