Step into Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhood and explore the bohemian streets of Shimokitazawa: home to vintage clothing, great coffee and Japanese theater.
Local favorite of the cool kids in the city, Shimokitazawa is a laid-back hub of activity just 5 minutes by train from Shibuya. Once a farming area, it became a safe haven for people looking to leave the city after the great Kanto earthquake in 1921 and was spared any damage during the WWII air raids. It was turned into an American marketplace shortly after and soon became a home to the hippies of the 70s and subsequently the hipsters of today. With narrow streets dissuading drivers, the area has a relaxed pedestrian feel, with plenty of great spots for people watching and the opportunity to stroll to your heart’s content.
The station divides the small area into a North and South side, with the former offering a more sophisticated-yet-edgy style and the south more of a lively atmosphere. Aside from exploring the back alleys for street art and exploring the nightlife, there are plenty of things to keep you occupied in the area. If you’re looking for an alternative afternoon out of the city, look no further: here are 10 free and cheap things to do in Shimokitazawa—your new favorite neighborhood.
1. Hang out at Shimokitazawa Cage
A temporary site located under the railway tracks, Shimokitazawa Cage is an event space home to a variety of treats like night markets, art exhibitions and food stalls. Set to be open for three years, it is part of the Keio Bridge Shimokoitazawa Project and is a free hang-out space during the day, with indoor and outdoor areas. Perfect for grabbing a coffee and reading or meeting friends, it becomes a lively set during the evening. Often rented out for events, you never know what you’ll find—the next few weeks for example include a record fair, music events and more. There are regular day and night markets held here too, which are great to visit for unusual souvenirs and treats. Check out the schedule to see what’s on!
2. Sort through the vintage clothes
Shimokitazawa never shook off its market days and you can easily lose yourself in the aisles of vintage clothing that comes at a surprisingly reasonable price (sometimes). There’s a good range of secondhand, bric-a-brac and retro with a good combination of both Western imports and Japanese clothing brands too. Head to Ragla Magla for everything from jackets to flannels for ¥990, as well as interesting decor and business cards printed on old Valentine’s Day cards. You can also try out Stick Out clothing store where everything is ¥700. For general browsing and rummaging try Chigaco or Ocean Blvd—and for men head to Flamingo for more options.
3. Enjoy a 500-yen pizza
The one-coin pizza trend is a cheapo godsend, with freshly baked Italian treats served up piping hot in minutes. While they may be a tad light on the toppings, you can’t really fault the smell of warm dough and the low, low price of 500 yen. There are a few options to choose from, with Don Pizza (pictured above) offering Neapolitan-style pizzas and a particularly decent 800-yen lunch set. You can also head to Cona for a more restaurant feel that also comes with a seating charge, but good if you’re after a more sit-down affair.
4. Catch some live music
Famed for its live houses, there’s always something going on once darkness falls in Shimokitazawa, and there’s no excuse not to get involved. While some spots can be expensive (starting at ¥8,000 a ticket), there are plenty of affordable ones too—although not so much with the free entertainment.
Head to Garage for music nights starting from ¥1,000 and an assortment of bands and DJs from across Japan. Shelter’s entry prices start from ¥2,000 and hosts a good mix of performers—advance tickets are available at Lawson. Club 251 is a scruffy favorite with shows starting at around ¥2,000. Fever is another popular low-cost spot, with entry prices starting around the ¥2,500 mark but with an additional 600-yen drink purchase required.
5. Grab a coffee and people watch
With so many hipsters and hippies, Shimokitazawa is a great place for people watching, with every style under the sun represented. If you are interested in the ever-changing but constantly chic styles of Tokyo, this is a perfect place to see them—with enough alternative looks to write a book about.
Coffee-wise you are also spoiled for choice, with plenty of 3rd-wave places popping up and prices as low as ¥180. For good latte art, an even better flat white and decent prices head to Ballon D’essai, which has a small balcony area and free art displays. The ever-popular Bear Pond Cafe has some good coffee but strict rules: no photos and there are only 30 espressos available a day. Bookends Coffee Service has a chilled-out feel with records playing in the background—take-out prices start at ¥180 and you can stay in for ¥200.
6. Browse some records
It’s no secret that records have made a come-back, and as one of the top-5 must haves of the hipster, there are plenty of places to find them in Shimo. Since it is home to Tokyo’s indie music scene, the area is invested in music in all shapes and sizes, so there are plenty of places to browse. Flash Disc Ranch is easy to spot as you can step through the monster’s mouth and up the stairs to this mecca of records, with prices starting at ¥300. The Shimokitazawa branch of Disc Union starts things off at ¥400 and has a decent selection across a wide range of genres. For those on the hunt for the more unusual sounds, Disc Shop Zero has a focus on rare underground vinyl, from both Japan and beyond and Otonomad is a stylish-till-it-hurts shop styled like a bookshop (above). Have a look at our full article for more ideas!
7. Delve into the Drinking Dens
Unsurprisingly, Shimo has plenty of trendy bars and unusual drinking haunts, including its own mini-strip of tiny golden-gai-esque bars and shops. Luckily, we have a whole video taking you on a tour of some of the best bars – including converted theater the Suzunari which now houses a mix of bars and Mother’s Ruin, the oldest rock bar in Shimokitazawa.
8. Try out some Japanese Theater
Former actor Kazuo Honda built a collection of small theaters around the town in the early 80s called the Honda Gekijo Complex and the area still has a buzzing Japanese scene. With plenty of budding university students nearby and often used as a trendy location in films and TV shows, the area had developed a name for itself in the drama community.
Possibly the most famous place to see the stage is the Honda Theater, which can be found next to the Village Vanguard store, with several other theaters nearby including Off Off Theater, Rakuen, Theater 711, and Tollywood—a movie theater specializing in experimental shorts. Shows are regular but mainly in Japanese, so you may have to do some internal storyline-guessing as you watch.
9. Stroll Through the Streets to Totoro Treats
Although it isn’t in the immediate area, getting to Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory requires a pleasant and peaceful stroll through the quieter backstreets of the area. Apparently run by the cousin of Totoro’s creator Miyazaki, the cafe serves up adorable Totoro cream puffs in a variety of flavors. On a quiet corner surrounded by cute decorations and welcoming signs, you’ll find the bakery on the ground floor with a surprisingly cheapo-friendly cafe upstairs offering homemade pasta lunch sets.
10. Catch a comedy show
Local landmark Good Heavens British Bar is host a great range of events throughout the week, with everything from cinema screenings to comedy shows to science nights. Although events usually have a cover charge, they include a drink and a great night of entertainment, so you can’t really complain. Events like Perfect Liars Club and That’s What She Said are cheapo faves and there are weekly comedy shows on Wednesdays with one-off charity quizzes and guests nights dotted throughout the schedule.
Bonus: Tokyo Cheapo’s Guide To Shimokitazawa Video
Our video guide to the tuna auctions at the shiny new Toyosu Fish Market