Shimokitazawa, also known as Shimokita, is a Tokyo neighbourhood just a few stops from Shinjuku station, but far removed from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s more common tourist neighbourhoods. Some of the streets are too narrow even for cars! I wanted to get a taste of a more local Tokyo lifestyle and this seemed like a good place to try. Shimokita is quite bohemian, and popular with students, and still has a lot of independent stores, cafes and restaurants. It’s maybe a bit like the Hackney of Tokyo…
Where to stay
After our first night in Tokyo, I couldn’t find any hotels in Shimokitazawa and that still seems to be the case, so we went for a trusty airbnb. Apparently there is a love hotel and a capsule hotel, but even my usually infallible research skills couldn’t find them! We stayed in one of Matt’s airbnb apartments that seem to have been updated since we stayed, so even better! It was really fun living like a local, and doing grocery shopping in Japan is a great experience. I wonder if Seasonal Horn wafers would take off in London?
What to eat
Shimokitazawa is home to one of my favourite restaurants of our whole trip, an izakaya called Shirube. It’s so good we actually ate there twice in three days. That’s an amazing accolade for a city like Tokyo where there is so much choice I get food panic when I realise I won’t get to try everything on my list. Pretty hard to find, you’ll end up going in circles and looking down dark alley ways to find it. You may have to queue, but it’s worth it. Friendly staff, really buzzy atmosphere, and some amazing food. Go for the mackerel!!! If you like (good) surprises. It has an English menu too.
There is also a cool little place called Flower Bar Gardena, a flower shop by day and a wine bar by night. Super cute, smells amazing, although maybe not if you get hay fever!
Also, Shimokita is famous for coffee, particularly Bear Pond Espresso, an uber hipster coffee joint. The owner spent twenty years in New York perfecting his craft. Be warned, there are some mixed reviews and tales of grumpy staff, although we had a lovely coffee and no problems. I also bought a very cool t-shirt for my collection.
A fun place is Ballon D’Essai, which has decent coffee and specialises in latte art. They make some pretty impressive creations. They even do latte art workshops if you really want to get involved.
There are many other coffee shops, bars and restaurants to explore.
What to see
Unfortunately when we stayed in Shimokitazawa we caught the tail end of Typhoon Etau, which caused serious rain, and flooding in Northern Japan. It was some very heavy rain, so we spent quite a lot of time under umbrellas with a torrent of water round our ankles. Shimokita is best for exploring, checking out the cool little shops and seeing how the locals live. There are good live music and theatre venues. All of Tokyo’s main sights are only a few train stops away. So it’s nice to get back and feel like you can just chill out for a bit, without feeling guilty for not rushing to another tourist hot spot. My arcade addiction continued…any excuse to get out of the rain 🙂
The last train in Tokyo is usually around midnight, so if you’re out and about and don’t want to take a taxi, keep an eye on the time! Watching people rush for the last train is actually quite entertaining. I witnessed some totally drunk people, swaying, lurching and falling asleep all over the station.
Shimokitazawa was voted the coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue magazine in 2014. One to impress your mates! If they’re impressed by that kind of thing…