Shimokitazawa is a suburb in Tokyo located in the Setagaya Ward. Widely considered the hippest part of Tokyo by locals, Shimokitazawa is a bohemian neighborhood most known for its vintage thrift stores and trendy coffee shops, populated by cool kids, artsy types, young musicians, and naturally, anyone on a budget! Shimokitazawa is one of the most fun and interesting neighborhoods to visit in Tokyo and you don’t need to be a hippie or hipster to do so. It’s so easy to spend a day getting lost in the interesting shops and alleys, trying out some of the city’s best coffee, and even trying a new kind of ramen, without spending more than ¥1,000 (unless you’re like me and can’t resist buying cheap vintage clothing)! There is tons of shopping, eating, and drinking in Shimokitazawa as well as some of the most interesting people you’ll see in the city. So, without further ado, here are my top recommendations for exploring Shimokitazawa on a budget.
But First, Coffee
Shimokitazawa is a haven of genuinely good coffee stalls and shops for everyone in the city who hates Starbucks and convenience store coffee. If you appreciate an authentic cup of coffee, Shimokitazawa is your dream neighborhood. Lined throughout with small cafes, coffee shops, and sometimes even espresso stands, Shimokitazawa is a paradise for caffeine addicts. Even if you prefer tea, most of the shops in the neighborhood have both tea and herbal (caffeine-free) options on the menu. One of my top recommendations is a little shop called Bookends Coffee Service, which offers hot drinks for as little as ¥180, and has a very relaxed and cool vibe given the vintage records that are always playing in the background. It is certainly a low-key setup but they offer a top class coffee menu for a very affordable price. If you are an espresso fanatic, in particular, I suggest making a visit to Bear Pond Espresso, which is arguably the most popular and well-known coffee shop in Shimokitazawa, but well worth the hype. Made up of simple wooden benches and floors, this is a small, undecorated shop which boasts an original one-of-a-kind espresso that has been described as “sexy” and even “philosophical” by patrons. However, I suggest you find directions to this location online because if you don’t, it’s very hard to notice. It’s a local spot that doesn’t otherwise stand out unless you are specifically looking for it. You can impress your friends with this provincial find, only given that they appreciate coffee as much as you do. Finally, for the truest coffee enthusiasts out there, I strongly suggest a visit to Frankie Melbourne Espresso for an authentic Australian café-style coffee with just as much, if not more, care and detail put into every sip. At this small joint, you can find flat whites and long blacks and, in case it’s not your preference, authentic Matcha (green tea) lattes. Even if you don’t like coffee (or any hot beverages), checking out these local coffee shops is well worth the time just for the people-watching factor alone. Spend half an hour at any of these shops and you’ll be sure to witness some of the most intriguing of Tokyo’s youth, including students, musicians, artists, and other tourists.
Twenty Dollars in my Pocket
Once you are thoroughly caffeinated, it’s time to venture into the world of shopping in Shimokitazawa. Whether you are looking for vintage clothing or old records, Shimokitazawa is one of the best neighborhoods in Tokyo for budget deals. If you are on the prowl for vintage fashion, I suggest that you start at Stick Out, which is a secondhand clothes store where everything costs ¥700. Only 10 minutes from Shimokitazawa station, Stick Out contains an impressively well-kept variety of indie and vintage clothing options for an affordable price. If you are lucky you can find trendy garments for as little as ¥100! The other well-known but often overlooked vintage clothing thrift store is Ragla Magla which is a popular used and vintage clothing shop in which everything is ¥990 or less. This shop tends to be hit or miss, but it’s certainly possible to find top designer pieces for very low prices.
Oldies but Goodies
If you are not interested in fashion, perhaps (and most likely) you can find classic or indie music that you like in a local music shop. If you are a fan of vinyl, for example, Shimokitazawa is the perfect neighborhood for you. If so, check out Disc Union Shimokitazawa near Setagaya City Hall. This branch boasts an impressive used record and CD collection, all for affordable prices. Most of the records are priced around ¥400 to ¥800, and since the shop is so large, you’re likely to find something you want. They also have an impressive collector’s section for original pressings and records. Another option for browsing old records is a shop called Flash Disc Ranch, which is an even larger shop offering records for as little as ¥300. The shop is on the second floor and is possibly the most well-known, if not the most popular records shop in the neighborhood, but stands its ground with classic music, vintage posters, and of course, all of the vinyl’s you could imagine.
Cheap Shimokitazawa Eats
Once you’ve finished people-watching and thrift-shopping, I suggest that you head to one of these cheap eats for dinner before heading home. Perhaps most iconic is the Shimokita Cage, which is a small and contained night market. Various food trucks rotate the responsibility of selling here and there is also an affordable regular kitchen. It is a temporary pop-up kitchen, so if you’re interested, definitely check it out before the New Year! If you’re feeling less social, however, head to Don Pizza for 500-yen decent pizzas and other Italian options, much further off the beaten path and with a quieter setting. Finally, if you want to stick to Japanese food, try Torisoba Souto for cheap (but excellent) chicken-broth ramen for around ¥600. It’s a salty, clear broth with buckwheat noodles which will leave you satisfied your entire journey home.
Shimokitazawa has much to offer for anyone who is interested in older Japanese pop culture, vintage fashion, or classic music. This is a quirky and fun neighborhood for anyone to explore and experience, even if you are not the “bohemian” type. At the very least, Shimokitazawa offers a glimpse into the young, trendsetting neighborhood of Tokyo, and all at a reasonable price. Trust me, it’s well worth the excursion from the city to see this charming, humble, yet hipster suburb.
ADP / United States
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