Shimokitazawa (下北沢) is just about the trendiest neighborhood in Tokyo. Also known as Shimokita for short, the district is a hub for stage theater and live music. With its numerous cafes, music outlets, vintage clothing stores, live music clubs, and cheap noodle shops, Shimokitazawa is incredibly popular with trendy students and hip young peoples all across Japan. In national surveys about where young people in Japan want to live, Shimokitazawa is always at the top of the list.
I found this nifty little video (minus the slightly annoying host) that gives us all a great sneak peek at the awesome-ness that is Shimokitazawa. The guy gets to interview Polysics for Pete’s sake! How cool is that? I wish I’d known about this Shimokitazawa place before I went to Japan when I studied abroad in college – I would have hit it up for sure.
The neighborhood is really popular for its cozy residential feel, drawing hordes of students and young office workers to its maze of narrow lanes and alleyways. The quaint little shops, mostly in converted houses or low-rise apartments, often bear names that hearken back to Western areas such as The Village Vanguard Diner, Haight Ashbury, and Mojo Rising. This place sure is funky.
With its many narrow streets that are inaccessible to vehicles, you get a real sense of adventure while exploring the town on foot like a brave urban explorer. Oh, and also they have awesome cats.
I mean, how cool is that? What better judge of a place than the cats that frequent it? This cat has got it made in the shade here in Shimokitazawa. He’s awesome. I want to be his friend.
As you might expect, Shimokitazawa is home to some of Japan’s trendiest shops such as the hat store Grown Up Tabitha (pictured above). As such, it’s a great place to walk around and window shop. There’s plenty of stuff to see here. Think of it as the most greatest, awesomest flea market you ever did see. At least that’s how I imagine the place. Like I said, I’ve not been there yet, but that’s what it looks like to me.
Even though I’ve never been there myself, I can tell that this is the kind of place hipsters would love. Just look at those shops. Plenty of quirky clothes, trinkets, and knick-knacks to suit just about anyone’s needs. If there were ever an ideal location for a brick and mortar Tofugu store, Shimokitazawa would be it, don’t you think? We’d fit right in with our hip and cool wares.
Thrift shops offering a variety of items from bygone decades as well as old anime-themed toys are quite popular here as well. Many shops are an extension of the creativeness of their hip young owners, such as those combining a cafe with a record shop or a side store for peddling their small handmade items.
For more awesome pictures of the place, you can find a slew of them here from Flickr. They’re definitely worth checking out.
As I mentioned before, Shimokitazawa also has a pretty big music scene. A lot of musicians frequent the place, so you’ll never be left wanting for some sort of live musical entertainment. There’s always some sort of live show taking place at quaint little venues, people playing in the narrow streets, or live music at local cafes. If you love live music or happen to be a musician yourself, you’ll love Shimokitazawa.
They have a pretty wide variety of styles here as well. Just look at the photo above. Never before have I seen salarymen looking so hip. I’m always up for discovering new and interesting Japanese bands so I’ve the feeling I’d really enjoy wandering around this place and listening to all the musicians and bands. Polysics (mentioned above) is one of my all-time favorite bands, and if they like Shimokitazawa it must be cool. I’m sure there’s lots of other awesome Japanese bands that think Shimokitazawa is the bee’s knees as well.
The Special Events
According to Japan’s National Tourist Organization, Shimokitazawa has some pretty cool events going on throughout the year for you to check out. During the month-long Shimokitazawa Theater Festival held every February, various plays are performed at eight small theaters throughout the town. There is also the Kitazawa Music Festival held every July where you can enjoy live music both in music venues as well as in every little alleyway throughout the town. Sounds pretty fun to me.
If you really want to experience the casual and friendly charm that Shimokitazawa has to offer, Japan’s National Tourist Organization recommends that you visit during the Tengu-matsuri Festival, held at the end of January or beginning of February, which includes a fantastic parade of people dressed as the mythical Tengu. The spirited Mikoshi-matsuri (Portable Shrine Festival), held in early September, is another local event that shouldn’t be missed either. The bottom line here is that you’ll never be bored while in Shimokitazawa.
Shimokitazawa seems like a pretty great place to be. Next time I visit Japan I’m definitely paying this neighborhood a visit. I wonder how many other neighborhoods like this there are in Japan that I just don’t know about. Probably quite a few. I can’t wait to go back to Japan and discover all the quirky and interesting places like Shimokitazawa, the hippest place in Tokyo.
So tell me, have any of you actually been to Shimokitazawa before? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? What aspect is/seems the coolest? Let us know in the comments!