Japan is great for many things, but vintage shopping certainly comes to the top. Like Mr. Hanzawa explained to us before, the Japanese bought tons of vintage garments in the ’80s, and created one of the best vintage shopping markets in the world.
The city of Tokyo is a huge urban network composed of hundreds of smaller neighborhoods with their own identity, some of which are renowned for their vintage shops. In this chapter of our guide we’ll tackle one of our favorites: Koenji. While reading this guide, please keep in mind that Koenji is made of hundreds of vintage shops, and that we’ll be writing about a few of them only. Do go check the area and make your own opinion!
What is Koenji?
One of the advantages of huge metropolises like Tokyo is that you’re going to find some very interesting areas that are more than just a part of the city. They’ve got a clear identity and are more considered as cultural hubs.
In Western Tokyo, for example, you’ll find Kichijoji, Shimokitazawa, and Koenji. Each has amazing restaurants, lots of little bars and live shows with indie bands, and of course, vintage shops all over the place.
Koenji though stands out because it is probably the most menswear oriented area you’ll come across in Tokyo. You can even find some websites that give you a precise shopping route you should follow when you go there…
Koenji’s on the infamous JR Chuo line, nicknamed “suicide train” for it has one of the highest suicide counts on all Tokyo train lines. That being said, you shouldn’t run away from it as it stops at awesome areas like Nakano, Koenji and Kichijoji.
You’ll probably be taking the Chuo line from Shinjuku. Easy to spot: it’s the yellow line, and its track is always on the same as that of the Yamanote line. Be careful though as not all trains stop at Koenji as some will stop at Nakano, which is a few stops before Koenji. When you arrive at the Koenji station, exit through the south door on your right.
Most of the good shops are located in the South area (the right you just took). The South area itself can be divided into two sections, East and West, separated by the main boulevard: Konan Street. We recommend starting in the East area and finishing in the West.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-30-8, Misato Building 1st Floor +81 (0) 3-5377-1911 Website
The first shop on the list is Whistler. They carry military clothes, workwear and accessories, and they take particular pride in their shoe selection. Overall this store is very interesting for its quality/price ratio.
The owner is very friendly and is always willing to help you find something if it’s not available at his store. He goes to the US to personally buy the store’s assortment on a seasonally basis, which is a plus since some stores just get that part done by a third party.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-30-8, Misato Building 1st-2nd Floor +81 (0) 3-5377-1911 Website
Right next to Whistler is Chart. Same owner, and the assortment is quite similar, but more geared towards casual wear instead of military clothing.
The first floor is primarily accessories like shoes, bags, belts, and neck ties. The second floor covers all the apparel: T-shirts, chinos, jeans, shirts, tank tops, you name it and all at very reasonable prices.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-29-12, KAWABE272 Building #101 +81 (0) 3-6454-6310 Website
Close to Chart you’ll find Gasoline. The store focuses on well-preserved deadstock and almost-deadstock items only. You’ll find Lee overalls, Carhartt workpants, 40s workshirts, Red Wing boots, and more in nearly brand new condition.
Don’t worry about sizes being too small as the owner said he carries mostly bigger sizes and that’s what sells best at his store.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-22-2, Fuji Building 1F +81 (0) 3-5306-6887 Website
Keep going straight and take a right on the second street. Walk 15 seconds and you’ll be right in front of D Clothing. The shop is stretched into two sections. The first section is more regular, with lower price points on a wide gamut of items, from casual T-shirts or shoes to more military items such as shirts and chinos.
The second part, though, is a must see. Tons of deadstock items from decades ago: WWII combat boots, ’50s workpants, Red Wing boots, US Navy sweaters, etc. Reading each item’s description on the tag is like traveling back in time.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-23-5, ACP 1F +81 (0) 3-5378-3260 Website
Suntrap’s got an excellent reputation amongst foreign shoppers thanks to owner Mr. Kenji, who’s well-traveled and always happy to help you in English. He’s truly passionate about vintage shopping and has tons of stories.
The assortment of items specializes on anything up to the ’70s, and avoiding what you’d classify as common vintage pieces. For example, you’ll be able to find small accessories like buttons, stitching supplies, and wood hangers that no one else offers in the area.
Koenji: West Area
Safari Third Store
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 4-7-3, Sunshine Koenji 1F +81 (0) 3-5378-9230 Website
If you had to list out the top vintage shops in all of Tokyo, Safari would no doubt crack the top five. It’s selection places it in the same category as gems like Marvin’s Vintage, Berberjin, or Jantique. Safari has three stores in Koenji alone, each one with a very precise theme.
The first one of the three on this route has the most dapper aesthetic. They carry high-end shoes, from Alden to J.M Weston and John Lobb; as well as menswear staples like Mackintosh trench coats, Baracuta windbreakers, Saint James and Armor Lux marinières, Italian suits and what not.
Get out of Safari and take advantage of the Conbini (convenience store) close by: they’ve got toilets–those that have been in Japan know how important this is–and an ATM distributor. You also might want to withdraw some more money before moving forward.
If your card doesn’t work at Lawson’s, then look for the Seven-Eleven a little higher on the boulevard, their ATMs accept foreign cards.
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 3-45-12 +81 (0) 3-3314-5670 Website
Slut is an interesting store, not merely for its name, but for its excellent price range. The store is divided into two sections, like a lot of other stores do in Koenji. The first area contains reasonably priced more common items like military khaki pants, Levi’s jeans, sweatshirts, shirts, light jackets, etc.
The second section at the back is more about older and thus rarer pieces like ’50s sweatshirts, US Navy denim fatigue coveralls or pre-WWII chambray workshirts.
Safari First Store
Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 3-57-4, Belle Chateau Koenji 1F +81 (0) 3-5378-9230 Website
Safari’s store number one focuses mainly on high-end vintage. Be ready to spend some money here as we’re only talking rare stuff that’s either deadstock or in excellent condition.
You’ll find WWI US Navy peacoats, WWII B15 and G1 pilot jackets, Lee workpants, deadstock 1940s denim coveralls, 1940s workshirts, etc.
Koenji is just the first taste of Tokyo’s enormous vintage and denim scene. Check back in soon for more installments of our complete guide to Tokyo vintage shops.
All photos by Yuri Matsuoka