One day in... Shimokitazawa

The cool neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is a hub for vintage fashion, vinyl records and independent cafés and restaurants

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Shimokitazawa 下北沢
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Flamingo Shimokitazawa
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Shimokitazawa’s relaxed bohemian vibe is a welcome respite from Tokyo’s fast-paced, frenetic energy – and yet it’s located surprisingly close to the city centre, just three minutes away from Shibuya Station on the Keio-Inokashira express line.

The neighbourhood, affectionately known as Shimokita by the locals, is an incubator for small, independent businesses and it’s particularly known for two things: its treasure trove of vintage fashion and its love for vinyl records. Among them, scattered throughout the small streets and alleys, are a vibrant community of quaint cafés and cool restaurants.

So start your visit with a stroll down Ichibangai for some thrift shopping, then make a pit stop at one of the many soup curry restaurants Shimokita is famous for, and end your day at a record shop that also functions as a bar. A cool day out in Tokyo, sorted.

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Eat and drink

Restaurants

Ten To Sen

icon-location-pin Shimokitazawa

Ten To Sen has the most visually appetising spicy ramen (¥950) around, prepared with an abundance of colourful toppings: wood-ear mushroom, cashew nuts, pepper, chives, coriander, burdock, red onion and pork slices. It may be pretty but it still packs a punch. Based on the Japanese-style soup curry originating from Sapporo, the spectacularly good curry is made with pork bones, chicken, seafood, vegetables and a handful of spices while a hint of sweetness works beautifully to counter the heat. Don’t worry if you’re not a spice fiend: you can choose from six levels of heat and order the rich lassi to cool your tongue.

Restaurants

Shirube

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Located in the jumble of Shimokitazawa’s backstreets, this izakaya looks as traditional as they come, but serves up izakaya classics with a twist – think wholesome nikujaga (beef and potato stew) served with garlic bread, and a glorious ‘tofu cheese’ with honey. If there’s space and you’re not with a large group, try to nab one of the counter seats for a prime view of the chefs in action, plus a whiff of the fragrant pot of oden bubbling away. Wash everything down with a glass of sake (ask for recommendations) or one of the shochu cocktails. Reservations advised on weekends.

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Restaurants, Okonomiyaki

Hiroki

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While okonomiyaki joints are dime a dozen in Shimokitazawa, none of the others get quite as busy as Hiroki. Although the savoury pancake dish is most often associated with Osaka, this restaurant makes it Hiroshima-style, with ingredients sourced from the southern city.

Unlike Osaka’s okonomiyaki, in which the batter and fillings are mixed together before cooking, the Hiroshima version is prepared by spreading out the batter on a hotplate, and then topping it with cabbage, pork, noodles, egg and other ingredients. Hiroki also offers noodle-free versions; however, first-timers in particular will want to go the whole hog, which is expertly prepared right in front of your eyes if you’re lucky enough to grab a counter seat. Seafood options are available for those averse to meat.

Restaurants, Coffeeshops

Ballon D’essai

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Ballon D’essai’s café latte is difficult to drink, but this has nothing to do with the taste. In fact, according to Susumu the barista, the latte is made from secret blend of five beans, and it’s as mellow as the jazz wafting out of the speakers. The flavour is smooth with just a hint of bitterness; the balance between milk and coffee is just right.

What stops you from sipping your cuppa straightaway is the cute #latteart adorning your drink. Whether it's a coffee or matcha latte, you can request designs for an extra charge – but we recommend that you leave it to the barista for a surprise.

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Restaurants, Cafés

Cafe Stay Happy

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A self-proclaimed ‘kotatsu café’, Stay Happy in Shimokitazawa is run by a cosmopolitan, English-speaking Japanese couple who travelled the world before opening their comfy base. They’ve got hammocks, communal tables and around half a dozen kotatsu for your snuggling pleasure. (Kotatsu is a low table with a small heater underneath and a blanket draped over it.)

