A Night Out in Shimo-Kitazawa
For 50 years Shimokita (as it’s called here) has been a prism through which to see the city’s alternative side. While other neighbourhoods go big, Shimokita fiercely defends its small stature, its narrow, crooked roads (the bane of taxi drivers) and its analogue vibe. Spend an evening here and raise your glass to (and with) the characters committed to keeping Shimokita weird.
It's easy to see why everyone loves izakaya (Japanese pub-eatery) Shirube: the young chefs put on a dramatic show in the open kitchen and the creative takes on classics – while not exactly gourmet – are totally satisfying, especially the house speciality, aburi saba (blow-torch grilled mackerel). ¥400 cover charge; reservations recommended.
Mother is a classic Shimo-Kitazawa bar with a soundtrack from the ’60s and ’70s and an undulating, womb-like interior covered in mosaic tile. It does cocktails (from ¥600) with in-house infusions – try the signature 'mori' liquor, served from a glass skull.
Shimo-Kitazawa Three is on a mission to make live music more accessible in Tokyo: it hosts 10 free events a month (otherwise they average around ¥2000). The line-up is pretty random, but the welcoming attitude means there's usually a good crowd, which doesn't take much – capacity is 170. Live shows start around 6pm or 7pm; club events from 11.30pm.
Part of a new wave of Shimo-Kitazawa spots run by the aptly named Nomouze (Let's drink) crew, chill spot Arena has a rooftop terrace and hosts the odd DJ party, live-music event or barbecue (in which case there might be a cover charge). Otherwise there's no entry fee and drinks start at just ¥500.
Pretty much everything at Trouble Peach is chipped, frayed or torn – and none of it is artifice. This is a well-worn and well-loved bar, open for some 40-odd years, and still playing vinyl. It looks primed for demolition, but has somehow managed to survive. Look for the neon sign. Cover ¥400; drinks from ¥500.
Never Never Land
Lively, loud and filled with bohemian characters, Never Never Land is a long-running fixture on Shimokita's bar circuit. It's a good place to wind up when you're in need of food – the bar snacks are tasty Okinawan dishes. Cover is ¥200; food and drink from ¥500. Look for the twinkling lights in the window.
Ghetto – the name comes from the characters for 'moon' (ge) and 'light' (to) – is one of the little bars inside Shimo-Kitazawa's iconic (and rickety) Suzunari theatre complex. Each night a different character is behind the counter; on the other side, a mix of local creatives and travellers. It's open very, very late. No cover charge; drinks from ¥600.
- Eccentric Bars
- Bohemian Vibe
Shimo-Kitazawa is a seven-minute train ride from either Shibuya or Shinjuku.
Train From Shibuya, take the Keiō Inokashira line to Shimo-Kitazawa; from Shinjuku, take the Odakyū line to Shimo-Kitazawa.
Hanging Out in Tomigaya
For years Tomigaya, a residential part of what's known as Oku-Shibuya ('deep Shibuya'), was a well-kept secret, but with more and more creative cafes, bistros and boutiques opening, the buzz is too great to contain. Take a break from the brashness of central Shibuya – just 15 minutes away on foot – to see what locals are so excited about.
Little Nap Coffee Stand
On the western edge of Yoyogi-kōen, Little Nap Coffee Stand is popular with local dog walkers and joggers. Which isn't to say that convenience is the only appeal here: the lattes and single-origin pour-overs (¥450; from beans roasted at Little Nap's roaster up the street) are excellent.
Forget cute. Natsuki Shigeta designs yukata (light cotton kimonos) with a punk-rock slant that pair with wild accessories. Her studio and shop, Tsukikageya, is all but hidden in the back of an apartment complex; enter from the alley behind, and look for the jewellery vending machine out front.
Sandwich counter Camelback is an example of the creative new spots popping up in Tomigaya. It's run by a young and savvy English-speaking crew (among them a trained sushi chef). Get the omelette sandwich, made with the same kind of fluffy, rolled omelette served at sushi restaurants. Seating is on the bench outside.
Tiny shop Archivando is a convincing example of less is more, featuring minimalist, handcrafted homewares, clothing and accessories, pop-up shops from obscure artisans and vintage finds.
Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers
Come browse the selection of art, food and travel magazines and small-press offerings at indie bookshop Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers. There's a small selection of books in English, and also other stuff, like totes and accessories from Japanese designers.
Tomigaya is the centre of Tokyo's neo-bistro movement and Pignon is a perfect example. It sources its ingredients directly from local producers, has a menu influenced by chef Yoshikawa Rimpei's global travels and an affecting, affable coolness. Reservations recommended, but early in the week you can usually get a seat.
Fuglen Tokyo – Tomigaya's principal gathering spot – does coffee by day and some of the city's most creative cocktails (from ¥1250) by night (Wednesday to Sunday). Check the calendar for special events, which happen several times a month.
- Cool cafes
- Creative shops
Subway Take the Chiyoda line to Yoyogi-kōen.
Train Odakyū line station Yoyogi Hachiman (a local stop on the line between Shinjuku and Shimo-Kitazawa) is nearby, too.
Walking Tomigaya is a 15-minute walk from Shibuya Station.