These stairs draw a lot of stares.

When he’s not testing out tiny hats or giant enter keys, our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma is a fast-paced wheeler and dealer, often doing business all over Tokyo. He’s also perpetually early for meetings which affords him extra time to explore the secrets that the urban jungle of Tokyo has to offer.

Such was the case the other day, when he arrived in the Koenji area of Suginami, Tokyo. Unfamiliar with this area but having a fair bit of time to kill, he called a friend who knew Keonji and asked where an interesting place might be. The friend replied that the Za-Koenji Public Theatre was worth checking out, but not for its shows.

In addition to being only a five-minute walk from Koenji Station, this theatre boasts a staircase that, according to Masanuki’s friend, is quite interesting. They also serve a daily lunch special from a rotating lineup of local restaurants, which promised to be a nice bonus to the purportedly cool stairs so our writer started walking.

After heading along the tracks for about five minutes, he came across the tent-like structure. It was designed by famed Japanese architect Toyo Ito and opened in 2009. It was a somewhat small theatre suited for local contemporary performing arts but also with a special hall dedicated to the Koenji form of the traditional Japanese dance Awa Odori.

Most people probably don’t think of theatres as places you can just pop into without tickets or a plan to see something, but everyone is quite welcome to waltz into Za-Koenji Public Theatre, which certainly lives up to the “Public” part of its name.

Masanuki walked into the theatre and it took all of two seconds for him to spot the stairs he was told about.

The outside of the theatre had a bit of a dark and imposing feeling, but the inside was very bright and spacious. And adding a lot to the overall brightness was the large spiral staircase completely studded with circular light fixtures.

It wasn’t just the landing either–the entire staircase was committed to the polka-dot theme. Masanuki was also glad that his friend didn’t mention the lights beforehand, because “a bunch of polka-dot lights” doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as the actual experience is.

As he continued up he felt like walking through a bizarre circus bigtop or a time machine from a 1960s sci-fi series.

▼ Masanuki: “Ahhhhh…”

And before he even noticed it, Masanuki had already gone up several floors. He figured even people who hate taking the stairs would probably find themselves drawn to go up these ones.

It was a really effective use of a very simple design that created an awe-inspiring atmosphere for our writer. And as luck would have it, his destination was on the second floor, which meant he had to walk back down.

▼ Masanuki: “Ooooh…”

On the second floor was Cafe Henri Fabre. There were already a bunch of locals eating lunch in a space that was both elegant and family-friendly, with a collection of 250 picture books free to use.

On the day Masanuki visited, local Vietnamese xôi (steamed glutinous rice known as “okowa” in Japanese) restaurant Tsubame Okowa was serving lunch. He ordered a Char Siu Xôi set for 1,200 yen (US$9.15).

The Vietnamese style of cooking rice was especially delectable, with a warm and springy texture that perfectly complemented the firm and tender pork whose umami spread throughout his mouth with each bite.

The side of coriander soup was also rich and excellent.

Tsubame Okowa mans the kitchen at Cafe Henri Fabre every Tuesday, so if you’re interested in this kind of food, be sure to swing by on that day. But whatever day you go, the staircase is always there and free to use as much as you want.

And for those feeling extra adventurous, you might even want to see a show at this theater if you can tear yourself away from its stairs.

Theater Information
Za-Koenji Public Theatre / 座・高円寺
Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Koenjikita 2-1-2
Cafe Henri Fabre is located on the 2nd floor and open from 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Source: Masanuki’s Friend
Photos © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]