Suginami Ward Charm: Discover Showa Era Beauty Along the JR Chuo Line!
Located in western Tokyo, Suginami is a stylish residential neighborhood that offers easy access to the city center, a peaceful and green living environment, and a historical ambiance. Areas within this ward like Koenji, Asagaya, Ogikubo, and Nishi Ogikubo, which all happen to fall along the JR Chuo Line, feature shopping districts dating back to the 1960s, offering a unique charm compared to the modern vibe of Shinjuku and similar spots. They have everything needed for daily life at relatively affordable prices, attracting youth from all around as well. In this edition of our "Area of Japan" series, we take a delightful stroll through a few areas within the Suginami neighborhood, uncovering its unique features.
Apr 26 2023
Koenji is a hotspot for rock musicians, people who enjoy drinking at bistros, and those who love vintage clothing and Indian curry. Although there are no large department stores near the station, there are about 20 shopping streets of various sizes, offering glimpses of Japan's 1960s and 1970s.
Among these shopping streets, Junjo Shopping Street, known for its B-class gourmet food; Nakadori Shopping Street with its array of international restaurants; and Koenji Koshin-dori Shopping Street, perfect for everyday shopping; are worth mentioning and located just past the north exit of JR Koenji Station. From the station's south exit, you can access Koenji Pal Shopping Street, famous for its high vaulted arcade, and Koenji Look Shopping Street, lined with many long-established shops.
The neighborhood is an excellent place for those who love shopping for retro items and casually eat on-the-go.
The cafe Nanatsumori, exuding a nostalgic atmosphere with its tile roof, is located on your left after exiting the south exit of JR Koenji Station and passing through Pal Shopping Street and Look Shopping Street.
Established in 1978, the cafe's name is derived from Shizukuishi Town in Iwate Prefecture, which was featured in Kenji Miyazawa's poetry collection "Spring and Asura." Named in hopes of providing people with moments of relaxation within the busy city, Nanatsumori has been treasured by locals for over 40 years. Young people who love the Showa retro atmosphere also visit the cafe to enjoy its ambiance and cuisine, feeling as if they had traveled back in time.
Upon opening the door of Nanatsumori, you are greeted with the aroma of coffee. To the right, you will find a charming bar counter from where you can watch the staff skillfully brewing coffee. At the back left, there is a velvet sofa seat, antique tables, an old wall clock, and a lamp adorned with a stained glass lampshade – all rare furnishings in contemporary times. This space really encapsulates the essence of a Showa-era cafe!
We ordered the Omu Gohan (omelet rice) and a custard pudding. Nanatsumori's omelet with rice is different from the usual one with ketchup; instead, it features rice mixed with bamboo shoots, burdock, and beef, topped with a fluffy golden omelet. Salt, pepper, and sansho pepper are provided, so you can adjust the taste to your liking. Preferring a lighter taste, we found the initial saltiness sufficient and sprinkled black pepper and sansho pepper for a perfect combination with the soft omelet. As for the custard pudding, it had a rich egg flavor and a firm texture, complemented by a moderately bitter caramel sauce. It was so delicious that we couldn't help but crave more!
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
Ogikubo was known alongside Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture as a holiday home era for the residents of Tokyo during the Taisho era (1912-1926), to the point where there was a saying, "Kamakura in the west, Ogikubo in the east." At the time, many cultural figures, including the founder of bookstore chain Kadokawa Shoten, Genyoshi Kadokawa, writers Osamu Dazai and Akiko Yosano, music critic Motoo Otaguro, and former Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe lived in the area.
Even today, numerous buildings in Ogikubo still retain the strong retro ambiance of the Taisho and Showa eras, with some converted into shops and art galleries. More than 15 shopping streets extend from the station, offering all you may need, from vegetables and daily necessities to bookstores and restaurants. Lumine, the iconic department store chain for trendsetting youth fashion, adds to the appeal of this location, where Tokyo's nostalgic charm, vibrant arts scene, and sleek modernity seamlessly blend together.
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
Located near Ogikubo Station, Otaguro Park was once the residence of music critic Motoo Otaguro. Based on his wish to have 30% of his estate transformed into a park, his family donated the land to Suginami Ward. The original garden's features were preserved while integrating the surrounding land, and the entire park was designed as a traditional Japanese-style stroll garden.
