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Japan Off the Beaten Path: Shimokitazawa

If you head to the land of the rising sun – Japan – you’ll find treasures abound. Take the incredible sake culture, stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and warm nature of its people. Mixed with its amazing food cities, elusive Geisha, plus much more [did I mention sake & food?] and you have a phenomenal destination. But it’s a hectic country, particularly in its capital city, Tokyo.

So where do you go to experience Japan off the beaten path and escape the crowds of ipad-picture-taking-tourists that descend on Tokyo’s most popular districts? To Shimokitazawa, of course.

Shimokitazawa: The Hipster Tokyo Neighbourhood

The incredible creative, bohemian neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is very different to more popular spots like Shibuya, Shinjuku, or Ginza. This district on the western side of Tokyo is a great place to see Japan off the beaten path. A hub for thrift and vintage stores, here you’ll find the Harajuku aesthetic without the tourist hordes, plus a vibe that is a lot more bit more lowkey. Think of it as the Williamsburg of Tokyo, the chilled-yet-creative atmosphere makes it probably my favourite place in the city.

Shimokitazawa is an awesome place to shop, with many independently owned shops ranging from vintage, used, and new fashion outlets, record stores, and much more.


Shimokitazawa is also the perfect place to stroll. The streets are narrow here, so there’s less traffic. And like many places in Japan, tiny laneways hold all the coolest spots (and the best roller shutter street art!).

Coffee Culture

Be sure to take in the atmosphere with a cup of coffee at one of the tiny coffee shops that dot the area. All of them ooze the kind of effortless charm which makes them great places to people watch or – if you can get a seat, do some journaling / writing / sketching / reading.

Frankie is a Melbourne-style – yep, as in Melbourne, Australia – coffee shop that I’m positive would have been the best coffee of my trip, if I’d had time to stop. Don’t be like me, follow the rich, fragrant smell of roasted coffee beans
and for the love of god go inside.

Take a casual stroll and explore the neighbourhood, it’s a popular place for young Tokyoites to live for a reason.


Fashion (Harajuku Eat Your Heart Out)

With a massive quantity of independent retailers, Shimokitwaza is where you’ll find something unique to take home for yourself, obvs your friends & family. Shop incredible vintage stores like Flamingo, Ocean BLVD, or Chicago – its Shimokitazawa location is its biggest. Chicago is known for having traditional Japanese garments like Kimono and Yukata.

I got a few beautiful quality vintage Haori jackets (more of a short coat) to wear over jeans; great if you want to subtly inject a bit of Japanese flavour into your wardrobe.

In addition to vintage, don’t forget the many other independent fashion stores, such as New York Joe Exchange. Buy, sell or – as the name suggests – exchange, at this spacious thrift store focusing on unbranded, used clothing.

Or check out Mocha for something stylish and Kawaii. This cute women’s fashion store, selling new items, has super friendly staff and an awesome selection. In addition to more streetwear style clothes, bags and hats, they also have a unique jewellery selection, most of which are made in Japan.

Eats (The Good Stuff)

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki with squid from Daikonman in Shimokitazawa


When you get hungry, it’s time to stop at a hole-in-the-wall eatery. I LOVED Daikonman (お好み焼 だいこんまん下北沢) for its Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki with squid. It was the best I had in Japan! Plus it cost just 780JPY (about $9 AUD) for a super filling serving. Grab a seat at the grill counter if you can, and watch them prepare it fresh in front of you. The glossy noodle dish is served piping hot with pink bonito flakes dancing on top, ready for you to eat right off the grill.

Expand Your Record Collection (aka Peak Hipster Tokyo)

Music lovers should visit Otonomad, one of the most stylish, low-key looking record stores you’ll ever find. Located next to New York Joe Exchange, with no real signage and a smaller, more curated selection of vinyl than others in the area. This tiny warm wood and white record shop is devoid of the usual club/dance music, favouring vinyl you can really listen to; with a great selection of older blues and jazz.

Bits and Bobs

For handmade jewellery, art, vintage & retro cameras, homewares and more, head to Shimokita Garage Department near Shimokitazawa station. A market style situation where locals sell their wares.

Even busy Salarymen – or ordinary business people – can take respite in Shimokitazawa from the hectic pace of city life.



Shimokitazawa is on the Keio-Inokashira Line and Odakyu Line (note; not JR or Metro lines), so for most people it is easiest to get there via Shinjuku or Shibuya.

From Shibuya: Shibuya Station on the Keio-Inokashira Line to Shimo-Kitazawa Station.
From Shinjuku: Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line to Shimo-Kitazawa Station.

So there you go; wander, shop, update your wardrobe with some vintage threads, mingle with locals, and get a taste of Japan off the beaten path in the hipster Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimikitazawa. You will not regret spending a day here.

Reposted with the permission of Amelia Heldt of The Beat of Adventure, breaking borders through digital storytelling and empowering creatives to do the same.

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