Penny Lane is in my in ears and in my eyes.
There beneath the blue suburban skies…
I sit, and meanwhile back. ♫♫♫
There’s a certain thrill to be told of (or chance upon) random secrets, albeit they’re as humdrum as everyday life. Those of the kind that seem to don’t add much value knowing them – the breaths in between big moments and spaces in between bucket lists. But like the small notes and pauses in music, they contribute to this bittersweet symphony that is life. They are just as real, just as present, and alluring that they too merit our attention.
In my travels, I mostly search for those in local neighborhoods. And so in Japan, the quest for Penny Lanes all over the world continues.
There are places in Tokyo that are not-so Tokyo. Meaning, no swarms of salarymen in black suits nor of its antithesis – cosplayers bursting with color; no chic buildings, life-sized robots, and grand shrines; no crazy scramble at the pedestrian crossing and at the train station. Figuratively and literally off the center of the Tokyo as we know it, that if you ride the wrong train from say, Shinjuku or Shibuya, you might as well be on your way to Mt. Fuji or some other place outside this Japan capital.
So far, I’ve spent some quality time in three of this not-so Tokyo districts – Kichijoji, Koenji, Shimokitazawa, guess which one’s my favorite? ☺☺☺
Shimokitazawa in Setagaya, Tokyo: You’ll probably have a hard time memorizing the name but don’t be discouraged. Liking it is a different story – it’s as easy as reciting your ABC’s.
Everything is in human scale. It’s big enough to spend an entire afternoon (or even a day) there, and compact enough to be able to leisurely stroll along its network of crisscrossing Penny Lanes. As usual, the establishments tend to cluster around the station (currently served by Keio Inokashira Line via Shibuya and Odakyu Line via Shinjuku), and gradually thins out as you go deeper into the neighborhood.
In a gist, Shimokitazawa has everything you look for in a trendy suburban district – and then some. ‘Cause just when you think it is all friendly and pretty, the naughty side pops out here and there. I tell you, even Mickey Mouse gets a PG rating.
I won’t spoil much of it because the “stumbling upon something” part is what I like most about this place, but let me name a few shops that are to me worth searching for should you happen to find yourself in this curious corner in Tokyo:
Exciting Bookstore by Village Vanguard
True to its name, it is an exciting store. But sorry to disappoint, it is not an R-rated naughty one! Haha! English names of Japanese stores can be quite funny because of their plainness or their too literal translations. It’s one of those things that I find endearing while traveling in Japan. Every corner or two, I giggle.
Anyway, what is so exciting about this shop? It’s this whole mess of books, trinkets, weird novelty items, food, mangas, clothes, accessories, home items, Star Wars, Adventure Time, Sailor Moon, Studio Ghibli, The Beatles, Pokemon, and so much more! It’s an impulsive buyer’s dream and nightmare, so don’t ever say I didn’t warn you.
After all that admirable composure and restraint for not splurging at ABC Mart, Gu, Uniqlo, and even in second-hand stores, I managed to spend ¥2,000 on stickers. What.the.hell.
That Sukajan shop
If you wanna bring home something unique and fashionable, you might want to consider the Sukajan – or the Japanese souvenir jacket. How trendy is it? Well, you might’ve seen some celebrities wearing this, and based on what I’ve read online, it’s a hot fashion item this 2016. I would have bought one had I not been a resident of one of the hottest places on earth. 🔥🔥🔥
Brownie points to me for mindful consumption. Yes! ✓✓✓
As for the rest…
It’s up to you to discover on your own. 👣
Some stores like the flower shop in the corner prepare to pack up for the day while the bar in the other corner starts to bustle. One by one, the shop lights are turned on, and all of a sudden, there are more people on the street. Every so often a guy with a guitar case pass by you. A line starts to form in front of a closed establishment.
I have yet to see this side of Shimokitazawa, but I heard it also rocks.