Laid-back, trendy Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, is set to become even more of a go-to destination this year thanks to a new five-storey shopping complex below the train station.
Tokyo’s bohemian Shimokitazawa may not be as famous as the nearby district of Shibuya, but it is becoming an increasingly popular area for hip Japanese young people, students, and international visitors. With vintage shops, quirky cafes and restaurants, and a thriving literary, music, and independent arts scene, Shimokitazawa is a hidden gem where more and more of Japan’s cool younger crowd are gravitating. This year, the area is set to become even more of a go-to destination thanks to the addition of a five-storey restaurant and shopping complex under the elevated tracks of Shimokitazawa Station. In this guide, we’ll give you the lowdown on this new development as well as our recommendations for the best things to see and do in Shimokitazawa and how to get there with the JR Pass. All aboard for a trip into Bohemian Tokyo - first stop Shimokitazawa.
A Brief History of Shimokitazawa
Prior to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1921, Shimokitazawa in Setagaya, Tokyo, was historically a farming district, but after the farmers left for more rural climes, it became mainly a residential area. In the aftermath of World War II, the district’s shops took on a new life as a bustling second-hand market for US soldiers. This entrepreneurial, second-hand spirit remains today (as well as some of the old market buildings) in Shimokitazawa’s thriving vintage clothing and independent shopping scene today. It was during the 1970s however that the district took on the personality that it is now known for - thanks in part to that decade’s hippy youth who migrated to Shimokitazawa and helped transform it into the hipster heaven that it is today. Shimokitazawa, which is also known colloquially as Shimokita, is famous for its narrow, criss-crossing alleyways filled with vintage shops, cafes, music venues, independent cinemas and theatres. Its close-knit, laid-back, community feel makes it unique among Japan’s many districts and well worth a visit.
New for 2022: Mikan Shimokita
Mikan Shimokita is a new five-storey complex that will sit beneath Shimokitazawa Station. Beneath the elevated train tracks, you’ll find the entrance to the new space, which will house 19 new shops and restaurants as well as co-working space. Among the many places to eat will be Shimokita Rokkaku, which will offer traditional izakaya dishes served with sake (Japanese rice wine). An izakaya is the Japanese equivalent of a gastropub and we highly recommend that every visitor to Japan should eat there at least once if they have the chance. Izakaya are not just a restaurant, and they are not just a bar, but food and drink are equally important to the experience of dining there. They are also lively establishments where friends and co-workers go for drinks and food after work. For more information, read our guide to Why You Should Visit an Izakaya Restaurant While In Japan.
Shimokita Rokkaku izakaya will be run by the owners of the successful Comura bar in Sangenjaya and looks set to be a great place to eat and drink while visiting the Shimokitazawa area. Alongside restaurants, there will also be numerous shops including a Tsutaya bookstore for literature lovers and fiction fans. Japan has a long history of authors, past and present, and you can find out more in our guides to Famous Japanese Authors or by reading our Literary Tour of Japan. Clearly, the opening of Mikan Shimokita, is going to make the area of Shimokitazawa even more of a must-visit destination in 2022 and beyond.
Things To Do In Shimokitazawa
Shimokitazawa has been a popular area for many years now even before the opening of the new complex thanks to its bohemian, village-like atmosphere. Let’s take a look at our recommendations for the top things to see and do while you're there. We’ve left Mikan Shimokita off the list for now since we’ve already covered it above:
1.) Discover ‘Shimokita Style’
You’ve heard of Harajuku style. Get ready for Shimokita style. More than just a hip and cutesy fashion trend, ‘Shimokita Style’ is a laid-back philosophy and atmosphere with an emphasis on reusing and recycling everything from clothing to antiques. It dates back to the black markets that used to exist here after the Second World War and was happily absorbed into the hippy subculture of the 1970s. Today, the community in Shimokita seeks to protect and preserve this unique style. Try visiting places like Toyo Department Store - a market within an old beer garage - where you’ll find unique bargains galore that you’d never find in a mainstream shopping mall. Of course, ‘Shimokita Style’ is not just about markets, it’s about a slower pace of life; it’s about exploring the labyrinthine alleyways at your own pace; it’s about enjoying a coffee and reading a book in a cafe like you’re part of the community. Most of all, it’s about taking a page out of this bohemian area’s particular brand of cool.
2.) Vintage Shops
Shimokitazawa is famous for its vintage shops. Apparently almost half of all clothes shops in the area are second-hand. If you love rummaging through the shelves to find one-off, original items from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, then Shimokita’s vintage shops will be like paradise. Popular used clothing shops include Big Time, Mode Off, Wego, New York Joe Exchange, Stick Out, Flamingo, Soma, Haight and Ashbury, and more. It’s not just clothes either. For antiques, accessories, souvenirs, and a wide range of other goods, be sure to check out well-known vintage shops such as Antique Life Jin, Tokyo Retro a.m.a. and Chicago.
