Long associated with a laid-back bohemian vibe, the suburb of Shimokitazawa (often referred to simply as “Shimokita”) is only a few train stops from Shibuya and Shinjuku. With Tokai University’s Yoyogi Campus and the University of Tokyo’s Komaba Campus also nearby, it’s no surprise to see the area swamped with young, trendy Japanese shoppers. The pedestrianized back streets are perfect for taking a leisurely stroll around, popping in and out of the multitude of shops or simply browsing through the racks of clothes that spill out onto the street.
Split into north and south (the south having a more typical high street feel compared with the north), there’s no better place to find something interesting to buy no matter the season or your style. There are well over a hundred apparel stores in the area (almost half of which sell secondhand goods), so grab a bubble tea from Coco Fresh Tea and Juice or a zesty beverage from Lemonade by Lemonica and poke around some of these Tokyo Weekender recommendations.
A good place to start is New York Joe Exchange, which scores extra retro points for being housed in an old sento (bathhouse) and still has the original ceramic floor tiling in place. The line of bags full of clothes at the entrance waiting to be processed are a testimony to the store’s popularity, which is particularly user-friendly for non-Japanese speaking customers thanks to bilingual information on the store’s system and services.
A big presence in the neighborhood is the Flamingo chain, which has three stores across the north side, selling new and used 20th-century American clothing. The neon outline of the long-legged phoenicopterus emblazoned across the red-bricked facade of the main store make for an easy find, as are the bargains.
If you’re looking for somewhere that truly embodies what shopping in Shimokitazawa is all about then stop by Shimokitazawa Garage Department. The 20 or so cramped stalls, chock-full of clothes, jewelry and other accessories, coupled with the low ceiling, dim lighting and grungy decor make this enclave a real thrifter’s paradise.
There are many other speciality stores to scope out such as Shimokitazawa Killers, which is full of used leather jackets, boots and so on, plus badges and pins for punk rock fans, Grapefruit Moon for that swinging ’60s summer-of-love look, Grown Up Tabatha for hats and headwear, or Chicago, which is particularly great if you’re on the lookout for used Hawaiian shirts or traditional Japanese garments such as kimono, yukata and happi.
As much as rummaging through used clothing is about picking up a bargain, sometimes it’s necessary to fork out a little extra for something special. For that, many in the know head down to Haight & Ashbury for some high-end vintage shopping amongst its authentic 19th and 20th century collection.
Shimokitazawa also has plenty of other treasures to discover besides clothing, including sundries stores such as T-Four that sell all sorts of miscellaneous knick-knacks and trinkets. Meanwhile, Flash Disk Ranch and Jet Set will satisfy the crate diggers out there looking for some classic vinyl to hoard, Used Books Honkichi caters for bargain hunting bookworms and there’s a branch of Hard Off for old tech and musical instruments.
If all that shopping leaves you feeling a bit peckish, or in need of a pit stop, there are a number of spots to choose from. Grab a coffee from one of the area’s many acclaimed cafés such as Bookends Coffee Service and Frankie Melbourne Espresso. And, if you must, try the natto donuts from the fermented bean specialist Sendaiya. Alternatively, go for a plate of authentic fish and chips at the end of the day (and wash it down with a pint or two) at Good Heavens, the British pub/comedy club that also gets in on the secondhand game with a selection of used books to browse through or buy.
Photos by Stephan Jarvis