A Guide to Shimokitazawa Sightseeing ・ Shopping, Eating, and Entertainment in West Tokyo

Tokyo Tour Setagaya 2022.06.03
This trendy young neighborhood is known for secondhand shopping, cute cafes, and curry, but recently Shimokitazawa has seen some big new updates!
Shimokitazawa, Tokyo's Trendy Vintage Wonderland
Like so much of Japan, Shimokitazawa was once mostly rice paddies, before the opening of a train station in 1927 sent the neighborhood down a much more lively and interesting path. As a straight shot from Tokyo's notoriously bustling Shinjuku and Shibuya stations, some of the busy crowds have migrated to Shimokitazawa over the years, and the area has developed its own unique mix of trendy commerce. Nowadays, the young and fashionable hang out in "Shimokita" for the coffee shops and cafes, independent record and book stores, live theater and music, indie film viewings, curry stuffed with veggies and bars stuffed with craft beer, and most of all, for an abundance of secondhand shopping, from pricy vintage boutiques to bohemian thrift stores. Just like many of Tokyo's busiest areas, Shimokitazawa is an ever-evolving melting pot of old and new, with narrow streets sheltering countless tiny shops long-beloved by locals, and an area directly around the train station that has expanded with a wave of sleek new development in recent years. Full of international inspiration and plenty of distinctly Japanese charm, Shimokitazawa has long been one of Tokyo's best kept secrets, but in recent years travelers have been taking note - before you know it, Shimokitazawa is likely to become a must-see stop on many itineraries.
Classic Shimokitazawa

Thrift Stores & Vintage Boutiques

Venture into the mess of crooked streets north of Shimokitazawa Station, and you'll start to understand why the area is sometimes given nicknames like "The Sacred Land of Secondhand." On some streets, just about every other store is selling used clothing of one kind or another, with vintage boutiques full of carefully-preserved (and accordingly priced) retro styles, thrift stores stuffed with old American t-shirts, carefully curated shops catering to street fashion or cottagecore, and some spots that are a colorful blend of styles and prices.
Shimokitazawa's secondhand shops are a mix of independent retailers, shops with a few locations nearby, and national chains, although it's not always obvious which is which at a glance. Shops like Alaska and Spike are popular one-offs, while others like Little Trip to Heaven and New York Joe Exchange each have a handful of shops dotted around the trendier neighborhoods of Tokyo. Shimokita Garage Department is one larger building that contains a whole collection of different tiny boutiques, although it's at least as famous for the toothy train wall art on the facade as for the clothing inside. The Flamingo group, focused on vintage styles and overseas brands, has five different locations just in Shimokitazawa. But they've also branched out to other parts of Tokyo, and as far as Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. And then there are chains found all over Japan, although the Shimokitazawa locations tend to be somewhat special, like WeGo, 2nd Street, and Treasure Factory.
The streets south of Shimokitazawa Station are a little less densely packed with secondhand clothes shops, and instead are lined with many more casual eateries, everyday shops, and bars. But, this being Shimokitazawa, there are still a few popular thrift shops in this area, including Stick Out, which is famous for pricing all their items at 700 yen plus tax.

Curry for Lunch

Tasty, cheap, and easy to jazz up, curry is a good fit for the young crowd that has made Shimokitazawa its haunt, and ever since Hokkaido soup curry restaurant Magic Spice opened up a local branch in 2003, this unique style of curry has become particularly popular in the area. Nowadays, there are countless numbers of curry shops of all different kinds in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood, all carving out a niche in the local culture, and even inspiring the annual Shimokitazawa Curry Festival, which has been running for over 10 years now. These days, one of the most popular curry spots is Rojiura Curry Samurai (seen above), another chain that hails from Hokkaido but has found much of its popularity in Shimokitazawa. Each bowl of curry contains at least 13 different vegetables from a revolving list, and customers can opt to add extra toppings, ranging from extra vegetables to roast chicken legs, pork belly, and enormous pieces of "zangi" fried chicken, to create a customized and colorful result. Shimokitazawa's curry tends to be both delicious, and very aesthetically pleasing.

Indie Entertainment

Just clothing and curry couldn't make Shimokitazawa the cultural center that it is. For that, we can thank the many theaters that host local theater productions, tiny film houses playing indie releases, and stages where Tokyo's musical acts play their hearts out. One particularly influential venue is the Honda Theater, which helped birth Shimokitazawa's theatrical reputation when it replaced a former public bath just east of the train station in the early 80s. Starting with an avant-garde production from playwright Juro Kara, it swiftly became a hotspot for Tokyo's theater scene, and to this day the stage still hosts many of Tokyo's most popular small-scale theater companies. Nearby, Shimokitazawa actually has an even older theater, Honda Theater's predecessor, called The Suzunari, which is known for the eye-catching neon sign out front (seen above), and the handful of tiny restaurants and bars crowded into the building's first floor.

