Vibrant, over-the-top Shibuya is the Tokyo neighborhood that gets the most attention from globetrotting hipsters and fashion aficionados. However, the lesser-known Shimokitazawa (“Shimokita,” as the locals call it) is just as cultured and eclectic, without the overwhelming crowds. (Think independent fashion retailers and vintage shops, cutting-edge small eateries, and hand-crafted bike shops.) I recommend simply taking the express train to this area and stumbling upon delightful gems all day long. If you need a place to start, here are five things to check out in this hip, quirky part of Tokyo.
A delightfully arranged natural history and curiosity shop, Darwin Room is a great place to find an oddball souvenir. They carry an array of interesting taxidermy (toucans, otters, a zebra…) as well as vintage postcards and maps, pressed flowers, fossils, magnifying glasses, and books. The owner is welcoming and clearly passionate about history and the natural world. With an exterior of leafy green plants and a beguiling interior, Darwin Room is a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
This tiny donut shop is not to be missed. The expert bakers use soy milk (in addition to dairy) when preparing the donuts, which gives them a unique “light” quality (which helps balance out the sweetness). It’s the perfect breakfast, snack, dessert… you get the idea.
Wine and flowers: what could be better? This delightful flower shop doubles as a wine bar, allowing the owner, Shuji Kawashima, to simultaneously pursue his two passions of horticulture and viniculture. The unique concept has worked, and he’s amassed quite a following of locals and tourists alike.
Oriental Department Store
Lovers of art, vintage, and Japanese pop culture will love this curated bazaar, full of jewelry, clothing, housewares, and art. Each artist displays his or her work in a tiny, captivating space, making for a diverse and truly unique shopping experience. Oriental Department Store is a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs that support the local art scene.
If you’re looking for a laid-back spot to unwind after exploring Shimokitazawa, head to the neighborhood favorite, Hishimo. They serve a variety of beer as well as international small plates inspired by the owner’s travels and love of unexpected flavor combinations. The wooden interior is simple and comfortable, and the relaxed vibe and friendly staff will make you want to stay and try everything on the menu.
Pic via Flickr – Guwashi999