Being the most populous metropolitan area in the history of the world has both advantages and disadvantages. Tokyo has a spaghetti network of criss-crossing trains and subways that cover nearly every square metre of the city. And it is a great convenience. However, step into one during a rush hour commute and after a few hands in your face or crotch (or unintentionally finding yours in someone else’s) you’ll quickly recognize it could use another plate of noodles, at least.
Of course, with all these people some of them are bound to be nice, interesting, talented or otherwise not just another elbow in your face. So today I add a new category to Koenjagaya — people. Because after all, that’s what neighbourhoods are really about. Koenjagaya has been home to more than its fair share of notable residents — Akiko Yosano, Masuji Ibuse, Osamu Dazai and Toshiaki Kasuga (whose apartment is across the street from me) to name but a few.
But first up is someone perhaps comparatively lesser known to Westerners, poet and novelist Shoichi Nejime. Koenjagayans don’t come more bona fide than Nejime. He not only wrote the novel Koenji Junjo Shotengai (高円寺 純情商店街 or Koenji Pure Heart Shopping Street), for which he won the Naoki Prize, he is also proprietor of one of my favorite gift/craft shops, the eponymous Nejime (ねじめ) in Asagaya.
Nejime was born and raised in Koenji. His father was the owner of a dried goods shop on Junjo Shotengai — just across from Koenji Station’s north exit. As a young student, to his father’s chagrin (or confusion), Nejime wrote about life in his father’s shop. This would, of course, culminate in his award-winning novel on shotengai life. His father retired from the dried goods life in 1966 and, with his love for antiques and crafts, opened Nejime Folk Art Store (Nejime Mingeiya or ねじめ民芸店) in its place.
However, as Tokyo City Governments love to do, there was a push for the gentrification and “cleaning up” of Junjo Shotengai and Nejime was evicted. Perhaps a developer wanted to raze some buildings and raise some rents. (The culture-sanitizing development of Koenji and other neighbourhoods unfortunately continues to this day.) As a result of this, they moved to their current location in Asagaya’s Pearl Shotengai in 1972.
Nearing 45 years later, Nejime continue to sell Japanese board games (sugoroku), card games (karuta), kites, and a great variety of traditional Japanese souvenirs (omiyage). And, like their Small German Village neighbour a few shops up the way, they also sell seasonal goods.
With a wonderful selection of goods and helpful staff (Nejime, his wife and others), if you are looking for something “Japanese” to send or take back overseas, Nejime is the perfect place to start.
Tel: (03) 3312-9408
11:00 to 20:00
Twitter: none found