I live in the Shimokitazawa area of Setagaya Ward in Tokyo, a very convenient area packed with personality. Shimokitazawa Station is at the intersection of two train lines (the Odakyuu Line and the Keio Inokashira Line), making it possible to travel to Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Kichijoji from Shimokitazawa by one train. Shimokitazawa is famous for being “bohemian,” with many used clothing shops, boutiques, music venues, and other trendy spots (hipster-town Tokyo is what I always call it). There are many such articles concerning this neighborhood, so in this article, I will address the nightlife in Shimokitazawa. In writing this article, I spent a night on the town, so to speak, and got absolutely obliterated in the process, but I would be remiss not to conduct such a bender for research purposes (and for photo-taking purposes). Let’s start with food.
Shimokitazawa has more food options than one could ever exhaust. For example, to my knowledge, there are at least six or seven yakiniku spots, at least 15 yakitori joints, at least two Okinawa ryouriya, at least ten Chinese restaurants, at least five Italian establishments, at least five French restaurants, at least three Thai eateries (two on my street alone), at least two Mexican restaurants, several Indian establishments, at least three (if you include Kebab stands) Turkish establishments….I think you get the idea. I started my night out at my favorite izakaya (Japanese style pub) in Shimokitazawa called Ima Nari.
Ima Nari is a shinise (well-established shop) in Shimokitazawa (by Shimokitazawa standards, that is. The turnover rate of shops in this neighborhood is scary; many shops come and go before you ever had a chance to patronize them). Before March 2013, when the Odakyuu line was an aboveground train line through Shimokitazawa (it now goes through Shimokitazawa underground, like a subway) you could see the sign on top of Ima Nari, which proudly boasts draft beer for 190 JPY. This is an extremely low price for beer in Japan, where at most izakayas, a draft beer is easily double this price. The menu is pretty broad, having sashimi, agemono (fried foods like karaage), snacks like edamame, sliced tomatoes and cabbage, yakimono (grilled meats), etc. Everything is reasonably priced, and the booze, as noted above, is very cheap, so this is where you want to get started for a night of drinking in Shimokitazawa.
Okay, we’ve gotten some grub, so now comes some serious drinking. Where to go? It depends on what kind of place you want to drink in. On the shotengai (commercial strip) Ima Nari is on, there is a surfeit of pretentious wine-cheese type establishments, so you have that option if that is your thing. These places are a bit expensive, but to each his own and all that jazz. In the opposite (southeast) direction of Ima Nari (directly across from Shimokitazawa hospital and Kitazawa Town Hall), there is an area with a bunch of dive bars and tachinomiya (tachinomiya is an inexpensive, closet-sized bar where you stand and drink; the charm of these places is how small they are and therefore how you will interact and talk with the other customers). If you continue down the shoutengai to the south of Ima Nari past the Shimokitazawa kouban (police box), there is also a large number of bars (many have cover charges, so keep this in mind; most tachinomiya do not), and also many live music bars (many of which also have a cover charge). For my money, the best post-dinner drinking establishment is Higechouchin.
This is a tachinomiya located on the south side of Shimokitazawa station, about a five-minute walk from Ima Nari, but only one minute from Shimokitazawa station. This can also be considered a shinese by Shimokitazawa standards, as I’ve been getting drunk here for a decade now. The owner is from Fukushima prefecture, and the store name, literally translated as “bearded lantern,” comes from a famous festival in his native Fukushima prefecture “Chouchin festival”. As opposed to many tachinomiya, Higechouchin actually provides enough food (quite good and reasonably priced) that eating here alone is an option. The drinks are also relatively cheap, and the regular customers (including yours truly) are friendly and the atmosphere is great.
At this point, I’m usually hammered enough to call it a night, but if you really want to get it in, there are many other options to keep the party going.
When I first came to Shimokitazawa years ago, there were a bunch of darts bars, but now, to my knowledge, there are only three or so. I learned to play darts in Shimokitazawa, and it is quite fun (although the drinks at these places are a bit expensive, usually at 500-600 JPY.
There are a few karaoke kan (whole buildings devoted just to karaoke). These places are great. You get your own sound-proof room (the fees are based on a time system, more or less (e.g. one hour equals x JPY), they have a huge number of Japanese and foreign songs, and the food and drinks are pretty cheap (albeit not so healthy, I dare say). These establishments are easy to find, especially near the station.
Late Night Snack
If you’re still in your twenties and don’t mind packing on several thousand extra calories after all the drinking, a combination of ramen and gyoza is hard to beat. Your options are almost limitless in Shimokitazawa.
At this point, you may very well have already missed the last train. Depending on which train line and to where you are going, the time of the last train differs but generally speaking, around midnight, you had better make a quick decision if you are going to, a la Cinderella, beat feet to the station or if you are going to make an all-nighter out of the encounter. If you’ve missed the last train and you don’t think you can continue drinking until 5 A.M. or so, which is when the first trains start running, your options for sleep are actually a bit limited in Shimokitazawa (you can take a taxi home, of course, but depending on where you are staying, this can be a bit expensive).
This is how I usually do it when I miss the last train in areas other than Shimokitazawa and I don’t feel like shelling out 7,000 JPY to take a taxi home. You get a little booth with a computer, and staying for the night costs about 1,000-1,200 JPY if memory serves. They have free drinks (non-alcoholic) and snacks (not free) as well as mountains of Japanese comic books, and most also have showering/bathing facilities. This is not the most comfortable sleep, but it beats the heck out of sleeping on the street.
You may be able to find a capsule hotel in Shimokitazawa as well. First of all, a capsule hotel may seem odd to the unaccustomed tourist, but they are actually quite cozy and reasonably priced. For 3,500 JPY or so, you can stay for the night, and sometimes breakfast is even included. They have bathing facilities, a TV room, and other entertainment options, and the little cubby hole you place yourself in is surprisingly comfortable. If you have never stayed in such an establishment, you owe it to yourself to try it.
The food and drinking options are almost limitless in this tiny neighborhood, and in this article, I haven’t even scratched the surface. Come out for a night, have some great food, get good and drunk, and, like me, you may find yourself living here one day.