Shimokitazawa is located in a very convenient place. It takes only four minutes from Shibuya Station on Inokashira Line and seven minutes from Shinjuku Station on Odakyu Line. Famous writers and as many as three prime ministers have lived in the quiet residential area since the 1920s. Even now although the residential area is still quiet, the area around Shimokitazawa Station has been developing as a town with an exotic atmosphere, with an increase of export shops since 1950s. More and more bars have been built since 1970s, where people can enjoy rock and jazz as well as the blues. Shimokitazawa Music Festival was first held in 1979 and Shimokitazawa has become a famous town for youth culture.
After Kazuo Honda, the former actor, built small theaters around the town in 1982, Shimokitazawa has been popular among those who love plays. There are many colleges nearby and young people in their early 20s are often seen in the town. As Shimokitazawa is Mecca for youths who have the aspiration to be a musician or an actor, they come to the town with to fulfill their dreams. Two TV dramas were on air and two films were screened in 2006, in which leading characters were youths living in Shimokitazawa. Shimokitazawa is an attractive town with chaotic and unique atmosphere in the center of Tokyo.
As many as 1,500 shops, clubs with live music and theaters are crammed into an area of 500 meters square.
When you go outside the train station, you find small theaters and clubs with live music on the south exit side. On the north exit side, there is an old shopping mall, which has been thriving since the 1920s, along with fashionable shops. All of these are in a small but energetic area of 500 meters square. Even though you can go around either side, alleys are narrow and the town is like a maze. You may easily lose your way, but you can casually ask some youngsters about the location and easily make your way back to the station. If you do not see something of interest to make you stop, you can complete a walking circuit of the town within an hour.
Around the south exit
Honda Theater on the south side of the station is a landmark in Shimokitazawa and this area is called the Mecca of the Japanese theatrical circle. Eight small theaters around Honda Theater attract avid theater lovers. Special shops for theater makeup and Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa, which is a variety shop with the concept of “a bookstore where you can play,” are in the same building as Honda Theater. Village Vanguard sells many kinds of variety goods from party goods to character design goods, in addition to books, and all of them are somewhat curious. For example, a ventriloquist doll and a voice changer which is available 10 types of voices is one offer here. This is representative of the chaotic feeling of Shimokitazawa.
There are several dozen clubs with live music, including Shimokitazawa Loft, which opened in 1975. In the evening, people often wait in line for opening time in front of popular clubs. Tollywood is a theater specializing in short movies and it is available to hire the theater itself to those who want to show movies they created themselves.
If you feel hungry, you can enjoy various types of restaurants with Japanese traditional food, Okinawan food and ethnic food. Many okonomiyaki restaurants serve home-style Japanese food “okonomiyaki,” which is a Japanese-style pancake containing vegetables and other foodstuff. A takeaway shop selling Japanese fried chicken was opened recently and fashionable variety goods shops can also found.
Around the north exit
When you go out the north exit, you find a place which looks like an old town from 60 years ago. This area is “Shimokitazawa-ekimae Food Market, featuring old grocery shops that are open under the elevated railway tracks. There are few people to be found here in the daytime but it is a bustling hub at night. Stalls serving oden, or Japanese traditional stew, are crowded with diners. Passing this place, you find a stylish area with unique variety shops and small fashion boutiques selling pretty vintage clothing. Every shop has a unique atmosphere. “The Study Room” is a variety shop selling educational goods full of intellectual curiosity. It sells 4,000 kinds of goods, such as models of dinosaurs, insects, anatomical models of the human body and colored stethoscopes.
Town without cars and adult entertainment shops
The most attractive point of Shimokitazawa for tourists is that walking around the town is easy and comfortable. As alleys are narrow and cars cannot enter the town so the only traffic is pedestrian. Even seeing bicycles is rarity; therefore, you can stroll in a relaxed manner and leisurely look at each shop. As there are no adult entertainment shops, security is relatively good. Young people, who love music or theater, enjoy chatting and drinking at clubs and stalls until late into the night. Large numbers of female bar-hoppers enjoy staying out night on weekends.
High-class residential area just off the station
When you are away from around the station, which is full of vigor and various sub-cultures, you find a quiet residential area. Picturesque cherry blossoms and birds singing from well-maintained gardens are heard in springtime. Kitazawa Hachimangu Shrine is famous for its Mikoshi, which is a portable shrine carried around a promenade along the Kitazawa River and around the shopping mall. Nearby Shingon-ji Temple is renowned for its large ginkgo trees.
It may be several years before you can enjoy such chaotic atmosphere in Shimokitazawa, again, since a redevelopment project is now underway. Shimokitazawa is a must-visit area and you should take this opportunity ASAP before the redevelopment project commences.