3.) Books, Art, Music, Culture
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its popularity with young people, Shimokitazawa has a thriving arts and music scene. Remarkably, in 2021 it was estimated that 8% of all the music clubs in Tokyo were in Shimokitazawa. That’s a huge amount in one small area and reflects the tastes of the young Shimokita residents and hip visitors it attracts. As such, it is one of the best places to go for live music in all of Tokyo. You’ll also find a number of record stores among the vintage shops such as the well-known Flash Disc Ranch. Similarly, the area is equally famous for its alternative theatre and literary culture. Shimokita is home to the historic Honda Gekijo theatre with festivals throughout the year. The Suzanari - an iconic theatre venue owned by the Honda Gekijo group - is also located in the area. Cinema is also well represented. Shimokitazawa Tollywood is an indie cinema dedicated to independent films from around the world. The area is also home to a retro cinema themed bar called Kinema Club. Art and literature lovers will also find much to enjoy in Shimokita. You’ll find contemporary art at Gallery Hana and books at the likes of Village Vanguard and The Darwin Room - a unique and quirky art, alternative culture, and bookshop that features taxidermy and insect displays and has its own coffee shop. For something more traditional there’s also B&B Bookstore which stands for books and beers as you can buy drinks and books - a great idea!
4.) Parks, Temples, and Shrines
When you need a break from shopping and contemporary culture, what better way to clear your mind than the serenity of the area’s green spaces and parks or by visiting Shimokita’s traditional temples and shrines. These include the 400-year-old Shinganji Temple and the 500-year-old Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine. Meanwhile, for a little greenery try Roka Koshun-en Gardens, Soshigaya Park, Setagaya Park, and Hanegi Park, which are all in the vicinity.
5.) Enjoy the Cafe Culture and Food Scene
You’ll find quirky cafes along every charming alleyway in Shimokita. You’ll be spoilt for choice whether you’re on the lookout for a great place to eat or somewhere to enjoy a coffee or tea. In terms of coffee, be sure to check out the famously good Bookends Coffee Service, while for something quirkier there’s an official Studio Ghibli cafe called Tolo Coffee and Bakery. When it comes to food, don’t miss out on Tamaiya - a shop specialising in senbei rice crackers since 1952 - or Mixture Bakery & Cafe to enjoy the best Japanese style bread and cakes. Interestingly, Shimokitazawa is also known as the ‘town of curry’ and is said to be one of the best places in Tokyo for a Japanese-style curry. Try Rojiura Curry Samurai near the train station or the ‘soup curry’ at Ponipiraca restaurant for instance. There are also several excellent izakaya in the area (a style of a bar-restaurant we explained above) such as Shirube in Shimokita. Japan is, of course, a well-known paradise for food lovers. For more on this subject, read our Beginners Guide to Japanese Food and Regional Dishes.
How to travel to Shimokitazawa
Shimokitazawa can be found to the west of Shibuya. You’ll find Shimokitazawa on the Odakyu Line and Keio-Inokashira Line. Shimokitazawa Station is just seven minutes from Shinjuku Station - the world’s biggest and busiest train station - via the Odakyu line. From Tokyo station, first take the JR Chuo Line Rapid before getting on the Odakyu line to Shinjuku.
Top tip: you’ll want to invest in a prepaid travel card such as an ICOCA, PASMO or Suica card for Tokyo’s public transport, as well as a JRailPass for getting around the rest of Japan. Check out our Top 30 Tips for Using Japan’s Metros for advice and guidance on using the city’s subway network.
Shimokitazawa is just one of Tokyo’s many hip districts. If you’re looking to discover the coolest parts of this incredible city, check out our other guides below:
- Shinjuku - this vibrant area of Tokyo is famous for its entertainment, shopping, business, nightlife, and having the world’s busiest railway station.
- Harajuku - The quirky capital of contemporary Japan, Harajuku is world-famous for its teenage street fashion, cute ‘kawaii’ style food and shopping, cosplay culture.
- Akihabara - Known as Electric Town and sometimes shortened to Akiba, the area of Akihabara is famous for the many electronic and Otaku culture, manga, anime, and computer game shops and arcades. It is one of the centres of contemporary Japanese culture.
- Asakusa - Built on the banks of the Sumida river, Asakusa offers a taste of old Tokyo from small craft stores and authentic restaurants to the ancient Sensō-ji temple.
- Odaiba - One of the most modern parts of Tokyo, Odaiba is built on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay. Odaiba is a high-tech entertainment area, combining leisure with entertainment and plenty of shopping.
- Shin-Okubo - Tokyo’s Korea town is a lesser known area but is full of great restaurants and quirky shops.
- Ueno - A well-known leisure spot in Tokyo for locals and tourists alike, Ueno offers a wide variety of things to do, from shopping to street food, traditional temples to some of the best museums in Tokyo. There’s also Ueno park, which is delightful to visit year round and a popular spot for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in the Sakura period.
- Omotesando - Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue, Omotesando is a tree-lined avenue located between Shibuya and Harajuku, and best known for luxury goods stores and high quality products.
Amazingly, the list above is just a small selection of the many must-see districts and amazing places to visit in Tokyo. It is truly a city where you’ll never run out of things to do.