Shimokitazawa, a small neighborhood on the western side of Tokyo, has been gaining popularity and garnering a lot of press in recent years as being the young bohemian/hipster hangout. What started as a quiet residential suburb has exploded with vintage clothing stores, coffee shops, and indie music venues. Although it now draws larger crowds, Shimokita (as the locals call it) has retained it's laid back, local charm. It's got all of the hip style of Harajuku without the hordes of tourists. Like the rest of Tokyo, the best way to explore Shimokita is on foot. You can easily spend a day wandering the back alleys and side streets. If things start getting a little too residential, just turn back and wander the other way! Here are some of our favorite spots.
First, get your caffeine fix. Bear Pond Expresso is famous as much for its eccentric, expresso-obsessed owner as it is for its coffee. Katsu Tanaka opened up the shop in 2009 and immediately attracted attention for serving super dark, syrupy espresso shots called Angel Stains, of which he only makes about 10 per day. He pulls all of the shots himself and doesn't let anyone else touch the machine. The shop also has a strict no-photography rule and Katsu doesn't like to be spoken too while he is making the coffee. Although these intense rules sometimes rub customers the wrong way, the heavenly coffee keeps people coming back. If you miss the coveted Angel Stain serving window, don't fret, the rest of the menu is just as tasty. Once you have your coffee, walk down the block to Mixture, a local bakery that makes a mean chocolate croissant.
Shimokita is known as one of the best spots for vintage shopping in all of Tokyo. There are countless little shops in the area selling everything from American workwear to discounted high fashion. Flamingo, Chicago, and New York Joe Exchange are all good options with a variety of styles at relatively affordable prices. Shimokita Garage Department feels like a tiny version of London's Camden Market. The maze of hallways has a selection of handmade craft and used clothing stalls that spill out into the street. If you are more of a music lover than you will be happy to hear Shimokita is also known for its many record stores. Flash Disk Ranch and Disc Shop Zero are both worth a browse. There a lot of hilarious gems to be found in the 300 Yen bins at Flash Disk.
When your stomach starts rumbling its time to find some more tasty grub in the area. Temmaya is a take-out window that sells a dish we have never encountered before, curry buns. Yup, curry buns! A Japanese dish in which they take curry, wrap it in dough, roll it in bread crumbs, and then deep fry it. It's incredible. You can choose from beef, chicken, or even egg curry (curry and a soft boiled egg). If you are on board with curry but would rather sit as you enjoy it, head over to Magic Spice. This eclectic cafe serves curry soup in seven different Buddhism-themed spice levels ranging from Awakening to Aum Air. The spiciest options are no joke so proceed with caution.
No matter where you eat for lunch, do not miss Shiro-higes Cream Puff Factory for dessert. This little cafe and bakery is a 10 minute walk out of the main shopping area, but is definitely worth the short detour. It is owned by the cousin of famous Japanese animator/director Hayao Miyazaki, and all of the baked goods are in the shape of his famous character Totoro. So adorable! The shop, which is decorated with little Totoro drawings everywhere, has a take-away bakery section downstairs and a small cafe seating area upstairs. Even if you aren't familiar with Miyazaki's films (in which case stop reading this article and go watch them ASAP), the delicious cream puffs at this quaint cafe will win you over.