Thursday 20 June 2013

Cool Koenji

One of my close mates here in Japan is a Canadian guy called Charlie.  He has lived in Tokyo for about 14 years.  He chose Shimokitazawa to call home, but he almost moved to a place called Koenji.  I had been told by Charlie and a number of other people that the vibe of Koenji was very similar to Shimokita and being that Shimokita is my favourite place in Tokyo, I thought I should head over the Koenji to check it out.  I was heading over with high expectations as everyone had talked it up!

I checked the weather forecast before heading out the front door.  Thunderstorms were on the way....... Cursing the weatherman I grabbed my trusty umbrella and set forth.

As with Togoshi Ginza, the subject of last week's post, Koenji's history is also heavily influenced by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.  Prior to this devastating event in Tokyo's history, Koenji was simply a sleepy little farming community.  Immediately after the earthquake, displaced residents of Tokyo moved into the area.  The farmers subdivided their land and set up housing for the new residents and pretty soon businesses opened in the area to cater to the growing community.  It is now an energetic, vibrant community where music, second hand clothes stores and cheap eateries thrive.

Stepping out of the station I had a look around to decide which direction to head off in.

Hmmm, not so interesting.

That looked a little better, a little street running alongside the train line, so I walked along that street to see what I could find.

The first place I cam to was offering 190 yen glasses of beer!

As tempting as it was, I was on a mission.  The beer could wait.  Continuing on, there were a few restaurants along this street, but not a lot else.

A couple of things I had seen along the way were interesting.  A lot of people ride bicycles to the train station in the morning, catch the train to work and then the process is reversed at the end of the day.  Where do they leave their bicycles during the day?  A bike park of course!

It is also sad to see that there is more of this than there was when I lived in Japan before.

I had seen on the map of the area in the train station that there was a temple not far away so I wandered off in that direction.  I got to the area where I thought it was but couldn't find anything, in fact what I was finding was very different to what I was expecting.

This wasn't the Koenji I had heard so much about.  I was beginning to think that I might have to do another "random thoughts" post!  I kept on going though and found a very green tree lined car park that looked nice enough for a photo.

As I was about to walk off, something caught my eye on the other side of the car park and I decided to investigate.  On the other side, I found a temple, not the one I had been originally looking for, bit I wandered in for a look.  There was no-one else around and the solitude I felt was nearly overwhelming.  It was like Koenji was telling me "Here you are Jason, this one is just for you".

All I could hear was the faint whine of the nearby train pulling into the station.  The detail in the architecture and the carvings in the stone pillars was very impressive.  Looking  around further, I found some stone statues around the temple grounds.

This next one had a few one yen coins in it's open mouth.  Possibly for good luck?

Starting to feel a little better about how the day was going I walked on.  I started circling back towards the station and started seeing a few indications that suggested that maybe I had gone out of the wrong exit of the station to find what Koenji was all about.  I started seeing a few new and used clothes shops.  Not sure about the name for this one though.  I don't think I would like to wear my Grandfather's clothes!

Saw this one in a shop window.

And if you are wondering, yes temptation did get the better of me and I have checked the website and can report that is is rated PG.  Just a clothes store, nothing nude or rude to see there!

Saw this supermarket and was happy that they weren't overselling themselves.  After all, you don't want to get people's expectations too high, then you have to keep on delivering.

Now I was starting to get where I was wanting to go, second hand clothes shops, record stores and small restaurants.

Still sensing that there was more to see I pushed on.  Weaving in and out of all the streets around the station I started felt that I was getting closer, and on seeing these guys outside a second hand clothes store, the anticipation was building.

I finally found myself on a little paved shopping street!  It was lined with a variety of clothes shops, restaurants, salons, bars and home ware shops.

Mmmm, tequila and Mexican food, tempting

Some kind of toy or collectibles store where you can buy a Ronald Mcdonald head!

A little bar, but it was too early in the afternoon for it to be open.

This sight showed that the shopping street had ended so I turned back around and walked back along the street as I had seen a few streets leading off this one that were worth investigating.

I found another little interesting street to explore so I wandered along it feeling satisfied that I had found the Koenji I had come for.

What my bad photography doesn't show here is that the legs you see are from the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and this was his tea shop.  I liked the opening hours!

Rice anyone?  

This shot shows how the buildings are all crammed together.  Every inch of space is used.  In a country the size of New Zealand that has a population of over 120 million, you need to utilise all of the space you have!

 I walked back past the station figuring I would check out a few places over there and was walking past a fruit and vegetable store listening to the staff welcoming people and telling them how good their goods were.  One of the guys was a really thick set man who had a really guttural voice that almost scared me into buying a banana!  Suddenly I saw something that gave me goosebumps!  A tiny little alleyway that ran alongside the fruit and veg shop.  Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I love small shopping streets, but this was taking it to the extreme!

Looking back the way I had come and I thought how lucky was I to have seen this as it would have been very easy to not notice it walking along the street.

 Getting to the other side I walked out onto this!

This day was getting better and better!  I walked up and down the street absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the shops and restaurants.  It must have been a strange sight, this foreigner wandering up and down the street mouth wide open in awe taking photos!  This looked like a nice little bar to check out another time.

A little coffee house,

and an even smaller temple!

Well, at least they are being honest, unlike other burger places......  I was almost tempted as I was starting to get a little hungry, but I pushed on instead.

By this stage I was back near the train station again and saw this little alcove under the train line.  A few restaurants and a little bar.  I was again tempted by the ramen shop at the rear but it appeared to be not open.

