Few neighborhoods in Tokyo boast as laid-back an atmosphere as Shimokitazawa. The trendy area is nearly equidistant from Shinjuku (six stops using the Odakyu Odawara train line) and Shibuya (four stops using the Keio Inokashira line). Coming from those ever-bustling streets, it can feel like a chill escape in one of the world’s busiest cities. Shimokitazawa is a center of Japan’s youth culture, and one of the best places to soak in the nation’s latest trends.
Part of this reputation stems from Shimokitazawa’s long history of being a hub for arts and culture in Tokyo. The narrow streets criss-crossing the station conceal a wide variety of concert venues and theaters, showcasing a mix of performers who could headline spots around the country and up-and-coming names working just under the radar. You can find plenty of performances almost every night — even walking around randomly and checking out the boards out front might lead you to an exciting show or stage drama. If nothing else, you’ll at least stumble across a great record shop selling the latest Japanese indie tunes or obscure foreign vinyl.
It also has become a destination for some of the best thrifting in the city, offering up affordable threads that often end up part of the most buzzed-about fashion in the country. As is to be expected for any neighborhood with this cool glow sprinkled over it, some of the clothes labelled as “secondhand” end up costing way more than new options. But for the most part, great deals abound in the neighborhood, with stores delivering an experience not far removed from the authentic experience you’d find in New York or Chicago.
After a long day of scoping out new music or old clothes, Shimokitazawa features a bunch of fantastic cafes and bars to unwind at. Whether you want a wood-panelled space to sip latte or a watering hole celebrating the bygone days of Japan’s Showa era (running form the late ‘20s to 1989), Shimokitazawa has you covered. It’s an ideal area to just take it easy for a few hours.
Ultimately, it’s Shimokitazawa’s eclectic offerings and the no-rush feeling present throughout the neighborhood that makes it such an inviting place to visit. And that’s exactly why it’s one of Tokyo’s hotbeds for youth culture — it offers space for an easy-breezy lifestyle promoting creative culture, the type you’d normally expect from hip destinations such as Portland.
CATCH A SHOW
Shimokitazawa packs a large amount of live music venues into one corner of Tokyo, and has long been the space to bands on the verge of becoming mainstream fixtures before they break. Live houses such as Shimokitazawa Shelter and Shimokitazawa ERA — along with Fever, technically right across the street from neighboring Shindaita Station (Keio Inokashiara line) but a relatively straightforward (and pleasant) 15 minute walk from Shimokitazawa — offer intimate environments often attracting realtively well-known Japanese groups (and foreign ones). For those interstined in finding the next big thing, head to subterranean spots such as Garage and Shimokitazawa Three, which house underground sounds in places featuring a grittier edge than most live spots in the city.
RECORD AFTER RECORD
Alongside Shibuya and Ochanomizu, Shimokitazawa is one of Tokyo’s primo destinations for record stores. Seeing as the neighborhood serves as one of Japan’s hotbeds for new music, several stores specialize in selling new releases primarily from domestic performers. The go-to spot for all genres is Jet Set Records, a long-running store selling a mix of CDs, cassette tapes and records. They sell the latest vinyl releases from Western acts, but the attraction is all of the Japanese music that you might only be able to find there — you could lose a huge chunk of your day just checking out the albums loaded up on the preveiw station. For those specifically seeking out hip-hop, Jazzy Sport Shimokitazawa is the shop for you.
A couple of the Jazzy Sport guys posed for our cameras
Those seeking out rarer releases, Japanese and otherwise, will find plenty of places to dig. A branch of Disc Union can be found about seven minutes away from the station, and boasts a nice mix of domestic and foreign vinyl. Even better is Flash Disc Ranch, one of the most revered stores for obscure and rare records, especially from outside Japan. It’s a favorite of musicians, collectors and other record store owners, and if you show up on the weekend you’ll see a line of people waiting to sift through the latest acquisitions.
OLD BECOMES NEW: THRIFT SHOPS
There’s a lot of music stores in Shimokitazawa, but there are even more thirft stores stocking up a huge amount of clothes from all over the world. It’s a fantastic part of Tokyo to find stylish — but affordable! — clothes, and is often where the fashionable kids of the capital go to find new duds to try out. New York Joe Exchange offers one of the biggest spaces in the area, and within that space you can find racks on racks of recycled clothes for both men and women. Flamingo Shimokitazawa, meanwhile, imports the bulk of its offerings from the U.S., making it a great destination for those seeking out vintage American clothes for prices lower than you’d expect from the States. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, you can find Chicago, which has numerous spots all around the city…but what makes it stand out in the neighborhood is the used traditional Japanese clothes (such as kimono) available to customers.
HAVE A DRINK
Owing to its heavy artistic community, Shimokitazawa has dozens upon dozens of great cafes to grab a coffee at…or spend the day working away on your laptop. Tag Cafe offers one of the coziest spaces in the area to enjoy some coffee, with a pleasant soundtrack and power outlets at every seat. Ballon D’essai, meanwhile, serves up one of the tastiest lattes in the city, complete with Instagram-ready designs on top. Kate Coffee, meanwhile, offers a peaceful setting and tasty baked goods to compliment your drink.
Things only get better at night with Shimokitazawa’s bar scene. Trouble Peach matches the neighborhoods musical vibe perfectly, the whole space surrounded by cabinets packed tight with rock records that offer a great sonic atmosphere while enjoying a drink. Marusan Dressroom, a minute from the station, offers a taste of the decadent Showa days in Japan, with fancy drinks in a luxurious room featuring chandeliers. Last, for a bit of tropical escape, hit up 808 Lounge, a tiki-bar-esque spot mixing up tasty drinks in a room filled with beach-ready decor.