In search of the perfect vintage t-shirt for a friend with discerning tastes? Had your fill of the main sights of Tokyo and looking for something off the beaten track? Spend an afternoon in Koenji, a small neighborhood just ten minutes west of Shinjuku by train.
I was recently inspired to check it out after hearing that it was both the setting for Haruki Murakami’s masterpiece 1Q84, as well as the birthplace of Tokyo’s punk scene. It more than lived up to its reputation, and I was charmed by its trendy atmosphere and retro culture.
I started my visit with some noodles, at ramen restaurant Tabushi. It’s just a minute’s walk west of the station and has a satisfyingly old-fashioned feeling to it. After fumbling with the vending machine for a moment, I pulled up a seat at the counter and sat down. A friendly cook took my ticket and asked what size I’d like. As a big eater, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I could order a large at no extra cost.
I recommend the shrimp ramen.
Re-energized, I took my time exploring the neighborhood. I felt like I’d suddenly stepped through a magic wardrobe and emerged in some alternate Man in the High Castle style universe where Williamsburg, NY had been settled by Japan. Open air bookstores, vintage clothing shops, and small music houses lined the streets, which are small and densely packed. There’s a sizable outdoor area, as well as a covered arcade next to the station. It’s a paradise for any fans of hipster, retro, or generally underground culture. I saw jackets from 1000 yen, t-shirts from 700, and ties for 100. There were also buttons, accessories, and generally offbeat fashions galore.
Studying Japanese? Pick up some manga or kids books for 100 yen. Already proficient? Pick up a novel.
It’s not all vintage. This outdoor gear shop was featuring some pretty steep discounts.
Colorful, crazy chaos at “Chichikaka”.
To top it all off, after I’d had enough retail therapy, there was even a beautiful temple to complete the afternoon with some spiritual enrichment.
Next time you’ve got an afternoon to spare in Tokyo but also want to experience the quirky, offbeat culture of Brooklyn, take the Chuo line out from Shinjuku and see for yourself!