The Koenji Market is a lively monthly affair where growers and producers from Ibaraki, Fukushima and Saitama prefectures join a number of local food craftsmen and women the third Saturday of each month. Held in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theater, it is a tasty, year-round event where locals gather, shop and eat.
“We wanted to give farmers a chance to tell and share stories,” says Yosuke Sasabe, the market manager, which is appropriate given the venue. Za-Koenji Public Theater is home to the area’s dance troupe and the annual Bon-odori Festival that attracts thousands of visitors and features contemporary plays by some of Japan’s most-cutting-edge playwrights. The market, which celebrates its tenth anniversary next year, is part of the organization’s goal to be a community as well as cultural hub.
Atsuhisa Emori comes each month from Saitama with heirloom varieties of potatoes, edamame, and other seasonal vegetables along with blueberries. Executive manager of Nihon Taberu, a journal that aims to connect urban and rural residents through story, Emori started Imakoko, his urban farm, about ten years ago. “I had a garden, knew some farmers, and decided to get started,” he said with a smile as customers swirled about the table.
Nagahiro Akiyama and Takahito Takahashi come about every three months to the Koenji Market from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture. Crates full of sun-warmed tomatoes, green cucumbers, and fresh onions sit alongside garlic, edamame, and melon. Okahijiki, a salad green, is nearly as popular as the freshly grilled sticks of chicken and onion they whip up in between produce customers.
Nearby, the line for Koji Harada’s beautiful breads snakes between the line of stalls. Dense loaves of walnut, raisin walnut, fig and rich sesame are laid out along with twists of bacon and handmade bagels to name but a few. Harada runs Panificio, a nearby bar-café and has been working his magic with flour and yeast for about 14 years.
Next to Harada, Yuka Inoue of Hadashi Spice beams behind her display of whole and powdered spices. Barefoot like the name of her business, she shares recipes and instructions for making the best curry or a tailor-made chai. The Koenji Market is one of a handful of local spots, including the Kichijoji Asaichi, where she can be found.
Around the corner, Kyoko Kojima’s table features her creative pastry concoctions. “I worked at a candy store for years,” Kojima says, “and then branched out on my own seven years ago.” Muffins, fig jam, macaroons, and coconut-banana cake are ready for nibbling, but it is her three pepper cookies that steal the show. Pink, white and black peppercorns spice up a heady butter cookie for a treat and like the market, is not to be missed.
Koenji, Tokyo (4-minute walk from Koenji Station)
Third Saturday of every month
11 a.m.- 6 p.m.