Everybody knows hustling and bustling Shibuya, packed to the gills with shops, restaurants, clubs and avid shoppers. Setagaya however, which is located just west of Shibuya, is not so well known amongst foreign visitors, which makes it a great area to explore off-the-beaten-track—unusual discoveries guaranteed.
Setagaya is the second largest of the 23 special wards in Tokyo and generally speaking it’s a very residential district. However, it comes with a few extremely trendy neighbourhoods with lots of affordable shops, small art galleries, great izakayas (bars), cafes, as well as small theatres and live music clubs. The atmosphere is very local and laid-back, and you will easily forget that you still in central Tokyo, just a stone throw away from Shibuya.
The most unique of these neighbourhoods is Shimokitazawa (下北沢), also simply called Shimokita. It’s a very trendy area with a maze of narrow and pedestrian friendly streets full of individual shops, cafes and izakayas. You hardly find any chain store here but great gadget shops, designer & vintage clothing as well as retro furniture. Many young adults, artists and musicians have come here to live their dream, and that’s what makes the area special. Great as well at night time when the bar scene takes over and you will be spoilt for choice.
Other interesting neighbourhoods—although different—are Sangenjaya (三軒茶屋) and Futakotamagawa (二子玉川). Both are great for shopping, dining and entertainment. Sangenjaya has more of an unpretentious but charming and local atmosphere, whereas Futakotamagawa is a more modern, newly revitalized area. It’s located right next to the large Tama River, which separates Tokyo from Kanagawa Prefecture, providing lots of space for recreational activities along the riverbanks. Near Futakotamagawa you will also find one of the very few onsens (natural hot spring) in Tokyo.
You are more interested in historic sites or events? Great! Most important is probably Gotokuji Temple, which is best known as the birthplace of Maneki Neko, the “Lucky Cat”. "Boro-Ichi" is a traditional rag market (and festival), where streets are turned into a massive pedestrian zone of vendors selling everything from sake to second-hand kimonos. It has been running for over 400 years, and is considered a great cultural event.
Setagaya is also home to the probably most unconventional green space in the city: Todoroki Valley, a natural gorge, about 1km long, which is not only a welcome respite from the concrete jungle, but apparently also one of the increasingly popular “power spots” in the city.
Setagaya is full of surprises and hidden gems and a fantastic area to explore away from the crowds. Enjoy!