On a survey conducted asking the young Tokyoites on which part of the city they want to live given the chance, Shimokitazawa is always on the top three answers. I was surprised to learn this fact when I quickly assumed that all these young folks would want to have either Shibuya or Harajuku as their home address.
So, why would these late teens and twenty something would want to live in a somewhat “suburb” part of city, where you need to wait for all the train to pass by before you can cross the road? The answer is pretty simple- freedom.
Remember your college days, when you are breathing and living on a basis of monthly allowance, and your friend’s friend mentioned a place where you can rent a cheaper bed bunk, still be able to go to university on time and have an amazing after school happenings- Shimokitazawa is exactly that place. Although, like many parts of the city, the rent is not as cheap as it used to be and commercialism is starting to creep in, but the narrow streets still offer the kind of shelter that most students are looking for.
Shimo-Kitazawa is a hip district of used clothing shops, antique store, music venues, galleries and theaters. To add up to the trendy vibe is the fact that most of the shops are quite small and yet designed in an aesthetically unique way, as if each building has a character of its own. Even the town convenience store look so hip that it makes me want to buy a cup noodles wearing my most bohemian dress.
It has a vibe of a small town, like when you walk into coffee shops, all you need to do is smile and nod your head, and then the owner will greet you by your first name and serve your coffee just the way you like it. It can be an extension of university ground for friends to gather and discuss with much liberty whatever it is they have in mind or just goof around and laugh to nonsense. It is a place where creative people meet up, perform or share their works. It can be just a place to shop for used clothing, since it’s the only thing that the extra on a student allowance can afford and yet enough to create an individual style.
I can only imagine why young Japanese would want to live in a place like Shimokitazawa. Apart from the obvious “cool” vibe that the streets and the shops are gunning for, the district offers youngsters a sense of just being in that moment, a shelter to hibernate and to cherish the freedom of being young, because they knew that once they graduated, donned the business suit and transition themselves into a full pledge “salary man”, gone where the days of self-expression. Instead, it will be a minimum 12 hours day of work and the only liberty you can afford is the occasional Friday night after work boozing.
I think. in general Shimokitazawa is a reminder of a certain period on our life, maybe you call it “gap year” or whatever the correct term is. For some reason, I keep hearing Peter Bjorn and John song “Young Folks” on my head while walking around the town.
Ah, to be young and free. Priceless.