Koenji’s vintage stores are kinda junky.

For my most recent trip to Tokyo, I decided to go to a few new places I hadn’t visited before. I went armed with a guide from the lovely Hello Sandwich and decided I’d visit Shimokitazawa, Daikanyama, Jiyugaoka, Nakameguro, and Koenji, largely on the strength of her charming coverage. Plus, you know…vintage stores, little cafes, and cakes. How could anyone go wrong?

I got to Koenji on the Chuo line from Shinjuku, and I can see why it is such a popular line. A lot of really popular neighborhoods are serviced by this line (like Kichijoji, which I loved, Sendagaya, and Nakano), and it  runs both express and local. Plus, if its cold outside, like it was this last time (one day after being sauna sweltering; I swear that the week of september 18th-25th 2010 had to have been the oddest weather week ever), you can get a hot drink that ISN”T canned coffee—which, as far as I’m concerned, is the most vile substance on the planet:

Anyway, I went to Koenji to check out two vegan cafes I’d heard a lot about–Lotus and Flower’s Café and Meu Nota, but I didn’t find either one. Meu Nota made me particularly frustrated, because the map made it look so easy. I saw the lawson’s, I saw Village Vanguard. They were not as close to each other as the map suggests. Anyone know how to find Seiyu?

Instead, I wandered around the PAL shopping district on the south of the station (where Meu Nota was supposed to be located right off of) and the large streets north of the station, plus under the tracks in both directions. I probably did not look closely enough at the right places, but I was pretty disappointed, at least as far as shopping went. Those “used” clothing shops Koenji is so famous for…well, let’s just say that I had much better luck at BINGO in Shibuya and hitting up Harajuku’s numerous secondhand shops (including Closet Child off Takeshita, which was so amazing that i went to the Shinjuku branch the next morning and the Ikebukkuro one after that) than in Koenji. Men might find something to love among the racks and racks of plaid shirts and tees with sports logos on them, but don’t expect to find that cute patterned sundress or purple heels or fun accessories there. I suppose it’s always possible to find gems, especially for experienced thrifters, but I thought the stuff was pretty junky. Reeked of mothballs, too.

I could post where I went, but, to be honest, they are all over the place and pretty easy to find. Best to start at the south exit of the station, cross the little square, and head to the main “arcade” street and just explore.  You’ll find a bunch. You can then work your way back to the station and do the north side. Please note, though, that going down a side street in Tokyo doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to turn at the corner and re-join the main drag easily. For some streets, it seems like you’re in for the long haul.

Because I had come to Koenji specifically for the food, I was starving by the time I gave up finding Meu Nota and ducked into a Freshness Burger for some sustenance. I had already tried their limited edition mushroom burger, but this time I opted for the tofu. The tofu burger is NOT vegan due to the sauce, so you may want to ask them to leave it off if it isn’t too much trouble (seems like they make them to order, but please remember that special orders are not common in Japan), but it is YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY. It’s literally a grilled and fried slab of tofu, with smashed avocado, lettuce, and sauce on a bun. Simple but so, so good.  After that, I went to Lamas near the station for a Hoegaarden and headed home, utterly disappointed in Koenji for not being the alterna-paradise I envisioned.

I sure wish I had seen this post before I went there. I have a feeling that drinking a Beatles cocktail can make any place fun:


Takeaway tip:  Check out Meu Nota in Koenji, and the numerous live houses that are apparently everywhere. Then, come back and teach me how to get there and who to see!

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