Restaurants, Burgers

Eight Burger's

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Eight Burger’s is one of the neighbourhood’s most serious purveyors of patties in buns. Styling itself as a retro diner with an industrial cool aesthetic – think exposed brickwork, mismatched chairs and low lighting – the place looks and feels like it's from the 1950s… until you hear the rather more contemporary playlist. The menu is split into four categories, and you get to choose from over 15 types of meaty marvels, available in 135g and 270g patty versions.

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Shopping, Music and entertainment

Upstairs Records & Bar

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The man behind semi-legendary and now sorely missed NYC record shop Weekend Records, Makoto Nagatomo made a triumphant return to Tokyo by opening this second-hand vinyl store and bar in Shimokitazawa in 2017. Its shelves are mainly stacked with disco, funk, house and other dance records, but you can also spot rock, folk and even classical albums, all available at reasonable prices. Most drinks go for ¥500-600 at the five-seat bar, which also stocks a few rare bottles of gin and whisky. To avoid a shock, make sure to ask the staff for prices before trying one of these.

Shopping, Music and entertainment

City Country City

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Owned by musician Keiichi Sokabe, this Shimokita joint combines the functions of a café and a record store. Tucked away on the fourth floor of an office building that's seen better days, City Country City stocks more records that the space can handle – as evidenced by the piles of vinyl stacked against the walls.

Every single record is displayed with a handwritten note describing it – if you can read Japanese, these make for endless entertainment. Represented genres range from acid folk to house and ambient, and you can listen to any disc of your choice on the in-store players. Look out for the monthly lounge parties, and remember to order a serving of the shop's much-vaunted pasta at the café.

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Hagare Shimokitazawa
Photo: facebook.com/hagarejp
Restaurants

Hagare Shimokitazawa

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If you're on the hunt for a reasonably-priced wine bar, head straight to Hagare. It's run by the popular imported goods store Kaldi, where Tokyoites go to get their hands on affordably priced international wine, cheese and other foreign goods that are hard to come by in Japan. If you're wondering how the bar can offer wine at such low prices, the clue lies in its name. 'Hagare' comes from the Japanese word for 'peeling', and it refers to the condition of the wine bottles here, many of which feature labels that are slightly peeled or with minor imperfections. However, this doesn't affect the content inside, which are just as good to drink.

Shop

Shopping

New York Joe Exchange

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Exchange by name, exchange by nature: this spacious store sells imported, non-branded used clothing, while also buying in items from customers, or even allowing them to swap threads they no longer want for pieces from the store. (The clothes have to meet a certain criteria though – so showing up with a sack of baggy old T-shirts probably isn’t going to get you much more than a raised eyebrow.) Having opened in what used to be a public bathhouse, the owner also happens to run a sister store in Kichijoji. Look out for the incredible sale on the first Sunday of every month, when everything is marked down to half price.

Shopping, Consignment store

Stick Out

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A haven for thrifters, this small shop tucked away on the second floor of an unassuming building sells everything at just ¥700. It mainly offers used clothing, accessories and re-styled fashion items, but you'd be hard-pressed a find a better deal elsewhere. Dig deep enough through the massive denim pile and you might even find some familiar labels such as Levi's and Lee within the mix.

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Shopping

Flamingo Shimokitazawa

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This Shimokitazawa store – sibling to its Harajuku and Kichijoji namesakes – stocks a mix of new clothing and American vintage duds that date from the ’40s to the ’80s. Thanks to its US-based buyer, new stock comes in quickly, and there’s a good selection of both men and women’s clothing – as well as a few added extras such as retro-look tableware. You can count on the prices here being low, and if you stop by at the right time you might even catch one of their occasional sales.

Shopping, Vintage shops

Soma Shimokitazawa

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Stocking a wide selection of vintage sneakers, Soma sources its curated selection locally as well as from North America. Sifting through the store you'll mainly find rare and secondhand kicks from the likes of Nike, Adidas and Converse. We highly recommend you check their blog often to see what's new in store.

