Koenji, Tokyo's countercultural neighborhood that never stops dancing


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A neighborhood that is reputed to be the coolest in the capital of Japan, Tokyo, cannot disappoint anyone.

Located in Suginami, one of the 23 neighborhoods that make up what are known as "Tokyo's special neighborhoods, " Koenji is unlike any other district in the Japanese capital .

Koenji breathes art, music, fashion and animation . Its inhabitants are proud of their ability to ignore the established, and strolling through this particular place, one can understand why. Immerse yourself in its streets and let yourself be carried away by the rhythm at which its inhabitants dance, we promise that the experience will be unforgettable.

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If Shimokitazawa is Tokyo's hipster neighborhood par excellence, Koenji is, on its own merits, the Japanese counterculture district .

The Koenji neighborhood, as it is known today, was born after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. After the destruction occurred in the most central areas of the Japanese capital because of the great earthquake, many were the tokiotas that had to Find a new place to live.

Koenji, until then an agricultural settlement located on the Ome-kaido route, saw in this the opportunity to grow.

Thus, with very low prices and large spaces to locate shops and stores, and a train station that connected directly to the newly opened Shinjuku, hundreds of Japanese people from the city decided to move to this area, which resulted in a great boom of population, and turned Koenji into what it is today: a mixture of cultures and lifestyles.

La noche en Koenji

The night in Koenji © Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

In the 50s, Koenji had become a neighborhood famous especially for its coffee shops and markets. In fact, this district has some of the most original and pleasant establishments in Tokyo for coffee .

In 1956, on the other hand, a festival began to be held here that would become one of the hallmarks of the neighborhood, the Awa Odori . Although this traditional dance festival originates from Tokushima Prefecture, the many citizens who had emigrated to Tokyo from that area of ​​the country decided to keep the tradition in their new settlement, and the reception was such that today the Awa Festival Odori de Koenji is the second largest in Japan .

Awa Odori

Awa Odori © Alamy

However, what really turned Koenji into the alternative neighborhood it is in the present, was its incredible music scene, particularly punk, during the 70s, which evidenced the intention of the inhabitants of this neighborhood not to get carried away by the established rules (the Japanese punk aesthetic was also born in Koenji).

Although at present there are not so many groups that begin their musical adventures in this neighborhood, that young and alternative air of the art-filled areas is still breathed, and every week you can find live music in almost any of the alternative bars of area. And not just music.

Another of Koenji's specialties are second-hand clothing and goods stores, which appear as mushrooms almost anywhere, and coffee shops and tea shops that still exist after many decades, and now also specialize in sweets.

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Also, its appearance, with streets of small houses, and filled with gadgets of all kinds, as if the public space were an extension of the homes of the artists who live here, give this place an aspect that is not seen in any of the other places in Tokyo. In fact, walking through Koenji you will surely find something surprising in every corner.

If there is something that Bohemian neighborhoods have in common, where artists accumulate, it is the affordable thing to live in them. Koenji is an example of this reality . In addition, luckily for this district, gentrification has not been able to destroy its spirit.

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Today, Koenji is still an oasis where artists not only do not leave, but also increase their presence among their alleys.

The inhabitants of this unique neighborhood have managed to stop the construction of large skyscrapers without personality, the massive arrival of businessmen addicted to work, and continue to be a refuge for all those Japanese who want to flee from the modern way of life, just focused on Work and spend each day without a spark of emotion. In addition, among its streets, some of the most progressive movements of Japanese society are forged.

Café Amp

Coffee Amp © DR


Precisely because of its history and the type of inhabitants that fill its streets, what we can find most in Koenji is leisure, both day and night .

If what we want is to try one of its most kawaii and original coffee shops, some of the most recommended are Usagiya, a place with a traditional look, ideal for buying Japanese sweets (particularly delicious are its dorayaki); Nishiogi Itochi, which mixes teas with folk toys of the world; or Café Amp, a small cafeteria, with delicious coffees from the world.

If we want more a good dinner, or a little sake, then we must choose one of the many izakayas and bars that fill the neighborhood with orange lights every night. Among some of the most original are Koenji Beer Kobo, which sells Japanese craft beers of all kinds, however, it is advisable to walk and enter the one that attracts us, almost none will disappoint us.

Finally, if we go to Koenji, the artistic neighborhood par excellence, we cannot fail to enjoy precisely one of their live music concerts.

Among some of the best options to enjoy some Japanese music we have the UFO Club, on whose stage all kinds of bands have passed since its opening decades ago, or 20, 000 Den-Atsu, the reincarnation of another of the historical music venues of Koenji that had to close in 2009.

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And if you're lucky enough to go in August, then you can't miss the famous Awa Odori Festival (Odori Dance Festival) that takes place in this month every year.

During the time that lasts, the people of the neighborhood do not stop dancing to the rhythm of their most famous song: Odoru ahou ni, miru ahou, onaji ahou nara, odorana are, are (踊 る 阿呆 に 見 る 阿呆 同 じ 阿呆 な ら 踊 ら な 損 、損), or put another way: “The dancers are dumb, those who watch are dumb, if everyone is equally dumb, why not dance?” A song that seems a statement of intentions of what this unique neighborhood he wishes, that we all dance because total, life is two days, and we must take advantage of them.

So, are you coming to dance in the Koenji neighborhood? It will not disappoint you.