Tokyo's Suginami City Through the Eyes of International Residents
There are many unique cafes, small businesses, and shopping spots in Tokyo's Suginami City. In this article, we meet current Suginami residents from Japan, Taiwan, and America at Kosugiyu—a public bathhouse designated as a tangible cultural property—and ask about the city’s charms.
Kosugiyu is a public bathhouse located in a corner of a shopping district in Koenji, Tokyo. This building, which exudes a retro elegance and was registered as a tangible cultural property in 2021, symbolizes this area’s past and present. It’s also a place where people interact with one another.
This time, we hosted a roundtable discussion at Kosugiyu with three people from Japan, Taiwan, and America who live in Suginami.
Why did these ladies choose to live in Suginami? What appeal does living along the Chuo Line in Suginami have for them? Let’s dive right into the discussion.
Roundtable Speaker Profiles
- Residency in Suginami: four years
- Introduction: Editor. She loves traveling, having visited 35 countries and 40 prefectures thus far. Her recommended sightseeing destination in Japan is Yakushima in the summer when you can enjoy the magnificent mountains and the sea.
- Residency in Suginami: one year
- Years in Japan: seven years
- Introduction: Graduated from a vocational school in the illustrations department and is currently employed as a Web designer at an advertising agency. She loves Japanese television series and rewatches “Nodame Cantabile” every year.
- Residency in Suginami: two and a half years
- Years in Japan: six years
- Introduction: She is Vietnamese-American. She works in marketing at a foreign IT company. Her hobbies are reading, touring architecture, and cosplay.
Why Did You Choose to Live in Suginami?
Moriya: What brought me to Koenji is the fact my husband enjoys Awa Odori (*). We didn’t consider living anywhere else but Suginami! The area we previously lived in, and Koenji have completely different atmospheres. I even doubted whether this was the same Tokyo I knew. But now that some time has passed since I started living here, I’m happy that I live here.
*A traditional performing art that originated in Tokushima Prefecture. It is a representative event of Japan held every year in Koenji during the final weekend of August with 10,000 dancers and a million spectators.
Chen: My relationship with my boyfriend made me move to Koenji. My boyfriend has been living in Koenji for about ten years, and I fell in love with the district before I realized it because we would often take walks together. Finding a property in good condition wasn't easy when I decided to move in with him. Still, we compared properties in several other areas before finally settling with Koenji as the place we loved the most, so we decided to live here!
Alexandra: I like Japan's subcultures, so I often came here to hang out before moving to Koenji. Two years ago, I found a nice property and made the move. I get along with the residents here and can enjoy various performances or artist events on the streets, even during the holidays. Life is fulfilling, and every day is fun.
What Features Do the Stations around Koenji Have?
Moriya: Administrative agencies like the ward office and police station are in Asagaya, which is very convenient. On the other hand, there are department stores and large chain stores around Ogikubo Station to buy all your daily necessities. Nishi-Ogikubo is home to many small independent businesses and is relatively quiet compared to the other three stations.
Chen: There are shops useful for daily life, like the department stores in Ogikubo around Koenji Station. On the other hand, Asagaya has events and recreational activities like the Tanabata Festival. “I want to go out but don’t want to go too far.” Have you ever felt like this? You’ll have everything at your fingertips when you live in Suginami!
Alexandra: Koenji, Asagaya, Ogikubo, and Nishi-Ogikubo have their features and history with way more small businesses than chain stores. Many people are also active in the creative scene, making it unique and lively no matter what part of town you’re in. I work remotely and change my mood by working at various cafes.
What Are Your Recommended Spots in Koenji?
Speaker Mrs. Moriya (Japan)
Moriya: There are a lot of cafes around Koenji. CITY, in particular, is a quiet shop that is simply decorated and perfect for reading. Tonkodo is a shabu-shabu (hot pot) restaurant I often visit. The owner is very kind and the food is delicious; they have this soba (buckwheat) dipping sauce in addition to the usual dipping sauces. For me, many dishes are more refreshing and easier to eat when dipped in soba sauce rather than the typical sauces. Plus, it brings out the delicious flavors of the ingredients! Of course, we can’t forget about Kosugiyu regarding Koenji! After a tiring day, your mind and body will relax when soaking in the hot water.
