Our landlord, Kashiwa, on the changing faces of Shimokitazawa
This piece is the seventh instalment in our ‘Love letter to Shimokitazawazawa’ series. This project aims to uncover the voices within our local community, helping us better understand what and who made Shimokitazawazawa the place it is today.
This time we spoke with our landlord Kashiwa-san, a true local who has lived around the neighborhood for quite a long time. If you want to know more about the history of Tokyo, Kashiwa-san would definitely be the person to talk to. He is also heading the Shimokita Shopping Street Promoting Association - a business owners union representing all six local shopping streets in Shimokitazawazawa.
Tell us about yourself and your connection with the neighborhood. What does Shimokitazawazawa mean to you?
Now I both live and work near Shimokitazawa station, but when I was a child, I used to live closer to Shindaita station next to Shimokitazawa. But I still call Shimokitazawa my furusato (hometown). It is where I spent my childhood, where I grew up, where my roots are. We have actually lived in this area for three generations, so there’s quite a family history here. My grandfather ran a fish store in Shimokitazawa in the prewar period, and then my father and uncle inherited the business and run it until about 18 years ago. They also had a real estate business that they started in late 1960s, which has become my current main business.
You’ve been here for such long time. Do you have any interesting stories of Shimokitazawazawa that you can share with us?
I have a funny inside story of the urban planning of Shimokitazawa. There is a public square on the west side, which was supposed to be fenced and shut down by Setagaya ward government due to the station renewal construction work. But nobody wanted the construction to disturb the unique atmosphere of Shimokitazawa and the view of the central area. So we’ve decided to manage the place on our own and make it into a public small park. Since we couldn't remove the wire fencing completely, we just tried to make the chaos look nicer. Our original plan was to make large planters from some old railroad-ties that the Keio Corporation had in their warehouse and kindly gave to us, but unfortunately it didn't really work out. So we just left those wooden ties there for the time being, hoping to come up with a better idea. It was then when people started sitting on them, and now they’re officially our railroad-tie-benches; the most unique feature of the place.
We also added some greens to the place in order to make it look more like a park. When it is the season, you can see blackberries starting to come out around the wire fence, which is quite charming.
I think people from my generation feel that it’s our obligation to finally finish the whole construction and urban planning schemes. Planning has been going on here from the time of my grandfather’s generation, yet didn't even start happening until my father’s generation. We can’t let our children inherit these unfinished tasks anymore.
Do you think Shimokitazawa has changed a lot?
From the 1960s to the 1980s before Japan’s economic bubble, Shimokitazawa was an everyday shopping district for neighbourhood residents. My family used to own a sushi restaurant as well as the fish store near the market place, and local people often gathered there for big dinner parties. In the 80s and 90s, second hand clothing stores slowly started to replace the fresh food markets. Because people wouldn't go to small markets or grocery stores anymore and started shopping at giant supermarkets instead, many small perishable food stores (生鮮業) including ours had to close down. There was nothing we could do about it, as it wasn't just a small local problem. It happened everywhere in Tokyo at that time. However, the interesting thing about Shimokitazawa is that despite the changes, our shopping streets didn't turn into ghost streets full of shutdown businesses, which was the case for other traditional shopping districts. It seemed like the shift from fresh markets to supermarkets and second hand stores happened here very naturally. I have never seen the streets being empty and unattractive to people. The place always maintained its charm, just for different people that changed from time to time.
I think its flexibility and a unique sense of diversity that prevented Shimokitazawa from becoming a “shutter street”, as we say in Japanese. This city is very open minded and tolerant so that there are no businesses or people we don't accept into our neighborhood. Anything can happen, and anyone can become a respected member in this community. We have managed to create a special mixture of people and shops within a relatively small space, and our narrow streets feel like an adventurous maze for visitors walking through. I often hear from people that in Shimokitazawa it’s hard to revisit stores one has been to before, so people always end up discovering something new.
This open atmosphere and maze-like jumble of shops and people are the key assets of Shimokitazawa. Because of these unique qualities people gain different impressions and experiences each time they come. The ability to find something new and exciting every time you visit the same place is exactly why people keep coming back here. Even for us locals, there is no single image or representation for this area that we all share. For example, people from the north side of Shimokitazawa station always say there has recently been a dramatic change in the south side; that it now has more bars, nightclubs, or kyabakura (typical Japanese hostess bars) than ever.
I myself had the same impression, but when someone from the south side told me that their neighbourhood has always has been like that, it reminded me of how I used to be scared, or curious about these places when I was a child. Since we didn’t have many restaurants and bars in the northern side, “the south”, for us, was this unknown territory where adults used to hang out at night. So even for us local people, Shimokitazawa has so many different faces! This is why I believe it will continue to fascinate locals and newcomers alike.