Where the store is the studio, the last of Bohemia in Tokyo

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Where the store is the studio, the last of Bohemia in Tokyo

Whereas so much of Tokyo continues to develop into anonymous high rises, the tiny enclave of Shimokitazawa has remained intimate and original. Still marked by its rapid development in the post-WWII era, this cozy village of tangled streets is too narrow for car traffic or big retailers, but perfect for strolling on the weekend.

Anchored by the historic Honda Gekijo Theater, Shimokitazawa has long been a center for entertainment; and today the flourishing creative scene is evident in its popular live music venues, such as Shimokitazawa Garden and Basement Bar.

But to truly grasp the art scene here, come in the daytime and step into the world of the artist – Shimokitazawa’s unique array of independently-owned shops and cafes. Charmingly off-beat, these small businesses double as a kind of artist’s studio, sharing their tastes and vision with the public.

With more vintage stores than chain stores, Shimokita - as the locals call it - is the kind of place where every shopkeeper and bartender is a collector or connoisseur, keeping watch over their tiny trove of treasures. It’s their little slice of the world to create or curate. Shops burst with hand-crafted goods and antiques that litter shelves and hang from the ceiling; some places are so small they’re more like curio cabinets with their doors thrown open to the street.

Here you won’t be inundated with the usual shrill exclamations of “irashaimase!”, urging you to buy. Instead, shopkeepers seem to be hanging out with customers, chatting about the unique provenance of some antique or how they use shibori indigo dye to bring new life to old clothes.

Though gentrification arguably began to shake up this neighborhood a decade ago, in recent years, construction started on a new highway that will cut through Shimokitazawa, possibly squeezing out the small businesses that give character to this artists’ haven. Will these latest changes erode the art scene, or will these artists adapt again?

Perhaps only time will tell, but before it’s too late, come, make a day of it here, meet the locals, and soak up the charm of what could be the last of Bohemia in Tokyo.

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