How to spend 12 hours in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

Tokyo is a place of juxtaposing cultures. The rich heritage of the metropolis sits as its foundation, but that also gives way to allow the modern way of life to flourish and continue the city’s narrative.

The bohemian suburb of Shimokitazawa — or Shimokita to the locals — is the embodiment of Tokyo’s ability to blend the classic and contemporary to create something unique. Once a farming village, the area became a popular residential spot after the ’20s and transformed into one of the nation’s most vibrant creative hubs. For model and entrepreneur Priyanka Yoshikawa — who was Miss World Japan in 2016 — it’s a relaxed escape from big inner-city living and a place to connect with her artistic upbringing and Japanese heritage. It’s time to explore everything this eclectic neighborhood has to offer.

10.00AM Kick-start the day at Frankie

Frankie, which describes itself as a Melbourne-style espresso stand, is a cozy coffee joint that’s become a local institution. An influential player in Tokyo’s third-wave coffee scene, Frankie specializes in Antipodean brews — think flat whites and long blacks — using New Zealand-sourced Allpress beans. Frankie’s coffee is all espresso, which is rare in a city typically dominated by drip-coffee outlets and vending machines. “The coffee here is thick — it has body and kick,” says Priyanka. frankie.jp

10.30AM Grab a healthy snack at Captain’s Donut

The food and retail scene in Shimokita is decidedly DIY and independent. There may be the inevitable mega-chain stores around the suburb’s periphery, but there’s always room for new and inventive food stands like Captain’s Donut, which sells doughnuts made from okara, or soy pulp. “They’re soft and fluffy like bread,” says Priyanka. “Well-balanced and not too sweet — perfect.” captain-d.com

11.30AM Follow the Kitazawa River to a garden in the sky

Walk along the backstreets south of the central area and you should come upon the Kitazawa River Green Way, with lush foliage, a stream and a walking path. Reminiscent of the small canals of Kyoto, this walk should lead you to the Meguro Sky Garden, Tokyo’s park in the sky. “I love how the city is so fast-paced,” says Priyanka, “but sometimes you just need to rest your mind.” Situated nine floors up (next to a public library), where the city skyline is best appreciated, the garden comes as the perfect inner-city urban escape. There’s plenty of unoccupied seating (even on weekends) and it makes a top place to spend a laid-back afternoon, with a book and bento lunch box in hand. city.meguro.tokyo.jp

1.30PM Fuel up at the Farmer’s Cafe

The epitome of the area’s effortless but socially conscious cool is the Farmer’s Cafe, a casual spot that serves organic vegetables and fair-trade coffee. “They have excellent vegan and vegetarian dishes,” says Priyanka. Occupying an old local farmhouse, the café is also a community center that hosts regular workshops and yoga classes. hyakushow.com

3.00PM Spark creativity at Gallery Hana

Head over to Gallery Hana to appreciate the diverse local art scene. “I went to an art school in my younger years and I continue to paint now, in my free time. So, for me, it’s always important to check out some of Tokyo’s smaller galleries — like Hana — to gather inspiration,” says Priyanka. The open, light-filled space features a multitude of art styles by local and international artists, and entry is free. g-hana.jp

4.00PM Enjoy a tea break at Bubble at Studio B.US

Time for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up from Bubble, the newly opened bubble tea store inside Shimokita’s Studio B.US near Shimokita Garage Department. “Tapioca ingredients have been around for a while, but bubble tea’s just getting big in Japan now,” says Priyanka. Some bubble tea stores have winding lines, but Bubble by Studio B.US is still something of a secret. The spot opened in February 2019 to little fanfare, so people aren’t clued in on the incredible bubble tea — yet. Pick a spot out on the Studio B.US deck to go people-watching.

5.00PM Hunt for vintage goods at Wego

Thrift shopping is practically a sport in Shimokita. The penchant for vintage is in the neighborhood’s DNA — in the post-WWII period, Shimokita became a black market that helped birth its native alternative shopping spirit. For example, while most Wego outlets found throughout Japan sell new items, the Shimokita outpost specializes in vintage goods. “What makes the area so special is its great ecosystem of old and new cultures,” says Priyanka. wego.jp

7.00PM Sample classic cuisine at Robata Shimokitazawa

As sunlight fades, it’s time to ease into the area’s nightlife — with a light dinner and a few drinks. Robata Shimokitazawa is the perfect izakaya, or traditional Japanese bar establishment, to sample local cuisine. “A robata-style izakaya is where you can select the dishes you want and watch the chefs grill them over fire,” explains Priyanka. With its ultra-retro, Showa-era (1926–1989) design, complete with working jukebox and ’50s-style black-and-white TV in the corner, sitting in here is like taking a trip back in time. This quaint little space specializes in local produce like fresh juicy tomatoes, simply seasoned with salt, and chewy cuttlefish grilled over hot open coals. fb.com/robatashimokitazawa

9.00PM Knock off at 808Lounge

Shimokita is a neighborhood that starts the day late, but also likes to stay up late. The streets are home to hole-in-the-wall drinking establishments and 808Lounge is a local favorite. The kitsch tiki-themed watering hole seats about eight people at its bar, so you can expect to rub shoulders and strike up conversations with the next guest. “I like to go out drinking with my friends and we like to come here for the mojitos,” says Priyanka. “They’re not too sweet, yet super refreshing, and they embody perfectly the vibe of the bar.” You could easily spend the rest of the night here — if time allows — sipping cocktails until the sun comes up. fb.com/shimokitazawa808lounge

. . .

Stay the night

A proudly local suburb, Shimokita only welcomed Shimokita Hostel — the first hostel in the neighborhood — in April 2018. It’s still the only accommodation in the area that isn’t a private listing, like an Airbnb. The modern and inviting space is more than a place to crash — it’s a self-described “social neighborhood hostel” that’s designed to be a microcosm of the area in which it resides. Throughout the week, the hostel hosts a diverse roster of events that’s aimed at sharing and celebrating Shimokita’s offbeat and vibrant culture. The multifaceted hostel offers a range of accommodation packages, including private rooms, dorm rooms and daytime deals for non-staying guests who wish to use its public lounge facilities. shimokitahostel.com

. . .

More art and music

The Suzunari. Sitting just outside the center of Shimokita is The Suzunari, a bar and theater complex that’s long been the heart of the area’s famous independent theater scene. Downstairs, you’ll find a cluster of tiny bars, while on the second floor, there are two small theaters — the Suzunari Theater and Theater 711 — in which many of Japan’s most famous actors got their start. honda-geki.com/suzunari2.html

Flash Disc Ranch. A long-serving member of the passionate music community, Flash Disc Ranch is a sprawling second-floor record store filled to the brim with vinyl and music memorabilia. Owner Tsubaki-san grew up in the area and is also an excellent unofficial historian on Shimokita’s music culture. Pop by to support the independent store and maybe learn a thing or two about the neighborhood that you won’t be able to pick up elsewhere. fb.com/flashdiscranch

. . .

Meet Saori Harada, manager at Frankie

What’s great about Shimokita? It has an eclectic mix of people and independent shops that come together to create a great
indie vibe.

What do you recommend first-timers to try at Frankie? A flat white and a lamington — two great Australian inventions!

Why Melbourne coffee? It’s what Andy, [Frankie’s owner], grew up on. The emphasis on quality, balance and strength is what makes the coffee great and known far and wide.

This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Smile magazine.

Written by

Lucy Dayman

Photographed by

Richard Atrero De Guzman aka Bahag

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