 I loved seeing this.  This had just put the icing on top of the cake for me for the day.  I had come and finally found what everyone had been talking about, and the sights of the last hour or so had completely justified my decision to come here to  have a look around.  I wandered back in the direction of the station figuring I would go home for dinner when I saw this......

The sign said "Koenji street" and it lead under the elevated train lines!  This I just had to check out!!  I walked in and got goosebumps for the second time today!  It was a rabbit warren of restaurants and bars running along underneath the train lines.  I felt my jaw drop open even more!

That is incredibly cheap curry rice for the size of the serving.  I guess the rent on these places is not too high!  I didn't go in as I was not finished exploring!

Reaching the end of the street (it didn't feel like I should call it a street but there were a couple of cars and motorcycles driving along as well, so I guess it was a street!) I found some stairs leading down into a basement so I went down and found myself in a small food court with four ramen shops.

This was too good to be true!!  My stomach suddenly convinced me that it was time to eat, but how was I to decide which one to eat at?  As I was standing outside of this one.....

looking at the menu, a guy who looked Indian came out and said "Come on in!" so I went in and he helped me decipher the ticket machine that had no pictures.  I sat down and waited for the food to arrive.  The restaurant atmosphere was nice and had a selection of dance, hip hop and R & B music playing.  The staff were hard at work and there was quite a good number of people inside, which was a positive sign.

My food arrived and they actually gave me a second piece of egg for free!  That was nice of them.  I almost forgot to take a photo of the food, and had started eating it when I remembered, so the food is not as immaculately presented as it was before I started devouring it!

After I finished the guy came over and we had a chat.  Turns out he is from Singapore and he had lived in Sydney for 3 years!  He gave me one of the restaurant's point cards and instead of giving me one stamp for my meal he puts on 4 stamps!  He smiled at me and said "Come back anytime mate, and just ask for Roman"!

Walking out with a smile on my face I headed back to the station feeling completely happy with how my day had turned out.  However, Koenji was about to surprise me again......I was just about back to the station when out of the corner of my eye I saw a tiny little alleyway.

Were they the orange lights of a restaurant I could see down there.  For the third time today, Koenji had just given me goosebumps.  Yes they were indeed restaurants and a little bar down an even smaller sidestreet running off the alleyway!

I didn't go into any of them as I'm sure the sight of a big foreigner walking into their establishment with his mouth wide open in shock would be enough to send any of the staff running for the phone to call the police, or the ambulance, or both!

The alley was only wide enough for two people to squeeze by each other, so it was difficult to get good shots of the restaurants as I couldn't stand back far enough to get everything in the shot!

One day I want to come back and try a couple of them though!

Walking out the other side of the alley, I found myself back at the same fruit and veg shop I had gone past earlier.  The big guy almost had me buying an orange, but I scurried past not looking at him and resisted!

Well, Koenji had certainly saved the best for last, that's for sure.  Standing back at the train station on the platform waiting for my train, I found it difficult to believe that a place that looked like this from one side...

also looked like this....

 less than 50 metres away.  That is what I find fascinating about this country, and while I continue to find places like this, this blog will continue to be written.

Thank you again for reading.  It was an amazing day today and looking back on how it started out, I would never have guessed it would finish like it did.  Oh, and the rain, it held off until about 11pm, so I silently apologised to the weatherman for cursing him earlier and instead thanked him for being wrong.

See you again next week.


  1. Hi Jason.Another very interesting blog!The combination of text plus many photos,really is apppealing.Like you,I like those narrow shopping streets with their little shops selling all kinds of goods.I notice too, many signs in English.I wonder if Nihonjin are now more familiar with English than say 10 years ago.I wonder too is there now a greater demand for English teachers from English speaking countries and do you teach"Toefl".And do you teach to children or to adults that are in the workforce?I wonder too, if you are taking lessons in Nihongo.The Dons are having a bye this week as you probably know.Stephen Milne of St.Kilda has been suspended by his club,following ongoing rape charges back in 2004.Melbourne coach sacked and "Craigy" taking over the reins for the remainder of the year.Some talk of Matty Knights a chance of getting the Melb.job.Crows also having a bye.Port have the Swans with Tippet playing at Aami this Sat.Nice to see Aust. beat Iraq in a tight game.Really cold days and nights here during the week,but no rain.I imagine you would be getting plenty over there at the moment.Go the Dons..Noel.

    1. Hi Noel.
      I was here 10 years ago, and I do think that the Japanese are now more familiar with the English language. I think that has come from continued exposure to English language movies and tv, but also the fact that the education system is changing the way it teaches English to students. Traditionally, English was taught by Japanese teachers (so pronunciation was not so good) and English education usually only involved reading, writing and grammar, no speaking (and Japanese people's knowledge of English grammar is fantastic. I have been asked some grammar questions that I struggled to answer!). That is changing, and more and more native speakers of English are taking roles in school classrooms across the country, either by themselves teaching, or with a Japanese teacher, working together. This will only lead to improvement. I primarily teach adults, although I do have one school age student and two university age students that I teach. This is mainly because of the area that I work in though. I work in a business district, so there are not so many residences around. I do teach TOEFL and also TOEIC too.
      As far as my Japanese lessons go, I am studying Japanese by myself, and will start taking lessons when my Japanese level gets above "embarrassingly low"!
      I had heard about Milney and also Neeld. I feel sorry for Neeld, and I think that there will be not much change at Melbourne unless there is a wholesale change to the playing roster, and a new board comes in and puts their foot down, someone "old school". What is Barassi doing these days?
      We are getting plenty of rain here, and here's hoping Adelaide gets a drenching soon!
      Take care Noel,