Upon entering the main gate, you will first notice the tall trees lining both sides. Birds and squirrels move between the trees, occasionally rustling leaves and creating gentle sounds. A small river runs through the park's forest, and a large pond provides a calm surface occasionally stirred by the breeze, creating a serene and emotionally evocative Japanese atmosphere.
At the very back of the park, there's a tile-roofed Western-style mansion. The mansion, once Motoo Otaguro's workspace, has been transformed into a memorial hall, showcasing his cherished items such as a piano, gramophone, and sheet music. Visitors can now explore the hall free of charge.
Nishi Ogikubo is the name for the expanse between Ogikubo and Kichijoji. Within the JR Chuo Line area, Nishi Ogikubo is often associated with a relatively high-end image as it accommodates galleries, designer cafes, and more. The neighborhood also values preserving old things, which is why you'll find many numerous antique shops, general stores, and used bookstores there. Each store has a different style, making it an ideal place to stroll leisurely.
Unexpectedly, the Ogikubo and Nishi Ogikubo areas are hotspots for curry, presenting a wide range of options from traditional Indian curry establishments to inventive Western-style curry joints. Exotic shops line the surrounding area, including N.HARVEST, which we introduce below.
Located on the shopping street near the south exit of Nishi-Ogikubo Station, N.HARVEST is a specialty shop selling spices, dried fruits, and tea leaves. The interior is decorated in the style of an old house from the Hunza region in Pakistan, offering an exotic and eye-catching design.
According to the owner, the shop emphasizes organic and fairly traded products, importing organic foods from countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Aside from commonly used cooking spices, the store also offers its original blended spice mixes. The range of products includes curry powder, organic herb seasonings, and universal "magic" spices. Some can be sprinkled on fish or meat and cooked together, while others help you easily make sangria or mulled wine at home, create Western-style pickles, or add flavor and a bit of zing to your dishes. For over a decade, the store has been cherished by numerous locals and culinary aficionados alike.
Besides seasonings, the store sells dried fruits, nuts, and one-of-a-kind flavored tea bags, making it an excellent choice for culinary enthusiasts.
After walking around for a while, if you feel like taking a break with some tea, head to Shoan Bunko, located in the residential area near Nishi-Ogikubo Station's south exit. Shoan Bunko is a cafe housed in a renovated wooden house over 80 years old, with a large tree right next to the entrance. If you love watching Japanese dramas, you might recognize it as the filming location for the cafe run by the manager (played by Dean Fujioka) in the show "Dame na Watashi ni Koishite Kudasai" ("Please Love the Useless Me").
At the entrance, you will need to remove your shoes and switch to the slippers provided. Although the chairs and tables in the cafe aren't all the same, most are wooden and contribute to the overall comforting atmosphere. From any seat, you can enjoy the view of the greenery in the courtyard.
Shoan Bunko offers different menus for the morning, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner times. They get new stock each week, so you're getting a unique experience with each visit. When we got there, it happened to be tea time, so we ordered a Tarte Tatin and an original flavored tea.
The Tarte Tatin was made with whole wheat flour and topped with sweet, softly simmered apples, cream, and caramel ice cream. The relaxing effect of the herb tea, combined with the lovely tart, transformed our tea time into a delightful afternoon indulgence.
*Please note that the desserts vary by season. Check Shoan Bunko's social media for the latest menu or inquire at the store.
At the entrance of Shoan Bunko, you will find a gallery displaying assorted items the owner has gathered from Japan and abroad, including tableware such as cups and plates, accessories, fragrances, beauty products, and bags. You can purchase these items while waiting for a seat or when placing an order.
Suginami Ward might not be on the radar for most international tourists, but it certainly deserves attention. With its serene atmosphere and numerous compact, privately-owned shops, it's an ideal destination for those looking to uncover lesser-known yet delicious restaurants or purchase vintage and antique items. As a first-time visitor, we were captivated by Suginami Ward's distinct charm, and we're already eager to plan our next journey along the JR Chuo Line. Intrigued? Seize the chance to uncover the captivating secrets of Suginami Ward for yourself by riding the JR Chuo Line!
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.