Koenji : A Hippie Town, called the India of Japan

Tokyo has many kinds of town, and along the Chuo Line people who like subcultures gather. They love music, novels, and movies, especially something called subculture in Japanese (サブカルチャー) , a term for culture which a minority of people like. They don’t want to become office workers and dream of becoming musicians or novelists. They want to live along the Chuo Line because there are many of their hangouts and friends, and these cultures are also called Chuo Line Culture (中央線文化). One of the main districts of Chuo Line Culture is Koenji. Koenji Station is just two stops from Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo Line.

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Near the north exit of Koenji Station, there is a vegetable store called Takano Seika (高野青果), and many cheap vegetables and fruits overflow into the street.

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Not only Takano Seika, but many other shops and restaurants crowd this area.

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When you walk down the small alley at the right side of Takano Seika, you can find an area called Daiichi Ichiba (大一市場, number one market). There used to be a market, but nowadays there are several taverns. The restaurant called Chopsticks (チョップスティックス) is a Vietnamese restaurant where you can eat delicious Vietnamese meals.

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In Koenji, there are some shopping streets (in Japanse, shotengai). Not far from the north exit, there are Junjo Shotengai (純情商店街), Koshindori Shotengai (庚申通り商店街), Nakadori Shotengai (中通り商店街), Kita-nakadori Shotengai (北中通り商店街) and Azumadori Shotengai (あずま通り商店街). By the south exit, there are Pal Shotengai (パル商店街), Look Shotengai (ルック商店街), and Etoil Shotengai (エトワール商店街). Along these shopping streets, there are many eateries, taverns, secondhand clothes shops, secondhand book stores, recycle shops, and public baths (sento, 銭湯).

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Some people living the bohemian lifestyle are very poor, and some of them live in old houses without baths. There is a public bath called Kosugiyu (小杉湯) near Koshindori Shotengai. It is famous for having a milk bath (a bath with evaporated milk).

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There is also the Naminoyu public bath (なみのゆ) with a tricolor band at the top of its smokestack, within 7 minutes walk from Koenji Station.

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People here often use recycle shops. On Kita-nakadori Shotengai, there are recycle shops and a guesthouse owned by Shiroto No Ran (素人の乱, amateur revolt). This group consists of youth who insist on a society in which even poor people can live culturally, and own recycle shops, a guesthouse, and a bar. This group is said to be left wing activists rather than a hippies.

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When you walk down Nakadori Shotengai, you will find a strange and ramshackle building called the Kitakore Building (キタコレビル). In this building, there are several individual and unique clothing shops by radical designers. This building was built more than 50 years ago, and in 2009 it was renovated and they opened their shops. Secret Dog sells unique clothes and Lady Gaga often shops at their headquarters, called DOG, in Harajuku.

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Hayatochiri (はやとちり) sells colorful and decorated clothes on the first floor. Chim↑Pom, an artist collective, also own a shop and sells their designer T-shirts.

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On Nakadori Shotengai, there is an Okinawan restaurant called Dachibin (抱瓶). Koenji and the neighboring Nakano have Okinawan communities. In Dachibin, people who have origins from Okinawa gather and eat Okinawan dishes. You can eat goya champuru (a stir fry of bitter melon, egg, tohu, and pork) and Okinawa soba (Okinawa-style ramen).

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When you go to Koenji Street under the elevated railway, there are musicians singing songs and drunkards who are drinking at taverns.

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A yakitori tavern, called Shimonya (四文屋) is popular for cheap yakitori.

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Mugen-do (むげん堂) is an Asian knickknack shop that sells Asian clothes and bags. These shops and taverns are packed with anarchy. Koenji is chaotic and many residents are hippies, so Koenji is said to be the India of Japan (日本のインド) by Jun Miura, a famous essayst.

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Muryoku Muzenji (無力無善寺) is a very unique live house. All performances except violence and loud music are held, and a lot of amature performers including musicians or poets play strange performances at this live stage. You can have a weird and fun experience for only 1000 yen with one drink. There is not only Muryoku Muzenji, but also many other live houses and event houses in Koenji. Za Koenji (座・高円寺) and Koenji Pundit (高円寺パンディット) are famous event houses, and many subculture performances and speaking events are held.

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By the south exit of Koenji Station, there is an arcade shopping street called Pal Shotengai. Village Vangaurd is a knickknack and book store. In this shop, there are books, comics, and miscellaneous goods of subculture.

koenjikoenji

When you pass through Pal Shotengai, there is Look Shotengai shopping street. On this street, there are many secondhand clothes stores and secondhand booksellers. Books and clothes that subcul kei joshi (girls who like subculture) like are gathered here. Animal Yoko (アニマル洋子), Lover Soul, and Mizutama Kinoko (みずたまきのこ) are popular for these girls. There is also a hookah shop called Chil In.

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Koenji has many unique shops and people who like subculture. In Japanese society, people who work hard for their families as office workers are typical. People who are not working and dream of becoming artists are looked at coldly by ordinary Japanese people. Koenji is a place where these free spirits can live comfortably.

subculture, subcul (サブカルチャー、サブカル for short) : a term for culture which a minority of people like. A term underground, ungra for short, (アンダーグラウンド、アングラ) has the same meaning. An antonym is popular culture. For examle, they like movies of Stanley Kubric or the music of Ringo Shina.
subcul kei joshi (サブカル系女子, subcul style girls) : girls who like subculture
subucul kei danshi (サブカル系男子, sublcul style boys) : boys who like subculture

Chuo Line Culture (中央線文化) : People who like subculture tend to live along the Chuo Line, especially Koenji, Asagaya, Nakano, and Nishi-Ogikubo.

Shiroto No Ran (素人の乱, amateur revolt) : a group of youth who want to live freely and culturally, even if they are poor. They own recycle shops, secondhand clothes chops, and the Manuke Guesthouse. The leader, Hajime Matsumoto, is famous as a left wing activist.

Chim↑Pom (Chim-Pom) : a six-artist collective who were influenced by Makoto Aida, a contemporary Japanese artist. This group is famous for tackling provocative social themes. They drew a word associated with the atomic bomb in the sky by an airplane in Hirosihma and were condemned.

Dachibin (抱瓶) : a famous Okinawan tavern since 1978. It is said to be the best delicious Okinawan restaurant in Tokyo. Rimi Nastsukawa, an Okinawan singer, also worked there as staff. The owner owns other Okinawan restaurants in Koenji, like Kiyoka (きよ香), Goppachi (ごっぱち, 58), and Urizun Shokudo(うりずん食堂).

[How to go]

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