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Aside from J-Pop, music from Japan – particularly new indie music – is not that well known outside of this beautiful island nation.
This is a damn shame because there’s a vibrant live Indie music scene in the region of Tokyo known as Shimokitazawa. (or Shimo-Kitazawa)
Shimokitazawa is a very bohemian neighborhood with a retro vibe in Tokyo at the intersection of the Odakyu and Keio Inokashira railway lines.
Shimokitazawa was originally farm land. It’s residential use happened out of urgency following the Great Kanto earthquake in the 1920s.
In the 1970s, thanks to the relatively low costs of living in the area, hippies arrived and they’ve continued to set the tone for the pace and lifestyle of the neighborhood.
It’s a fantastic place to take a walk around with a lot of arty and distinctly “Tokyo-cool” places to see and visit.
For the New Music World team it’s the local music scene that rocks our world in Shimokitazawa.
Shimokitazawa is the neighborhood for Japan’s young musicians and you can find every scene of music there.
The local crowd may have a reputation for EDM and hip-hop but there’s plenty of indie rock, garage rock, reggae, etc. too.
The live music scene is excellent in the area and unlike many of the world’s live scenes, it’s always safe, harmonious and fun.
The inside of the clubs might feel a bit basic and functional compared to the pomp of other venues but this helps you focus on the music rather than the surroundings.
Typically the first band will hit the stage at around 7 p.m. and the show wraps up around 10 – 10.30 p.m.
Audiences will stay quiet and respectful during a performance, Japanese don’t go to music bars for small talk.
And one thing you’ll be pleased to learn is that they no longer tolerate smoking, so you can breathe easy at last, something that used to be a real challenge in Tokyo.
One thing we’d encourage you to keep an eye out for in Shimokitazawa is the idol scene which gets unfairly maligned in the Western press.
In reality? It’s the subversive side of Japanese rock and there are plenty of world class artists emerging from that scene. It’s something you can’t experience elsewhere in the world.
The best way to experience music in Shimokitazawa is to go to some live gigs.
In Shimokitazawa, live music is found in venues commonly referred to as live houses.
However, it’s important to note that just because a venue is a live house it doesn’t mean that they have live music on the day that you want to visit – calling ahead is a smart thing to do and it lets you book a table if you do want to go.
You may have to pay an entry fee depending on the act you want to see or it may be included in the cost of your first drink.
Address: SY Building, 5-29-15 Daizawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 4322 9440
This is a great live house for those that really love their folk music and a bit of lightly acoustic pop. It’s not a huge space and can only accommodate about 80 people at any one time, so make sure to call ahead and book. During the day it operates as a cafe and you can sit on the balcony and watch the world go by.
Or you can email them at … firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: B2F, Big Ben Building, 2-5-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 3412 9979
Club Que is a major presence on the local scene and the music can vary considerably from day to day, so you’ll want to take a close look at the bill before you book.
They also host DJ parties when the music stops and for those, you will be required to show your passport if you want to stay on.
Address: 3F, Daiichi Shuwa Building, 2-19-13 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 3487 0716
There probably aren’t enough folks playing reggae and ska in the whole of Tokyo to keep Drum Song in live acts every night, so you’re most likely to encounter one on the weekend. However, if this is your preference for tunes, they’re open every night with a DJ filling the sonic landscape when there are no bands on.
Address: 5F, Rui Building, 2-6-5 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 5738 7169
They’ve not been open long but Liveholic’s youthful enthusiasm on the Japanese rock scene is contagious. They have a live venue on the fifth floor and a more generic music bar on the fourth and you can move freely between the bars without having to pay an extra admission fee. It’s not huge though and the capacity in each bar is under 200 people.
Address: 1F & B1F, Moai Chazawa Building, 2-2-14 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 5787 4558
Looking for somewhere to chill and enjoy some gentle tunes? Then Mosaic’s the live house for you. Things here are often tailored to the “kawaii” and you can expect pop, acoustic and laid back vibes. The performance space is downstairs with a more general music bar upstairs.
Address: B1, Senda Building, 2-6-10 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 3466 7430
This is possibly the most famous and infamous live house in Shimokitazawa and they specialize in hard rock. They are open nearly every day and the venue is part of a chain of top Tokyo venues. Expect a hefty ticket price but reasonably priced drinks if Shelter’s your venue of the evening.
Address: B1, 3-31-15 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 5454 7277
The Shimokitazawa Garage is one of the longest established live houses in the neighborhood and you get a 50% discount if you use a non-Japanese passport to enter! It’s a small friendly place with a capacity of around 200 and varied acts on almost every night of the week. They also have a music store on the second floor which stocks CDs from bands that appear there.
Shimokitazawa is definitely going upmarket nowadays and we don’t know how long the hip Bohemian feel of the neighborhood will last before it’s replaced by a truly well-heeled crowd.
However, for now, you can find some awesome places in the neighborhood to pick up some awesome vinyl.
Address: Kitazawa 2-12-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 3414 0421
If you’re looking for bargains, head to Flash Disk Ranch and get stuck into their “100 Yen Bin” which has a bunch of cheap records, always.
Whatever genre you’re into, Flash Disk Ranch caters to it and it’s easy to lose a whole day browsing their collections.
Address: 4F, Hoso Sawa Building, Kitazawa 2-12-13, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 3410 6080
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for authentic Shimokitazawa-scene tunes, you need to get down to City Country City.
It’s owned by the lead singer of the band Sunny Day Service and it’s all about eclectic local tunes with a real focus on disco and EDM.
And don’t forget to stop at the cafe there for a beer or a coffee, it’s an awesome place to chill.
Address: Kitazawa 2-19-17, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 6453 2278
You may not associate Tokyo with hip-hop, Afrocentric jazz, broken beat or other unusual forms of the art but you will if you spend time in Jazzy Sport.
Whether you want something super obscure or just want to dip your toe into the local music scene, they’ve got you covered.
Address: Shimokitazawa Cage (note: this space is not always open)
Nobody can guarantee that you will find vinyl at the Night Market nor even that you will find the Night Market at the Cage.
That’s because the vendors change regularly and the spot opens once and occasionally more than once a week between 5 p.m and 10 p.m.
But sometimes? It’s the best place to find vinyl in the whole city. You just need some luck to find it.
Address: Kitazawa 1-40-6, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03 3467 3268
This is a superstore of vinyl and you really can’t go wrong when visiting Disc Union. The Shimokitazawa branch is best known for its hip-hop and EDM.
Shimokitazawa might be a new idea to westerners but the area has long been a source of creativity and musical talent in Japan.
However, it’s slowly starting to gentrify and its days as a haven of great music may be numbered, so get there while you can.