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Shopping

Bonum Shimokitazawa

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Not your average consignment store, Bonum specialises in upcycling secondhand and vintage clothes and accessories wares into new fashion pieces. You'll find items like denim pants re-modelled into jackets, and bandanas turned into Japanese-style happi coats. This Shimokitazawa shop is a smaller offshoot of Bonum's main store in Harajuku, but you'll find some good deals here as the store offers a sample rack at deeply discounted prices. 

Shopping

Haight & Ashbury

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A giant scarlet shoe marks the entrance and sets the tone for Haight & Ashbury, a chic store specialises in American and European clothing from the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s been plying its trade for more than 20 years now – and it’s in good hands too, as the owners also run vintage store Boy and boutique store Fake Tokyo in Shibuya. The shop is divided into menswear and womenswear (with a slight skew towards the ladies) and there’s a vintage section where you’ll find old lacy numbers, embroidered antique dresses and summery floral accessories.

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Shopping, Music and entertainment

Flash Disc Ranch

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One of the top record stores in Shimokitazawa, an area littered with shops dealing in both vinyl and CDs, the spacious Flash Disc Ranch is found on the second floor of a run-down building on the south side of the station. The vintage sound system is usually turned up almost all the way, accompanying your search for everything from rock and jazz to house and new wave. Make sure to check out the 'three discs for ¥2,000' box, which has been known to contain real gems from time to time.

Shopping, Music and entertainment

Jet Set

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Based in Shimokitazawa and Kyoto (and online), Jet Set covers all genres with albums selected by their expert buyers. Best if you’re looking for soft rock, soul, house, disco and techno. And if you’re into Japanese pop, you’ll be amazed by Jet Set’s limited-edition 7/12 inch records.

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Shopping, Music and entertainment

Best Sound Records

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With a decor that look more fitting for a fancy café than a serious vinyl dealer, Best Sound Records might not inspire confidence at first sight. Don't let that scare you away, though: it stocks more than 3,000 records, predominantly rock, folk and jazz, mainly imported from California. Make sure to check out the ¥1,000 section, which is great for finding classic rock records.

Do

Art, Galleries

Gallery Hana

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Located on the busy shopping street of Ichibangai, this quaint gallery acts as a platform for young, up-and-coming artists to showcase their work. To know what's showing, check the gallery's official website for its exhibition roster.

Shopping, Bookshops

B&B – Book and Beer

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Bed and breakfast? No, you won't be asked whether you want a sunny-side up at this B&B. For those who like a drink while flicking through pages of a good read until late at night, Book and Beer – jointly founded and managed by Koichiro Shima from creative agency Hakuhodo Kettle and book coordinator Shintaro Uchinuma – is the place to be. Check out the talk events, too, or pick up a piece of vintage furniture curated by interior shop Kontrast.

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Restaurants

Suzunari Yokocho

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This alley is sandwiched between two local theatres: Theater 711 on the left and Suzunari to the right (the latter is Honda Gekijo troupe's oldest theatre and a Shimokita landmark). Walk through the middle entrance and you'll find the yokocho; this narrow hallway was once dedicated to rehearsal rooms and now houses more than 10 small restaurants and bars.

Stay

Shimokita Hostel
Photo: fb.com/shimokitahostel
Hotels, Hostels

Shimokita Hostel

icon-location-pin Shimokitazawa

This friendly neighbourhood hostel is located right in the heart of Shimokitazawa and is just minutes away from some of the area's best cafés and shops. Shimokita Hostel offers five different types of rooms, including capsule-style pod beds as well as hotel-like private rooms. The hostel is active in the Shimokitazawa community and thus can connect international guests with local events while also providing ticketing service. Day-time packages are available for those looking to make use of the spacious lounge area and co-working area without staying the night.

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