As much as I adored Shimokita's vibe on my previous visit, I only realised how itinerary-minded I was on my second trip there. First time around, my eyesight was still map-minded and focused on finding specific attractions. Second time, I was still trying to find specific attractions (two of which no longer existed! And here I thought the turnover dilemma was confined to Seoul) but also spent much more time simply exploring - which is where the most magical part of travelling happens. Note: explore, not getting lost. Because when your mental map of a place is still in tact, any wandering you do deepens your understanding of the place instead of leaving you stranded. You're deviating from the itinerary but it's an educated deviation.
'Time to explore' probably sums up my entire experience in Tokyo this time round, having returned so soon after my last visit (relatively) and I was so glad for it.
Our time in Shimokita was mostly spent thrifting and shopping (Tokyo Thrifting Guide is in the works - watch this space). I have heard that it transforms at night into what you'd expect of a young, hip town - bars, music gigs and the like - but we only visited in the daytime. Don't visit before 11AM - not much is open.
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There's a bit of a story behind this photo and it was in the form of a middle-aged American furniture-maker who spotted us taking photos of the mannequin and wanted to know what was so special about it.
He had lived in Shimokita for over a decade, saw rounds of tourists stopping at our exact position and didn't get this new love for the battered chic that makes it cool to serve people drinks in glass jars or has people lining up to sit in a concrete-floored old garage on graffiti-covered chairs, eating food on garage-sale-sourced plates. He hand-made solid, traditional furniture, he said, and no one was buying it. What did we see in this wall?
You could say that about Shimokita and, in a more general way, about many of the residential suburbs of Tokyo. On paper, they are almost all small, a little worn and, architecturally and often technologically, a step and a half behind.
And yet...it's about a large number of residents using their spaces to say something about themselves, like a microcosm of personality hidden behind small, regulation-size spaces and set up with such attention to detail. As for shabby chic, perhaps the draw comes from not hiding the generations of ideas or people that came before it, but remixing it, often with a tongue-in-cheek playfulness akin to drawing a moustache on a photo of your great-grandfather. The cycle continues - that traditional furniture will come back into vogue eventually - but, for now, we will have fun. That, above all, is what I see.