Stay in an art hotel, see great bands, shop for vin­tage clothes – this left-field com­mu­nity in the Tokyo sub­urbs is home to an ex­pand­ing cre­ative scene

Friday - - Contents -

Take the train beyond Tokyo’s steely sky­line to the scrappy, arty, punky sub­urb of Kōenji.

It’s a Thurs­day night and the con­crete bar counter at the BnA art hotel is scat­tered with glasses of golden, spice-in­fused drinks. Young creatives in skate brands and neat vin­tage cardi­gans perch on stools as they sip to the sounds of am­bi­ent techno, knees bump­ing against the bright car­toon­ish stick­ers that dot the re­claimed wood. ‘We didn’t want just an­other hotel lobby that is empty most of the time, we wanted cool peo­ple to be hang­ing out, and that to be the draw,’ says Keigo Fuku­gaki, an ar­chi­tect, one of the co-founders of BnA, and a per­fect ex­am­ple of the type of peo­ple who buzz around this es­tab­lish­ment.

At the week­end the bar opens up to the base­ment, host­ing ev­ery­thing from a house mu­sic set to an ex­hi­bi­tion of cast-con­crete sculp­tures. The at­mos­phere is part skate shop, part fam­ily get-to­gether, and at­tracts as much at­ten­tion from the older neigh­bours, who pop their heads around the door to see what the hotel is do­ing next. ‘When­ever we do some­thing new, we never meet op­po­si­tion, they’re more cu­ri­ous and sup­port­ive,’ says Keigo.

This con­tem­po­rary vibe is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the long-stand­ing artis­tic com­mu­nity in Kōenji. The last stop be­fore the sub­urbs on Tokyo’s Chūō line, the dis­trict is on the fringes – both phys­i­cally and in the com­mu­ni­ties it houses. ‘In most of Tokyo, peo­ple are con­ser­va­tive. Here, it’s dif­fer­ent. Any­thing goes, as long as you’re not harm­ing any­body,’ says Keigo, who opened the two-room lodg­ing with three other creatives in March 2016. With its un­pre­ten­tious but sharp de­sign, com­bin­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als and eye-catch­ing, graphic wall art, it’s a chilled-out space for con­ver­sa­tion and artis­tic ex­change, much like Am­p­cafe Koenji (just the other side of the sta­tion, and run by BnA’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, Kenji Daikoku). The min­i­mal and af­ford­able hotel drops guests into the mid­dle of Tokyo’s art scene.

‘A lot of the guests who stay here are artists them­selves, or mu­sic or TV pro­duc­ers, look­ing for their peers,’ says Keigo. When they’re not in the bar of BnA, the artists and mu­si­cians who call Kōenji home can be found in Tico (3-68-1 Koen­jim­i­nami Sug­i­nami), a buzzy bar in the style of an apothe­cary, that is – along with many other wa­ter­ing holes – in the pas­sage ad­join­ing Kōenji sta­tion. If your feet can bear it (Tico’s tagline is ‘stand up please’), the in­fu­sions are artis­tic creations in their own right. Around

the cor­ner from Tico is Ten­suke, where tem­pura be­comes per­for­mance art. Or­der an egg tem­pura (over easy, medium, or hard) and watch it be­ing tossed, with some bat­ter splat­ters, into the cast-iron pot of siz­zling oil.

A few streets over, the base­ment iza­kaya Mamma Jima (27-18 Koen­jim­i­nami Sug­i­nami) also puts on a show for cus­tomers sit­ting at the bar, cour­tesy of the smok­ing straw that flavours its un­miss­able bonito dish, sea­soned with lemon and salt.

Kōenji is also a hub for vin­tage cloth­ing shops: from Yaku­soku ‘s baby-pink frills to the pricier se­lec­tion of high-end menswear in Kiss­met and its brother store Laugh, where Dries van Noten trench­coats share the racks with rare knits from Yves Saint Lau­rent and Comme des Garçons. Clas­sic, bar­gain Amer­i­cana at Marco Polo, slick lux­u­ri­ous sports­wear at Mouse, and edgy uni­sex sta­ples at Sokkyou and JuRian will all tempt your wal­let. Sec­ond­hand record shops are plen­ti­ful, too. Start crate dig­ging at EAD Record, be­fore mov­ing south to 57 Chome’s Be in Sound and Univer­sound. For vin­tage ma­te­rial in pa­per for­mat, Hachi­makura sells exquisitely de­signed an­tique stamps and mid­cen­tury post­cards, la­bels and other

ephemera, as well as beau­ti­ful con­tem­po­rary cal­en­dars and note­books from lo­cal artists.

Peo­ple all over Tokyo know Kōenji by its left-field rep­u­ta­tion for cul­tural re­sis­tance, es­pe­cially the anti-nu­clear com­mu­nity, which or­gan­ised a march of 15,000 here in 2011. This ‘al­ter­na­tive’ rep­u­ta­tion ap­plies to mu­sic, too: you can’t walk far in Kōenji with­out see­ing a grungy punk mu­si­cian, gui­tar strapped to their back. At night, those gui­tars get amped up in one of the many live mu­sic venues, such as the cramped Muryoku Muzenji and punk sta­ple Hi­gashi-Koenji 20000v.

Like mu­si­cians, artists have taken ad­van­tage of the area’s cheaper rents for decades, but op­por­tu­ni­ties for them to ex­hibit their work are scarce: space in Tokyo is hard to come by. The bed­rooms of BnA are a chance for guests to get close to the se­lected artists’ art­work – up to 25 per cent of BnA room prof­its go di­rectly to the artist. BnA is hop­ing its ap­proach will be able to sup­port more artists in the area and en­tice more vis­i­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal cul­ture. It re­cently be­gan a pub­lic mu­ral project with city fund­ing. ‘Kōenji is known for mu­sic, it’s known for artists, but it doesn’t have pub­lic art that rep­re­sents the cul­ture, and that’s what we’re try­ing to do,’ says Kiego. ‘Slowly but surely we’re turn­ing Kōenji into an art city.’

‘In most of Tokyo, peo­ple are CON­SER­VA­TIVE. Here, it’s DIF­FER­ENT. Any­thing goes, as long as you’re not harm­ing any­body… SLOWLY but surely we’re turn­ing Kōenji into an ART CITY’


The shop­ping streets of Koenji Sta­tion, BnA’s founders Yu Tazawa, Keigo Fuku­gaki, Kenji Daikoku and Yuto Maeda, and the hotel’s rooms

BnA hotel’s lobby (top) wel­comes any­one in for a drink; rooms fea­ture works by lo­cal artists; (right) one of the neigh­bour­hood’s vin­tage stores

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