Have you heard of the best little neighborhood in Tokyo? Shimokitazawa! It is located about 3 km west of Shibuya in Setagaya. Shimokitazawa is the area around Shimokitazawa station which is right at the intersection of the Keio Inokashira Line and the Odakyu Odawara line. Frequently described as “Bohemian”, Shimokitazawa has long been a refuge for Tokyo’s artistic young people who are looking for a cheaper solution to living in or around Tokyo. It is close enough to Tokyo to have access to all of its many exciting places but just far enough outside of it to keep the general cost of living relatively low (by Tokyo standards). This neighborhood is full of young, vibrant creatives as well as cool dive bars, a myriad of used clothing stores, delicious restaurants, independent coffee shops, cafes and more. This is a list of just some of the many reasons that make Shimokitazawa the best little neighborhood in Tokyo.
Restaurants and Cafes
There are so many wonderful little cafes and restaurants that you would probably have to actually live in or near Shimokitazawa to be able to try all of them. Here is just a small sampling of the best, most delicious, and most popular options.
If you are really hungry and in the mood for some good Italian food then you should make the short walk from the station’s South exit down to Cona. There are several of these restaurants sprinkled around Tokyo, but the Shimokitazawa location is a little extra fancy. It features a relatively spacious interior, wooden chairs, and long wooden tables, and has a fully stocked and affordable bar. The wine list is more extensive as well as you would expect from an Italian restaurant. Frustrated by Japan’s occasionally outrageous pizza prices? Like all Cona locations, you can order any of their dozens of full-sized pizza choices for only 500 yen! (You may have to buy a drink and appetizer too.) This restaurant can also be rented out for large parties, conferences, and other functions. Need to give a business presentation? Rental includes use of their projection screen and microphone. Plus sometimes they use the screen to have ‘watch parties’ for major sporting events. So come enjoy a glass of wine, a pizza, and a fun and bright atmosphere.
Just a 1 or 2-minute walk from the South exit of Shimokitazawa station, Frankie is a great little independent coffee shop that describes itself as “bring[ing] the feeling of a modern Melbourne café to Tokyo.” Their menu has many different styles of coffee from Melbourne, and they use coffee beans sourced from farmers in South America. It is notable for its bold black and white sign and prides itself on a casual and comfortable atmosphere. In addition to coffee, they also have cold-pressed juices, an ever-changing assortment of homemade Australian recipe sweets and treats, as well as a delicious prana chai (my personal favorite). So if you are tired of dragging yourself through a busy Starbucks all the time, then you should head over to Frankie for a little bit of extra quality and relaxation at no extra charge.
Just like the name implies, this bright and colorful cafe and restaurant is located a couple of blocks north of Shimokitazawa station and has a menu that heavily features the avocado. It is an ingredient in basically everything on the menu (even some drinks). They have very elaborate and delicious handmade rice bowls, curry bowls, salad bowls, and more, all with variations of using avocado. They even have a registered trademark sweet drink called the Avopecino which is essentially just drinking blended avocados, but it is way better than it sounds (trust me). Plus they have a long counter of gourmet syrups that you can use to customize the flavor of your Avopecino making it into your own little personal culinary masterpiece (I went with passion fruit, black currant, and a hint of cinnamon). Also, they have a YouTube channel called Avo Power TV as well as an Instagram showing off their amazing menu items. If you are into peace, love, and avocados then definitely check out the Avocado Cafe.
There are a lot of cozy little cafes and coffee shops sprinkled around the Shimokitazawa area, but one, in particular, stands out to me. The Expresser cafe is just around the corner, about a 2 to 3-minute walk from the North side of Shimokitazawa station. This cafe features the decor of an American 1950s diner with incredibly comfortable red velvet seats, slick tables, and even a noticeable antique truck parked in front (see above). The thing that really pulls me into this place, besides the free wifi and relaxed atmosphere, is the chai. I absolutely love chai. And they do not just have 1 chai, they have a chai menu. There are about half a dozen different chai options including ginger chai and honey chai. And since you can order them hot or iced and sit-in or to-go, there is a chai option for every customer. They, of course, have a few different coffee options as well and even a small stage in the back that can be used for live performances. I definitely suggest you try this cafe. It’s hard to miss.