Cozy Cafes

Love sipping strong lattes and sampling sweets in cool cafes? Luckily, so does Japan's younger crowd, and the streets of Shimokitazawa are littered with a selection of cafes, all offering different atmospheres and unique menus. Some spots, like The Usual and Norah's Coffee Table, focus on the coffee, whereas places like Orange and Flipper's are known for waffles and pancakes, respectively. Contrary to expectations, the airy second-floor cafe Sunday Brunch (seen above) is less of a breakfast spot, and more popular for fabulously photo-ready seasonal cakes. Lots of places offer savory options and light lunches alongside nice drinks, although there's only one cafe in Shimokitazawa that offers Totoro cream puffs that are officially approved by Studio Ghibli - Tolo Coffee & Bakery. Whichever cafe tickles your fancy, they're all great places to relax and get off the area's busy narrow streets.
New Additions to Shimokitazawa

At the Station (Shimokita Ekiue, Tefu, Mikan Shimokita)

With crowds comes increased interest from developers, and Shimokitazawa is now seeing a new generation of larger shopping facilities growing up around the train station and along the train tracks, most of which have come into being in the time since COVID-19 first stopped foreign travelers from visiting. But despite the sudden burst of construction, these new spots aren't bland shopping centers, either. It might be nigh on impossible to recreate the small-scale charm found down Shimokitazawa's narrow alleys, but these new facilities in the area are creating their own chic spaces, rising sleekly into the air full of popular Japanese shops, casual dining, and plenty of open-air hangout spaces.
The train station will always be at the heart of Shimokitazawa, of course, and the previously unremarkable area around the tracks has seen some big changes in just the past couple years. Now, the second floor of the station itself is a brand new facility called Shimokita Ekiue, with a handful of restaurants, a flower shop, and of course, a Starbucks.
Connected to the southern end of this station shopping area is Tefu, a unique cafe + movie theater complex, with a relaxing cafe/lounge area, a coworking space, and K2 Shimokita Ekimae Cinema, which aims to be a Shimokitazawa melting pot, showing an international selection of indie films (including plenty of local creations).
Across the street from the train station's main entrance is Mikan Shimokitazawa, which most noticeably features a covered walkway leading east from the station, lined with a crowd of new eateries - Thai street food, trendy Japanese izakaya, Vietnamese pho, classy burgers, one very popular bakery, and much more. At the end of the passage is a spacious new Tsutaya bookstore, with a huge second-floor manga area and a coworking space/cafe on the first floor, well-stocked with a variety of colorful and visually appealing snacks. The staircase outside of Tsutaya has already become a new hangout spot for small groups looking to enjoy the weather, and there are more new restaurants and clothing shops along the alley outside, also a part of Mikan.

Northeast or Southwest (Reload, Bonus Track)

New facilities aren't just limited to the immediate vicinity of the train station, of course. Follow the train tracks northeast, and you'll find yourself at Reload, which has adopted the catchphrase "So Many Good Colors" and proclaims a mission of adding new color to the city, despite the building's minimalistic white architecture. Stuffed inside really is a microcosm of Shimokitazawa, though, with 24 shops including cafes and bakeries, a curry shop, a bookstore, a craft liquor bar, a glasses store, various boutiques, and a yoga studio.
Head back along the tracks past the station to the southwest, and across from what is currently (at time of publication) a construction site, you'll spot another new collection of shops and eateries called Bonus Track, which opened in spring 2020. Below the bright red daruma logo, there are restaurants serving curry and Japanese rice porridge, bakeries and cafes, a juice bar, a book store that hosts frequent events, a fermented food store, plus rental and coworking spaces, all centered around a sunny outdoor area with wooden tables and broad sun umbrellas. Even on weekday afternoons, it's an obvious hangout spot for days with good weather!
Planning Your Day in Shimokitazawa
Hoping for a wardrobe update with new styles and old clothing? Ready to stuff yourself silly with vegetable-stuffed curry and American pizza? Or just looking for a quiet afternoon at the cafe, and an evening out at the theater, enjoying local performances and indie films? Shimokitazawa, with its vintage style and up-to-the-moment trendy updates, has a ton to offer anyone who's interested in venturing west of Shibuya, so strap on your most stylish duds and don't miss a chance to check out this unique Tokyo neighborhood.

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