Chen: Delsol Koenji near the station is an Italian bar with lunch sets priced at around 1,000 yen that come with a salad and drink. The food is tasty and worth more than its price. I also like secondhand clothing and shopping at Koenji Pal Shopping Street. There are secondhand clothing stores that carry various styles here, and it’s like a paradise for me! Not everything is set at easily affordable prices, but I feel satisfied just by window shopping.
Alexandra: I have a lot of places to recommend, but if I were to choose one, it would be New Sabai Thailand, which I go to every week! It’s a delicious Thai restaurant with reasonable prices. Furindo, a shaved ice shop near Shin-Koenji Station on the Marunouchi Line, is run by a lovely couple. With its ambiance characteristic of an old Japanese home, it feels like I’m going over to a relative’s house to hang out every time I visit. Lastly, I’ll introduce Uptown Records Koenji, an LP record store. This shop stocks various music records and frequently hosts weekend music events. It’s a famous shop even among foreigners living in Japan.
What Are Your Recommended Spots in Asagaya?
Speaker Ms. Chen (Taiwan)
Moriya: This year, I’m a toshionna (*1). The yakuyoke, a prayer ritual to ward off calamities, at Asagaya Shinmeigu Shrine is quite famous, so I visited once for a ritual prayer for happiness and warding off an inauspicious year. I underwent a formal service, but it was a very refreshing experience. JULES VERNE COFFEE, located between Koenji and Asagaya, sells select coffee beans I must buy every time I pass by. The point is to get half-price coffee by ordering the beverage with a side of coffee beans.
Chen: I don’t often go to the shops in Asagaya, but I want to recommend Nakasugi Street, the main street near the station! The large roadside ginkgo trees are dyed in golden hues during the autumn and are truly beautiful. It’s fun just walking under the trees.
Alexandra: I enjoy retro junkissa (*2) cafes, with gion in Asagaya being my favorite place out of all the traditional cafes I’ve been to! The otherworldly interior is lovely, and I go every week. SATO Briand, a yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) restaurant, is on the pricier side but is worth a visit. It’s also highly rated on food review websites and difficult to get a table without a prior reservation.
*1 Toshionna: A method of counting years based on the Chinese zodiac calendar. Everyone is a “man of the year” or “woman of the year” once every 12 years during their zodiac year.
*2 Junkissa: A kissaten (traditional Japanese cafe) that does not serve alcohol. These cafes became known as junkissa to differentiate them from the many kissaten that served alcohol in Japan during the early Showa Period. Currently, kissaten that have retro vibes are often referred to as junkissa.
What Are Your Recommended Spots in Ogikubo?
Speaker Ms. Alexandra
Moriya: I go to Ogikubo often for shopping. They have everything, which makes it super convenient! It’s a little far from the station, but Title is a bookstore with a collection of books on the topic of life. You can really feel that deep connection with our daily lives. I like looking at each of the books here one by one. There’s a small gallery on the second floor that also holds special exhibits irregularly that I’ll visit sometimes if there’s a theme I’m interested in.
Chen: You’ll find many ramen shops in Ogikubo, but Misokko Hook is an especially famous one that always has a long line outside. Misokko Hook’s dashi broth is rich and garnished with grated garlic. The grated garlic has a pretty strong flavor and a fragrance that reaches outside that is tantalizing.
Alexandra: I love shaved ice, so I’ll introduce another shaved ice shop, this time in Ogikubo! Neiroya is a ramen shop, but they serve a variety of different shaved ice flavors. I actually go just for the shaved ice. The Tokyo Polytechnic University Suginami Animation Museum located on the way to Nishi-Ogikubo is a paradise (*) for anime fans where you can enjoy exhibits displaying the history and production process of anime in Japan. The museum also has experience-based exhibits with voice dubbing and flipbook animation.
*As of 2023, Suginami is home to the most animation studios and anime-related companies in Japan.
What Hole-In-The-Wall Spots Should We Know in Nishi-Ogikubo?
Moriya: fuzkue is a cafe for reading, so you can read and enjoy a light meal with a beverage. The cafe tries to maintain a quiet atmosphere as much as possible so customers are able to read without disruptions. Therefore, you must speak at a low volume when visiting. Be careful not to accidentally make any loud noises.
