Step into Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhood and explore the bohemian streets of Shimokitazawa: home to vintage clothing, great coffee and Japanese theater.

Photo by Angela An

Local favorite of the cool kids in the city, Shimokitazawa is a laid-back hub of activity just five 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.

Photo by Greg Lane

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 some of the best things to do in Shimokitazawa — your new favorite neighborhood.

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1. Hunt for your new favorite vintage piece

The outside of a clothing store called Stick Out
Everything is 700 yen, unless it’s on sale | Photo by Maria Danuco

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.

Tokyo Department Garage is a good place to start with over 20 vendors packed into a single space. Most of them deal in vintage and second hand clothes in a range of styles, but you’ll also find handmade accessories to compliment your new outfit. New York Joe Exchange and Chicago are especially popular with a good range of mens and womens clothing. And of course Stick Out remains a cheapo favorite, where everything is ¥700.

2. Catch some live music

live music tokyo
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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. If you’re a fan of indie and rock in particular, Shimokitazawa is the place for you. 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.

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Kick off your night with an early show at the very cheapo friendly Shimokitazawa Three, where prices usually start from ¥2,000, but can sometimes be as low as ¥1,000. 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. For a slightly more stylish and laid back night, 440 is another good option with tickets starting at ¥2,000 plus a ¥600 drink. Fever is another popular low-cost spot, with entry prices starting around the ¥2,500 mark but with an additional ¥600 drink purchase required.

3. Grab a coffee and people watch

Photo by Greg Lane

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 ¥200. 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 — coffee prices here start at ¥200 for a hot cup of Shimokitazawa Blend, while a latte will set you back ¥300. They also have a special take-out menu, often with slightly discounted prices.

4. Stock up on some vinyl records

used record shops shimokitazawa tokyo
Photo by Greg Lane

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 Shimokita. 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.

City Country City is another great place worth checking out. When you’re done browsing their range of records you can grab some pasta, or a cake and coffee before heading on your way.

Have a look at our full article for more ideas!

5. Delve into the drinking dens

Or pick up drinks along your stroll at the local liquor store. | Photo by Greg Lane

Unsurprisingly, Shimokita 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.

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If it feels like there’s too much to choose from and you’d rather someone else just show you where to go, how about joining a bar hopping tour with a local guide.

6. 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 theatre 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 above the Village Vanguard store, with several other theaters nearby including Off Off Theater, Rakuen and Theater 711. Shows are regular but mainly in rapid-fire Japanese, so you may have to do some internal storyline-guessing as you watch.

If movies are more your style, check out Tollywood – a movie theater specializing in experimental shorts – and the cinema at the newly built Tefu Lounge for feature length films.

7. 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.

8. Enjoy a plant-based meal
Cake display at Universal Bakes Nicome
Which one to choose? | Photo by Maria Danuco

Fully plant-based dining options can be hard to come by in Japan, so imagine our surprise when we found two locations in the one shopping mall! Reload is a new complex in the northen part of Shimokita with a number of small retailers, including two gems for the plant-based eaters amongst us. On the ground floor you’ll find Ming-Teng Hao Hao, a self-described ‘new far eastern style cafe’ serving up vegan dumplings, noodles and rice dishes all for affordable prices. For dessert head upstairs to Universal Bakes Nicome for a delicious range of baked goods. There’s no dine in options here, but there is a very cute terrace space nearby where you can sit and enjoy.

Once you’ve eaten your fill be sure to check out the rest of what Reload has to offer, including vintage clothing shops (naturally), perfumes, books, tea and coffee speciality shops.

9. Wonder on down to Bonus Track

Bonus Track dining area in the evening
Photo by Greg Lane

Opened in 2020, Bonus Track is another one of those hybrid spaces that seem to be springing up everywhere. This co-working space/retail hub was built along the Shimokitazawa Senrongai, the area that became vacant when the Odakyu Line was moved underground. In addition to being home to several interesting shops like B&B (specializing in Books and Beer) and Hakko Department (an all-in-one grocery store/restaurant/bookstore), it has a charming outdoor dining area and hosts numerous events throughout the year.

As an added bonus, on the way you can follow Shimokitazawa Senrongai all the way from Shimokitazawa Station, taking you through the wonderfully overgrown Kitazawa Nonohara Open Space and the slightly more manicured Shimokita Ameniwa Open Space. It makes for a lovely little nature walk, and is quite a popular place to sit and relax.

While we do our best to keep things up to date, all prices and other details are subject to change. Last updated in August 2022 by Maria Danuco.

Bonus: Tokyo Cheapo’s Guide To Shimokitazawa Video

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