An Introduction To Shimokitazawa
If you know Shimokitazawa, you know Shimokitazawa. Oftentimes, Tokyo is portrayed as a city of monotony that goes about life – and fashion – in a bland and suppressed style. But is that true? Lying just west of Shibuya, Shimokitazawa is situated in Kitazawa, in the district ward of Setagaya. The name is derived from the word for ‘bottom’ or ‘under’ (下 – ‘shita’) and the district name, Kitazawa.
Known predominantly for its hip style, vintage fashion and trend-setting abilities, Shimokitazawa is really one of those areas of Tokyo you just can’t miss during your trip to Japan! In this blog, let’s discover what the district has to offer from cafes and restaurants to shotengai and nightlife. Explore what makes this area so attractive, and how it attracts the newest trends and fashion ideas, all in this blog.
Because of its central position within the colossal sprawl of Tokyo, Shimokitazawa is actually a very easy district to access. If you’re actually staying in Shimokitazawa, it’s only an hour’s train ride from Haneda. If you’re coming for the day, access it via the Odakyu or Keio-Inokashira lines coming through Shinjuku or Shibuya – It’s only a 5 minute train ride! Now there’s really no excuse to not visit, it’s just too accessible!
Shimokitazawa is known as the ‘bohemian district’ of Tokyo, so what are its key features? Well, the most notable is probably the independent vintage fashion and thrift shops that dot almost every street. Because Shimokitazawa is known for its vintage fashion, there really is no better place to get the latest trendy, hip fashion in Tokyo.
Although it has been on the radar for a while as a growing area of Tokyo, the district has really seen growth in popularity over the past few years, so there hasn’t been a better time to visit as new events and shops are popping up left and right. This being said, it is far less busy than the bustling main areas of central Tokyo such as Shibuya, Asakusa and Harajuku. Thus, if you’re looking to experience the much busier areas but don’t want the packed streets, Shimokitazawa is the place to be.
Shimokitazawa is home to multiple museums and stunning gardens too, so you can book in advance if you want to make plans ahead of time. Some notable gardens include Soshigaya park and Setagaya park, both of which have free access areas. Both also include recreational areas with swimming pools and tennis courts, so you can even break a sweat. In terms of museums, there is the Setagaya Literary Museum, as well as the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature. There is even the Japanese Folk Art Museum, which may be interesting to look at before checking out the artistic nature of the district to see if you can make any connections.
If you are on a multiple week trip to Japan, Shimokitazawa really is a must-visit, and if you want to explore everything you should devote about a day to wandering the area. In fact, you may choose to spend the day here, then come back again later in your trip to explore some more, since all the intricate backstreets seem endless!
Not only is Shimokitazawa renowned for its fashion, it certainly doesn’t have a shortage of cafes and restaurants either! The district does not have a signature dish so to speak. Instead, it is better known for its unique, quirky and delicious snacks and treats.
Independent cafes bake up their unique goods on almost every street, so I won’t stop you from eating whatever catches your eye. However, here are some specific locations you may want to check out:
1. For some crispy and fluffy doughnuts, check out ‘Captain Donut’s’ store, which sells organic soy doughnuts that will leave you wishing you had another tray! This is a great example of a random store that has its own style, and it’s hard not to love it!
2. If you’re looking for something else sweet, there is no place better for a hearty crepe than Andrea Crepe’s store. Actually, the queue makes it all the way down the street, so these crepes are no joke! Enjoy picking from the topping options, and watch out for a whipped cream overload on top of it all!
3. Finally, here is a savoury option for those looking for a pre-dinner snack; Tenyama curry pan! These crunchy, oozing balls of breaded curry are the perfect treat after some thrifting or a walk through the gardens. There are three main options to choose from; original, cheese and egg. Enjoy!
Alongside these snack options, Shimokitazawa has no shortage of high quality, but also affordable dining options. One of the most common dishes in this area tends to be curry, so look out for the different types available. Options range from Indian curry and soup curries to katsu curry and noodle curry.
Other than the different restaurants you will find on every corner to choose from, I should also quickly make you aware of the many social spaces. ‘Shimokita cage’, which closed in 2019 as it was only a temporary pop-up, is a good example of such a space. During evening hours events, pop-ups and food stalls all create a bustling atmosphere in different parks and other spaces across the district. This means your meal option could be one of the many street vendors around such spaces.
I’ve said it so many times that by now you get the idea; Shimokitazawa is fashionable! However, there is actually very little to say regarding it. At the end of the day, you can only truly immerse yourself in the vintage and hip fashion once you are in the thick of it… Or perhaps even a part of it! While Shimokitazawa is very much a trend-setting, fashionable district, it is important to note that it takes on the more vintage side of things, and leaves the more modern fashion to areas such as Harajuku.
While you’re in the area, it really is the perfect opportunity to get your hands on classic, one-of-a-kind clothing pieces you can’t find anywhere else. The area is well known for its thrift shops, with the majority of clothing stores being independent thrift and used clothing stores.
The best way to go about your fashion hunt is simply by starting somewhere and walking randomly through the streets. This way, each street can reveal itself to you, including backstreets you may miss if you follow tourist intended routes or a map. Shimokitazawa tends to come alive in the later hours of the day, so if you stroll the streets around this time you’ll likely see the parade of bold fashionistas on every stretch of street – especially on weekends.
Finally, taking a look at the nightlife! Although the nightlife in Shimokitazawa isn’t as bustling and thrilling as it is in more mainstream districts such as Shinjuku and Roppongi, there is nothing boring about it! Because of the vintage feel to everything, the nightlife here feels comfortable and classic. There’s certainly no shortage of bars, izakaya and social spaces in which events, singers and vendors gather to enjoy late nights. Music and colourful lights are really the forefront of the nightlife in Shimokitazawa.
The key to enjoying the nightlife, just like every other aspect of this district, is really to explore without planning or researching beforehand. Often hidden, local-loved spaces can be found by just wandering through the area, which remains very safe even during the evenings. Once again, the theme you may notice is that most places are run by independent owners, which only amplifies the comfy vibe.
I hope this blog has served as a quick and informative guide to Shimokitazawa. Ultimately the best advice I can give for a district such as this is to just get there and explore! With little prior knowledge of the area it just feels more magical. Not only does it make it more interesting, it also means you’re more likely to discover hidden gems.
Can’t make it to Shimokitazawa right now? Here are some options for things you can do while you plan your trip:
1. Check out this blog on hidden gems in some other Tokyo wards:
2. Inspired by the fashion culture of Shimokitazawa? Explore what we have to offer right here on the Japan Nakama online store, perhaps starting with this vintage tee:
3. Alternatively, check out this video by Mikan to go on a virtual thrifting adventure:
Look out for an upcoming blog on a similar guide on the Tokyo neighbourhood of Nakameguro too!