Chen: Nishi-Ogikubo is a hotspot for curry and home to many curry restaurants. I’ve only ever gone to French Curry SPOON, which like its name is a French-style curry restaurant that only provides counter seats inside. Ohfu curry (*3) is the standard in Japan, but the curry at SPOON is made by simmering a paste to create a texture similar to soup curry and contains a variety of spices. It’s very spicy and delicious.
Alexandra: Shoan Bunko, an old-style cafe in a residential area, gets a lot of sunlight and has a garden full of greenery. The ingredients they use are ordered from various regions. There’s a magazine and reading corner inside, so you could say it’s a multifaceted and calming space rather than simply being a cafe. Another place is cotito HANA TO OKASHI TO, a flower shop a bit of a distance from the station that is a must-visit spot for those who love flowers! They serve desserts garnished with edible flowers that will not only make you happy just by eating it, but also are perfect gifts.
*3 Ohfu Curry: A type of curry made by adding vegetables and dairy to a brown sauce base. Its name “ohfu” means to be European-style, but its origins actually come from Japan.
What Would You Recommend to Friends and Family?
Moriya: If you’re someone who enjoys Japan's traditional shopping districts, then I think it would be best to mainly travel around the Koenji and Asagaya areas. Koenji especially is a blend of various cultures both old and new so you’re bound to make various discoveries. If you purely want to enjoy some shopping, then Ogikubo has several large chain stores and a selection of common brands that fit the bill. Nishi-Ogikubo is home to many unique small businesses that you can travel around efficiently by walking with an acquaintance as your guide. But it’d also be fun to go on an adventure by yourself if you have extra time.
Chen: If it’s a holiday, then I recommend taking a stroll in a nearby park before lunch to take in nature, then drink afternoon tea at a shopping district at noon. Making choices on where to go will be hard because there are just so many restaurants and clothing stores, but you’ll always have options to choose from.
Alexandra: Ideally, if you’re looking to enjoy this area for one day, the first thing you’ll want to do is have lunch at a cafe in Nishi-Ogikubo, then wander around the shopping districts in Asagaya. It’d be a good idea to adjust your schedules accordingly if there’s a festival or event going on. In the evening, head over to Kosugiyu after having a drink at an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Koenji. Relieve all your fatigue from the day here, go home, then get a good night’s rest!
Lastly, Tell Us the Charms of the Four Major Areas in Suginami
Moriya: Koenji, where I live, is home to many people who enjoy Awa Odori and I’ll often run into acquaintances when I’m out walking with my husband. The district feels like a small, close-knit town which is valuable in Tokyo. Locally run restaurant owners are great talkers and full of warmheartedness. You can enjoy the area even if you’re far from the station, so it’s fun even just to go out on a walk. Staying for a short time with the goal of experiencing the neighborhood rather than simply sightseeing is a way you can truly experience the daily life here.
Chen: A feature shared by these four stations is the fact that they don’t feel too much like the city. But there are many new discoveries to make even just by walking. There isn’t really an area with a similar atmosphere in Taiwan, so when my Taiwanese friends come to visit, I want them to experience something different from everyday Tokyo by taking them around this area.
Alexandra: Suginami isn’t like Tokyo with its tall buildings and such. There are many small businesses and a different history and personality to every station. Plus, the residents are kind and the people are fairly close with one another. This is my top reason why I like Suginami! For me, as a foreigner, living here by myself doesn’t feel lonely at all.
A Question for Kosugiyu Owner Mr. Hiramatsu
Mr. Hiramatsu, the owner of Kosugiyu where this discussion took place, was asked a question at the end of our roundtable.
Public baths are rapidly becoming few and far between in Japan. Meanwhile, Kosugiyu is loved by people of all ages and maintains a steady stream of customers. What do you prioritize at Kosugiyu?
“The current president established Kosugiyu six years ago. Since then, we have worked on various projects. Kosugiyu is a place integrated into the daily lives of people and hosts many events related to baths. We share that information through social media and will often receive requests from those in other industries to host events together.
Kosugiyu is cleaned every morning from seven to eleven o’clock. Each staff member has their own way of cleaning, but we stress the importance of cleaning with a strong desire for customers to spend their time comfortably at Kosugiyu in a clean environment.”
Go to These Recommended Spots!
There are many recommended spots in Suginami, so we highly recommend that you come to see them for yourself!
Written by Kenko
In cooperation with Kosugiyu
Sponsored by Chuosen Aruaru Project/Experience SUGINAMI TOKYO
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