Though only a two-minute train ride separates koenji’s subcultural melting-pot from asagaya, this is a more sophisticated, higher-end residential area whose typical soundtrack is jazz rather than punk rock or noise music (the local jazz street festival livens up its small venues and backstreets every year on the last weekend of october). The district is also known for its literary connections, as dazai osamu, yosano akiko, ibuse masuji and other famous writers called it home following the 1923 great kanto earthquake. However, even a place with so many highbrow connections can hardly escape a pervasive otaku and pop cultural presence. For instance, an increasing number of manga, anime, and manga-based live-action movies and tv dramas have been set in the district, including the two ring j-horror films, the hugely popular death note franchise and, more recently, the aquarion logos anime series.
On the other side, though for many years Suginamiku has been a hot bed of anime creativity, in the last few years the area has lost part of its appeal as other prefectures have lured production companies away from Tokyo with tax cuts and other benefits. In order to reaffirm the district’s connection with both otaku fans and creators, in 2014 a 120-meter-long stretch under the JR rail tracks was turned into a shopping area, Asagaya Anime Street (AAS), which is particularly good news for dedicated fans for nearly all the local otaku stores and cafes are now concentrated in one area. To reach AAS, take the station’s South Exit. Just in front, you can see the roofed entrance to a covered shopping street. That’s the Pearl Center. This 650-meter-long arcade appears in Aquarion Logos but it’s particularly famous because every August it becomes the crowded, messy, colorful center of the Asagaya Tanabata Festival. First celebrated in 1954, this is but one of many Tanabata festivals that are held around Japan in summer, but this particular location is worth checking out because besides the usual streamers and lanterns, it features big papier-mâché anime and manga characters hanging from the roof of the arcade.
But we are here to visit AAS. From the station, cross the street on the left and follow the narrow passage along the rail tracks for about 250 meters. Take the second left and you’ll see the AAS logo. More than a street, AAS is a long (and rather dark) corridor directly under the Chuo Line. This is a family-friendly place, so you won’t find any kind of adult content here. As we enter AAS, we find the GoFa Labo, a cafe-cum-gallery by the same people who run the Gallery of Fantastic Art in Shibuya, and a small space with 16 Bandai gachapon machines. Next there are two cosplay shops, Cosmania and Copin, the latter one being a specialized store for girls impersonating male anime characters. On the left side, after Cosmania we find two anime goods shops, Pikatto Anime and Asagaya Camp. The camp is manned by Momochi Minami, a very friendly “animetic” idol/anison DJ/MC who always covers her face with an anime mask. On the right side there are two cafes, Baroque Café and Shirobaco. Baroque’s main feature is the home theater in the back where you can watch anime movies on a giant projector screen while sitting on special surround-sound seats. Shirobaco has an all-white interior and its floor and kitchen staff are aspiring voice actors who take turns performing on a mini stage in front of the customers. They also have other anime-related live events and a small exhibition space. All in all, AAS is an interesting place to explore. Probably not a must-see destination, but you may combine it with a visit to Koenji’s toy shops.
If, instead of these cafes, you prefer something stronger, go back to the station, turn right at McDonald’s, under the railway bridge, then go left and take the Star Road (スターロード) on the right of the bus terminal. Follow this backstreet until you see the sign for 44 Sonic. This is another small bar where people can watch anime, sing their favorite anime songs, and share their love for manga, idols and tokusatsu movies. Seat charge is 800 yen. Food and booze from 500 yen.