1. Bonus Track
    Photo: Bonus TrackBonus Track
  2. Shiro Hige's Cream Puff Factory
    Photo: Kaila ImadaShiro Hige's Cream Puff Factory
  3. Shimokitazawa 下北沢
    Photo: Kaila Imada
  4. Universal Bakes and Cafe
    Keisuke TanigawaUniversal Bakes and Cafe
  5. Stick Out Shimokitazawa
    Photo: Kaila ImadaStick Out

One day in... Shimokitazawa

This west Tokyo neighbourhood is a hub for vintage fashion, vinyl records and independent cafés and restaurants

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Written by
Kaila Imada
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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 known for two things: its treasure trove of vintage fashion and its love of vinyl records. In between stores selling one or the other – sometimes both – is a vibrant community of quaint cafés and cool restaurants scattered throughout Shimokitazawa's small streets and alleys.

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 Bonus Track for a drink or two. A chill day out in Tokyo, sorted.

RECOMMENDED: Explore Tokyo's best Japanese gardens

Eat and drink

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Cheerful owner Takeda Masada brings the rice and sake of his home prefecture, Akita, to Tokyo at this casual food and drink spot. Masada comes from a family of rice farmers, and is passionate about the grain and all it produces. Bonus Track is the second Andon location, complementing the first shop in up-and-coming Nihonbashi. Inside the pint-sized Shimokitazawa store, you order at the counter, then take a seat around the courtyard to enjoy your Akita sake or beer and bites.

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Hakko means ‘ferment’ in Japanese, and fermented food and drink is the speciality of this grocery store and café – the cute logo is a creative version of the two kanji symbols for hakko. Opened by fermentation specialist Hiraku Ogura, the grocery and liquor section here has just about every fermented Japanese product you can think of – and many you didn't even know existed.

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  • Shimokitazawa

Ten To Sen has the most visually appealing spicy ramen 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. This curry ramen is 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.

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  • Shimokitazawa

To get here, wind your way through the backstreets south of Shimokitazawa Station for about 10 minutes – you’ll know you’ve reached Dashinsoan when you spot a traditional wooden gate fitted with noren curtains, and behind it a remarkably lush garden. Inside the soba specialty restaurant, the dining room is bright, spacious and serene, with large glass walls overlooking gardens and a leafy courtyard. In one corner of the light-filled open dining area, you’ll find the room where soba noodles are made fresh each morning, and the large granite grinder for making fresh buckwheat flour.

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Located in the jumble of Shimokitazawa’s backstreets, this izakaya looks as traditional as they come, but serves up 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.

Hiroki
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  • Shimokitazawa

Okonomiyaki joints are dime a dozen in Shimokitazawa, but none of the others get quite as busy as Hiroki. Unlike Osaka-style okonomiyaki, in which the batter and fillings are mixed together before cooking, Hiroki makes them Hiroshima-style 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.

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  • Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s soup curry hot spot, and with its relaxed vibe and eclectic interior Ponipirica is particularly popular. Hailing from Hokkaido, soup curry is characterised by a flavourful broth infused with a bounty of spices, tender chicken cooked on the bone, and laden with a rainbow assortment of fresh vegetables like baby corn, lotus root, pumpkin, turnip, sweet potato and aubergine.

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  • Ramen
  • Shimokitazawa

A shop with a name like ‘noodles of the future’ has to be doing something different, and the noodles here are like an udon-ramen hybrid. Handmade fresh every morning from mochi-hime wheat sourced from Mie prefecture, the noodles have a wonderfully chewy, or mochi mochi, texture that keeps ramen fans coming back for more. The speciality is the shio (salt) ramen, which costs ¥850 and comes with a hearty helping of the shop’s signature hand-cut noodles and a broth that isn’t too salty, so you can slurp up every last drop.

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Cafe Stay Happy
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  • Cafés
  • Shimokitazawa

This kotatsu café, Stay Happy in Shimokitazawa is run by a cosmopolitan, English-speaking Japanese couple who travelled the world before opening their comfy base. A kotatsu is a low table with a small heater underneath and a blanket draped over it, making Stay Happy a perfect winter hangout. Besides the half-dozen kotatsu, you'll find communal tables and even some hammocks.

City Country City
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  • Music and entertainment
  • Shimokitazawa

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 than the space can handle – as evidenced by the piles of vinyl stacked against the walls.

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.

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  • Juice bars
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Charge, Flex, Awake, Refresh – no, you’re not at a personal training session, those are just some of the juice blends on offer at Why Juice. Bonus Track is the second location for this popular Daikanyama juice stand – third, if you count the mini truck that makes an appearance at local festivals and events. To produce its imperatively named, freshly made juices, the company sources seasonal organic ingredients from local farmers, which are cold-pressed into a rainbow of vibrant varieties in-store.

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  • Coffeeshops
  • Shimokitazawa

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 latte art 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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From baguettes and croissants to melonpan and aromatic herb focaccia, all the goodies at this vegan bakery are free from eggs, milk, butter and honey. We recommend the amazake roll, which has a naturally sweetened white bean paste mixed with amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink) in the centre of a satisfyingly chewy bread roll.

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Designed to look like Totoro – the beloved character from the Studio Ghibli movie ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ – these charming choux cream pastries are come in seasonal flavours, which range from strawberry to peach and chocolate. It’s almost painful cutting into these cuties as they really do look too good to eat.

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Opened in 1980, Trois Chambres feels a world away from the busy streets of Shimokitazawa. Antique cups line the shelves, regulars strike up conversation over the counter and the corner tables are practically always occupied by someone reading a book – time truly appears to stand still at this kissaten, which might even feel a little intimidating for first-timers. But fear not: the cheesecakes here are heavenly and the coffee comes with a free refill.

Shop

New York Joe Exchange
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  • Shimokitazawa

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

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  • Consignment store
  • Shimokitazawa

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 in the mix.

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Flamingo Shimokitazawa
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  • Shimokitazawa

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's and women’s clothing – as well as a few 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.

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  • Vintage shops
  • Shimokitazawa

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 the website often to see what's new in store.

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Haight & Ashbury
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  • Shimokitazawa

A giant scarlet shoe marks the entrance and sets the tone for Haight & Ashbury, a chic store that 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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Small but substantial, Pianola Records has quickly become a favourite haunt for local music otaku (nerds) for its eclectic collection of tapes and, of course, vinyl featuring unique and rare music from around the world. You’ll find soul, jazz, classical, experimental tunes and much more housed in its neat timber shelves. The store’s owner also runs a record label, Conotala, so if you’re lucky, you might even be able to pick up a pressing by a local artist – they tend to sell out fast, though.

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  • Shimokitazawa

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.

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  • Music and entertainment
  • Shimokitazawa

Based in Shimokitazawa and Kyoto (and online), Jet Set covers all genres with albums selected by expert buyers. If you’re looking for soft rock, soul, house, disco and techno, you won't be disappointed. And if you’re into Japanese pop, you’ll be amazed by Jet Set’s limited-edition 7/12 inch records.

Do

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Bonus Track is a group of about a dozen shops gathered around a small courtyard in Shimokitazawa. Just a three-to-four-minute walk from the southeast exit of Shimokitazawa Station, the area feels like a small town. The stores include a sake shop, a juice bar, a record shop that also serves Taiwanese food and a bookshop with craft beer. You can mix and match food and drinks from any of the shops and grab a table outside, or dine-in at one of the venues with indoor seats. 

  • Art
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  • Shimokitazawa

Located on the busy shopping street of Ichibangai, this quaint gallery is a place 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.

Check out other 'hoods

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