Exploring Tokyo’s Suburbs: Koenji
Koenji is located approximately 10 minutes away from Shinjuku on the Chuo line (160 Yen; one way) and is a stop right after Nakano (another popular neighborhood). So if you are planning on visiting Nakano, you might want to stop by Koenji. Giving of very different vibes from Nakano, Koenji is a hipster town; well known for the many used clothing stores and jazz bars.
There are two shopping arcades in Koenji. After exiting Koenji station, you can either make a left or right turn. Turning left leads you to a shopping arcade with many used clothing and discount stores. Some of thrift stores can be really cheap, with clothes going below 500 yen. If you hunt hard enough, it is highly possible to snag some really good and cheap deals. There are also several shops situated in the smaller alleys.
Taking a stroll around Koenji is rather therapeutic, as it is not filled with people. I went there on a Sunday (where almost everyone in Tokyo goes out) and it was not very crowded. As Koenji is not as lively as areas in downtown Tokyo like Shibuya, Harajuku etc., it is a good place to go if you are looking for an area where you do not need to make your way through the huge crowds.
Turning right from Koenji station will lead you to another shopping area that has a more homely feel with a casual neighborhood atmosphere. If you are walking down the Shotengai (しょうてんがい) during a weekday evening, you will be able to see people stopping by to do some grocery shopping before heading home.
The donuts from “Floresta Nature Doughnuts” were pretty good. It does not taste like the ubiquitous Mister Donut (I think Mister Donut is really good too). It was not so greasy (probably because they baked it instead of deep frying it) and it was fluffy without tasting too floury.
Along this street, there were many other interesting stores, like a yakitori store that sells Tsukune Yakitori (つくね焼き鳥) for only 100yen. There were also quite a number of cafes, bars and grocery shops, including a rather popular fresh meat shop (judging from the long queue). Also, thrift store Mode-off has an outlet in Koenji too.
Furthermore, Koenji organizes several festivals in a year, including the major “Awa-Odori (阿波おどり)”. The Koenji Awa-Odori has been held since 1957. It is a traditional summer dance festival where approximately 10,000 dancers show off their traditional dance moves over the two days that the festival spans. Apparently it is very popular so if you are in Japan then, do go down to have a look and soak up the lively atmosphere.
I really like this quaint town, as it is a great escape from the ever crowded Shinjuku or any of its equivalent.