A little tucked away from the hustle and bustle of more well-known districts such as Shibuya and Shinjuku is Shimokitazawa. A former farming village that turned first into a dense residential area, and later into a thriving arts and music community.
It has been described as bohemian, hippie, artsy, indie, and in recent times, hipster; Shimokitazawa is all of these things.
Within just a few minutes train ride form Shibuya and Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa has become popular as a unique neighborhood. Here you'll find pedestrian-friendly roads and a look that's messy, but attentive to detail. Shimokita, as the locals call it, has somehow escaped from the lure of the many chain stores that are making Tokyo's other districts look more and more alike, and has become a gathering spot for creative people of all kind. Its inhabitants always keep it fresh with alternative shops and avant-garde ideas.
For those who are visiting Shimokitazawa for the first time, here is an overview of what you can find in this beautiful neighborhood, and what Shimokitazawa is mostly popular for.
If It's Used, It's Shimokita
One of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Shimokitazawa is the abundance of second-hand and vintage stores of all kind, especially clothing.
Shops like Stick Out, which stocks an impressively well kept variety of used clothing all for 700 yen, will satisfy your thrifty desires and make your wallet happy at the same time! Sale racks with garments sold for as cheap as 100 yen are also a common find among the many other shops of the neighborhood.
You can also find used book stores and a few shops that sell a bit of everything, from flowery tea sets to dusty pieces of old furniture. More often than not these shops will have that improvised look so typical of Shimokitazawa, just like someone opened up shop in their garage.
Scattered and hidden within Shimokitazawa's streets are also many places of wonder for the used record lovers. Japanese and foreign music, old and new, the famous and the underground; they have them all.
Perhaps the most popular of these shops is Flash Disc Ranch, which specializes in 60's and 70's western music. The owner, Tsubaki-san, is always happy to provide his Japanese and foreign clients with information about music and live venues.
Tsubaki-san, owner of Flash Disc Ranch, at his counter surrounded by presents from his clients.
Shops You Can Find Only in Shimokitazawa
In a city that is quickly filling with chain stores, the boldly unique establishments of Shimokitazawa are a breath of fresh air. This artsy, industrial looking yet cozy bookstore, for example, comes with an interesting twist.
The name of the shop is B&B, which stands for "Book and Beer". Here you are allowed to meander through the bookshelves while sipping a refreshing draft beer, served to you by the bookstore's friendly staff for 500 yen.
To testify Shimokitazawa's affection for the genuine and the unique, there are also a variety of shops and markets that offer organic and locally grown food.
A Must Go Place for Coffee Lovers
No other place in Tokyo has such a high concentration of original coffee shops. Tiny, hip and often standing-only, they are all competing to serve the highest quality brew in town.
At Ballon d'Essai, your caffè latte (390 yen) comes with an original art skillfully made for you by the barista. I hated myself for ruining her beautiful work when I drank it, but I must admit it was worth it; the coffee was amazing.
Foodies Beware! Too Much Delicious
As if it wasn't already enough, Shimokitazawa also hosts all kind of excellent restaurants. Traditional Japanese, European, American, Asian and fusion, there's food for all tastes and budgets.
The many ramen eateries in the area have gained Shimokitazawa a reputation as one of Tokyo's ramen hubs, and the combination of cheap and delicious is abundant. At Torisoba Soruto, for example, you can fill your stomach for 650 yen with a bowl of savory noodles served in a chicken and salt broth.
Western style sweets and desserts are almost an obsession in the capital of Japan. Shimokitazawa's never-subsiding pancake craze is kept alive by places like Flipper's. With its trademark fluffy pancakes, it is always guaranteed to have a small crowd of people waiting in line outside.
Speaking of western sweets, Harajuku might be the mecca of fancy crepe shops but I seriously doubt that you could find a place like Andrea anywhere else. This unconventional crepe shop consists of a little window overlooking one of the less busy streets, heavily decorated with shiny things, pictures and Disney figures, with a little pink TV screen playing old Mickey Mouse cartoons. The shop is takeout only and it stays open until late at night. Patrons are encouraged to choose their own topping combinations.
Matcha crepe with blueberry jam, cream cheese and whipped cream (400 yen).
Be warned: the sweet lady running Andrea is quite generous with whipped cream. The original matcha crepe is a must try!
Shimokita doesn't envy any other district. Not even when it comes to the night life. In the late hours, the southern part of the district awakens with lights and music, and a great variety of bars, pubs and izakaya will entertain you until the break of dawn. There are also a number of livehouses in the area.
808LOUNGE is one among the many gems of Shimokita's night life. Right by the station, yet tucked away in an alley away from the busy roads, this Hawaiian style bar is one of the coziest places I know in the area.
A jar of Mojito (870 yen) filled to the brim with fresh mint
Although the interior is always filled with interesting objects and plants, the real attraction here is Uno-san, the owner. Aside from making the most amazing mojito I have ever had (he grows his own mint plants), he often experiments with strange ingredients and creates intriguing concoctions such as kombu (seaweed) vodka, garlic-flavored Coca-Cola and smoked Jameson. Ask him about his ginger syrup, which he makes himself and uses in the creation of absolutely delicious cocktails.
If you are an outside type of person, I recommend you check out the Shimokitazawa Cage. Set up underneath the elevated train tracks next to the food stall and restaurant Long Vá Quán, this pop-up event space is set to run until 2019. A big cage-like structure of 200 square meters is devoted as 'public space, night market and theatre'. This is a great place to hang out and enjoy delicious food and drinks in the open air, while being entertained by one of the many events that are held here every month.
Inside Shimokitazawa Cage
How to Get There
Shimokitazawa station is served by both the Odakyu Line (from Shinjuku) and the Keio Inokashira Line (from Shibuya).
Shimokitazawa is a truly special experience. Whether for the shopping, the food, or the nightlife, I am sure you will enjoy uncovering the secrets of this alternative neighborhood!
（Written by Laura/DiGJAPAN!)