Tucked out of the way of Tokyo’s busier areas is the city’s popular little hipster hangout, Shimokitazawa. Once a farming community, this area is now beloved by thrift shoppers, live music fans and anyone looking for the “cool” part of town to hang out in. The nostalgic sideroads, lively atmosphere, unique cafes and eclectic shops make it a quaint place to explore on a date.
First things first: coffee
Most of the shops in Shimokitazawa don’t open until the late morning or early afternoon, so it can feel a little sleepy if you arrive too early. However, many food places get very busy really quickly and it is common to see long queues outside popular establishments.
Come slightly earlier than normal if you want to avoid the long lines and get a head start. Shimokitazawa has a very chilled vibe, so start your day slow with a coffee from one of the quality coffee shops, such as Australian import Frankie and Shimokitazawa’s most famous cafe, Bear Pond Espresso. Breathe in the rich smell and enjoy the taste of expertly brewed coffee before heading off to get some brunch.
Enjoy a world of food
Flipper’s is one of the most popular places in the area in terms of food, commanding lengthy queues for its Instagram-friendly and super fluffy pancake dishes. Flipper’s has a few other stores in Tokyo, but the Shimokitazawa store is the original one.
If you’re looking for something more savory, try Madosh Cafe, which serves a variety of Japanese-style western dishes devoted to avocados.
Or if you’re looking for something spicier, try Nan Station, a popular Nepalese restaurant serving curry and naan.
For non-meat eaters, Noumin Cafe serves organic vegetarian meals, Chabuton Tonkotsu Ramen has a vegan ramen and Nan Station also has vegetarian options. Cafe Stay Happy also serves organic vegetarian option and offers guests a relaxing atmosphere with its cosy seating and hammocks.
Just looking for a snack? Robson Fries is possibly the only place in Tokyo devoted entirely to Canada’s favorite comfort food, poutine. The owner lived in Canada a few years ago and loved it so much he decided to bring the dish, which consists of potato fries, cheese curds and gravy, back to Japan.
Want to jump on the Korean food bandwagon but don’t have time to go to Okubo (Tokyo’s Korean town)? Arirang Hotdogs, located right next to Frankie, will satisfy any cheese-lover with its Korean-style hotdogs – sausages on sticks, wrapped in a variety of coatings and deep-fried with copious amounts of cheese.
Have a wander
Walk off your meal by wandering around the shops and admiring the unique vintage and used items for sale.
Some popular second hand stores include Flamingo, Rag Tag and Chicago.
There is also the Shimokita Garage Department, which is a collection of different second hand clothing and accessories stores – it’s always fun to have a look around in!
As well as second hand clothing, you can also find used vinyl records, homeware, furniture, electronics and various other knick knacks.
Shimokitazawa is a visual wonderland and you don’t have to walk around for long to see different wall art. Make sure to have your camera ready because many of them make great backgrounds for a couples photo!
Try a Totoro cream puff
If you’re a fan of Ghibli’s Totoro, then Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory – famous for its Totoro cream puffs – is well-worth a visit. The cafe isn’t technically in the Shimokitazawa area, but it’s only a very short walk away in a residential part of town. Eat in or takeout – it’s up to you – but you will be sure to love the cute pastries with the variety of fillings! It’s absolutely perfect for a relaxing afternoon tea break with your date.
Taste the nightlife
With many little bars and restaurants and much less chaotic than its busier neighbor Shibuya, Shimokitazawa is a great place for a relaxing drink to end a couple’s day out.
Suzunari Yokocho is a refurbished theater that is now a series of bars and small restaurants. It gets pretty busy later in the night, but there are several options to choose from. Another fun option is Shimokitazawa Cage, which can be found under the railway and plays host to a variety of events, markets and a casual restaurant and bar.
For dinner, Shirube is an extremely popular izakaya that is beloved in Tokyo. Its signature dish is blow-torched mackerel and its vibe is lively. Reservations are essential though, especially on weekends. Another hugely popular restaurant is Magic Spice, which is known as the ultimate place in the city to have soup curry.
Or, simply have a walk around, see what’s happening and walk in anywhere you find interesting – that’s often the best way to explore!