Koenji (高円寺) is a Suginami Ward suburb of Tokyo, located just west of Shinjuku. The area derives its name from various old temples located in the general vicinity and is comprised of many small houses and shops that reflect what Japan and Tokyo looked like before the major building boom of the 1980s. The area has become equally well known for its small restaurants and live music venues due to its proximity to major commuter stations. The younger population here has become vibrant and opened numerous retro style shops.
The neighborhood is still generally divided with North Koenji and South Koenji straddling Koenji Station. The Shukuhozan Koenji Temple is the source of the area’s name. Additionally, there was once a small town called Mabashi between Koenji and Asagaya that has since been absorbed by the larger city. The old name of Mabashi can still be seen though in some schools and shrines.
Koenji is well known for its confluence of used clothing shops. Many of these shops are located south of the JR station near Look Shotengai. Additionally the PAL can be found in this area with multiple clothing shops, discount stores, and small restaurants. North of the JR station are two larger shopping streets with a number of used record stores, cafes and small restaurants. Small bars and yakitoris fill out much of the rest of the city’s space.
Known for its small restaurants and yakitoris, Koenji has locations for food and drink in almost every street and alley in the district, as well as many small such businesses beneath the tracks by the JR station. Parks in this area include the Sashi-no-mori, Wadabori Koen, and Mabashi Koen. In the spring, these become especially popular as various foliage sprouts and cherry blossoms appear.
The Awa Odori festival is held in Koenji each year over a three day period in August. The festival was originally adopted after the war and features multiple parades with dance and music from traditional roots. The parades follow a traditional route through the city streets around the station and are often sought out by tourists and foreign visitors each year.
The festival was originally started in 1957 with the 50 anniversary taking place in 2007 and more than 12,000 participants and 1.2 million visitors taking part. The Awa Odori Festival is currently one of the largest such festivals in Japan, with only the Tokushima version being larger.