Kōenji is primarily a bedroom community with easy access to Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations. It was largely unaffected by the 1980s building boom and therefore many of the houses and shops in the area are small and reflect the character of pre-boom Japan. Due to its aging retail district and location on a major commuter route, the station area has become a center for small restaurants and "Live Houses" which offer live music. It is also known for having a young population and as a center for suburban underground culture including multiple used record and clothing shops. In 2006, when the Japanese PSE law went into effect restricting the sale of electronic goods built before 2001, Kōenji was chosen as the site for a protest due to its active "retro" culture and used equipment shops.
After Harajuku and Shimokitazawa, Kōenji is the best-known area in Tokyo for used clothing shopping. The majority of the stores are on the south side of the JR station, on or near Look Shōtengai (ルック商店街).
South of the station is the "PAL" shopping arcade filled with many food, clothing, and discount goods shops. North of the station there are two main shopping streets filled with used record shops, restaurants and cafes. West of the station, both north, south, and under the tracks are many small yakitori's and bars. The station itself was renovated in 2006, and a brand new Hotel Mets opened at the northern entrance in March 2007.
Eating and drinking
Dozens of yakitori restaurants, izakaya, ramen-ya, and nomiya can be found in the streets and alleys of both north and south Kōenji, as well as under the elevated tracks near the JR station. As with many areas of Tokyo, finding a place to eat or drink is easy, but finding a truly memorable one is another matter - often requiring exploration.
Each year in late August the Kōenji Awa Odori festival is held over three days. This is increasingly becoming a major tourist attraction for the area. It is the second largest Awa Dance Festival in Japan, with an average of 188 groups composed of 12,000 dancers, attracting 1.2 million visitors over the course of the weekend.
The festival has its origins in Tokushima and was adopted by Kōenji post-war. It involves a procession of groups performing traditional music and dance, and is enjoyed by a wide variety of people. The procession weaves its way through the streets on both sides of Kōenji Station, often with a dramatic conclusion at the "finish line".
Kōenji is said to be the birthplace of punk in Tokyo, and some good (small) live venues can still be found there.
There are several parks in the area, including Sanshi-no-mori (蚕糸の森), Mabashi Kōen (馬橋公園), and Wadabori Kōen (和田堀公園). Wadabori Kōen is the best in the immediate area for viewing sakura in spring, or for a stroll.
Kōenji in popular culture
- The area appeared in the movie Nobody Knows (2004).
- It is also the setting for Haruki Murakami's novel, 1Q84 (2009).
- It is the namesake of the progressive rock/Zeuhl band Kōenji Hyakkei.
- Koenji Navi (in Japanese)
- 高円寺純情商店街 Kōenji shopping area; local info, maps, businesses, etc. (Japanese)
- 宿鳳山高円寺 Shukuhōzan Kōenji temple, after which Kōenji takes its name