Cream Puff Factory
All the way down on the North side of Setagaya-Daita station, there is a wonderful little gourmet bakery called Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory. It is tucked away back in a quiet part of the neighborhood off the beaten path by itself, but there is pretty good signage. They make an incredibly beautiful selection of cakes, cookies, and (of course) cream puffs. They are elaborately decorated to look like little Totoro figures (like in the popular Studio Ghibli film “My Neighbor Totoro” [listed in my Top 5 Best Ghibli Films article]). There are many different flavors including custard, chocolate, matcha and more. Each flavor is denoted by a different hand-crafted decoration for Totoro’s head. And, at under 500 yen per puff, you can afford to indulge in a few options. They also have some adorable and delicious cookie sets as well as customizable cakes for any special occasion. Just head upstairs to their cafe area to sit and enjoy your little creamy companion in style. If you like sweet treats then the Cream Puff Factory is a must-see destination.
One major feature of the Shimokitazawa that you cannot help but notice as you walk around is the sheer number of second-hand stores. I am not going to list any individually because there are just so many of them and they are all worth having a look thru. There are resale shops for antiques, toys, knick-knacks, trinkets, furniture, and decor, but the majority of them are clothing stores. However, unlike some other resale shops that are dusty, or smell funny, or less clean, these shops tend to be bright and clean and trendy. And since trends vary wildly, so do the prices. If you are lucky you can find some great items for only 1000-2000 yen or sometimes even less, but do not be surprised (like I was) when you see “resale” items for 4000-6000 yen. But if you are tired of looking like a UNIQLO mannequin (like I do), this area can be a great place to find some more colorful, unique, and “out there” items to add to your wardrobe. And many of these shops have items from foreign brands like the U.S., Europe, and more.
Are you craving a little bit of a refuge from Japan and a more English cultural experience? Then you should definitely swing by Good Heavens! This 2nd-floor bar is one of my personal favorite spots in all of Tokyo. It is run by a lovely British expat named Paul and has an entire wall of bookshelves full of various English language books that you can actually buy for 300 yen. They serve some of the best fish and chips in Tokyo and also have a selection of international beers. Also, they know how to make a delicious burger as well. Plus, I have been hearing from reliable sources that they have an awesome carrot cake available. Not only are they are a great place for Western food and drink, but they also have events running almost every night of the week, including the English language stand up comedy shows courtesy of Stand Up Tokyo with a regular show every Wednesday night. You can find out more information about Good Heavens on their facebook page.
Another place that is close and only about a 2 to 3-minute walk Southeast from the station is Banana Moon. It is a gourmet izakaya with an international flare and some interesting menu items. For instance, they serve delicious tapioca cocktails that are like bubble tea for adults. Banana Moon features a well-stocked bar with many imported beers, culinary creations from around the world, and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. They also sometimes offer rainy day benefits. This year marks their 14th anniversary and they are only getting more popular. If you are stressed and tired from a long day of work, head over to Banana Moon and take your evening out to the next level!
Other Cool Attractions
Only about a 3-minute walk southeast from Shimokitazawa station, around the corner from Banana Moon (see above) is the wildly popular Shimokitazawa GARDEN. It is a hip and cool live music venue that boasts the largest audience capacity in the area and has shows running throughout each week. They have many different types of music represented, but they describe themselves as being “for all Rockers, Punks, Performers, and New Generation”. If you really enjoy going and seeing live music shows then you should definitely check out the Shimokitazawa GARDEN!
Do you love playing with puppies? Of course, you do! But what if you do not own one? Well, you are in luck! If you are heading south from the train stations, before you get to Good Heavens, you can make a short stop over at Puppy Cafe Rio for some play time with their adorable little employees. The cost is 200 yen per 10 minutes of the visit so you can stay as little or as long as you like. Drinks are available for 350 yen, and you can even get to feed some dog treats to the puppies for 500 yen. Also, they have many different types of dogs including Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Pomeranian, and the Japanese favorite Shiba Inu. And being up on the 3rd floor of the Shine building, this cozy puppy lounge has a lovely view of the Shimokitazawa area. So, even if you only have a little bit of time and need a little happiness boost, stop by the Puppy Cafe and pet your cares away.
It’s the BEST!
Now you see why Shimokitazawa is the best little neighborhood in Tokyo! What other cool stores or places have you found in Shimokitazawa? How do you think your neighborhood measures up to this one? Tell us all about it! And do not forget, Tokyo’s neighborhoods have seemingly endless wonders to discover. So never stop exploring and you will never be bored!