A One-Day Tour of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward
Go west off the beaten path to experience the quiet wonder of everyday Japan with this special itinerary.
Know before you go…
This itinerary takes you on foot and by train around the four main neighborhoods of Suginami Ward in western Tokyo: Nishi-Ogikubo, Ogikubo, Asagaya and Koenji. Having a Suica card will make it easy to hop on and off the JR chuo line that runs through Suginami, though you can walk from Nishi-Ogikubo to Koenji in about an hour if you’ve got the stamina. We’ve suggested a one-day blitz through the highlights but a more in-depth exploration might need two.
Get caught up in the middle of it all in Asagaya, the bustling retro neighborhood sandwiched between the quaint bohemia of Nishi-Ogikubo to the west and punk rock rebel Koenji to the east.
Begin with a prayer at ancient Asagaya Shinmeigu shrine (see map below), dedicated to the Shinto religion’s most important goddess, Amaterasu, before paying reverence to the consumer gods along Asagaya Pearl Center, a wonderfully old-school shotengai (shopping street) which meanders south of the station for 650 meters under an art deco-style roof. Spot grandmas on their grocery shop scolding kids zipping to the sweets store on their bikes (you’re supposed to get off and walk) in a slice-of-life scene that feels straight from an anime movie.
At the end of the street, turn right and back around onto the parallel street for a gourmet coffee and cake accompanied by some classic tunes at Jazz Café Misty. Asagaya is famed for its jazz scene; the kind of smoky basement bars of your musical fantasies abound here, while in late October the area becomes a hive of music with the Asagaya Jazz Streets festival.
It’s about a 12-minute (¥1000-ish, depending on traffic) taxi ride from the station to Suginami Historical Museum — a must-visit for history buffs looking for interactive insight into Suginami’s past. Alternatively, you can take bus no. 66 from in front of the station to Shin Koenji, transfer to bus no. 45 to Toritsu Wadabori Park Bus Stop and walk from there. Don’t miss the outdoor reconstruction of historical buildings, they’re a genuine highlight.
Afternoon: Ogikubo and Nishi-Ogikubo
Make your way west to Ogikubo for lunch at Inazuma Cafe, five minutes from the north exit of Ogikubo station. Original, signed anime and manga drawings from tons of different artists cover the walls. The menu — featuring omurice (rice topped with omelette), pasta, curry and cakes — is just as eclectic. Work it off with a roundabout detour of next door Nishi-Ogikubo’s collection of picturesque antiques shops and galleries. Tucked among the residential streets surrounding Zenpukuji River, Experience Suginami Tokyo suggests this 25-minute route of some of the most quirky.
If you’ve only got time for one, head to best-kept secret Iseya, which runs multi-purpose exhibition space Gallery Juan and always features an interesting artist or works. Take a left at the Koban (Police Box) and follow the road all the way until you get to the animal hospital where you turn left. It’s on your left.
After, it’s time for a tea break at the utterly charming Kissako Isshin Niyo, a tea house hidden away behind a nondescript building on the main road back to Nishi-Ogikubo station. Sample up to 40 types of tea (sound like a challenge?), served in a teacup of your choosing. Opt for a homemade scone, too — you won’t regret it.
Head back east to Koenji for some evening entertainment but not before a spruce up at Kosugi Yu, the neighborhood sento (public bathhouse) with an Edo flair. Scented and milk baths are on the menu, though you might be distracted from washing by the beautiful murals of Mt. Fuji on the walls. It’s easy to find in a side street, a five-minute walk from Koenji’s north exit along Koshin Dori Street.
Freshened up, it’s time to head out on the town to explore Koenji’s sacred music scene. Rowdy izakayas, hip fusion eateries, fast food chains and restaurants that double as entertainment venues are all there to explore. Start with a cocktail and a book at Cocktail Shobo (along Naka Dori Street to the left of the station’s north exit) before grabbing dinner at one of the yakitori (grilled skewered chicken) joints under the railway tracks. Then it’s on to Penguin House (back towards the station) for some live rock performed by talented local bands.
Round it all off with drinks back where it all started at 44 Sonic in Asagaya, a geek’s ideal watering hole packed floor to ceiling with anime and comic book figurines. Venture two minutes from the north exit, front and left, and be sure to ask the owner to make you a cocktail inspired by your favorite anime or video game character — he’s usually up for the mission.
If you’re in Tokyo during the summer, you’re in time for one of the liveliest and loudest traditional festivals in the country: the Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori.
Basically a massive block party, this two-day dance features a million participants who gather together to perform along the streets around Koenji station. Food, drink and a crowd with seemingly limitless energy top it all off. Three words: Do not miss.
- 1-25-5 Asagaya-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Open all day.
Asagaya Pearl Center
- 2-15-4 Asagaya-minami, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Most shops open around 10 a.m. until 7.30 to 8 p.m..
Jazz Cafe Misty
- 1-35-23 Asagaya-minami, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
Suginami Historical Museum
- 1-20-8 Omiya, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Closed Mondays (or the following Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday) and every third Thursday of the month. Closed December 28th to January 4th for New Year.
- 3-27-10 Amanuma, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
- 4-5-22 Nishiogi-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
Kissako Isshin Niyo
3-31-13-103 Nishiogi-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
- 3-32-2, Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
- 3-8-13 Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
- B1F, 3-24-8 Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
- 2 -12-4 Asagaya-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo. Opening hours may vary, please check before you go.
Be aware the some of the opening hours listed above may be subject to change so please check the details before you go (in case you didn’t get that already!). For detailed information, prices and tips, check out EXPERIENCE SUGINAMI TOKYO. Enjoy!