Redeveloping Shimokita but preserving its uniqueness

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Shimokita Senrogai complex is seen in the Shimokitazawa district of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

With many secondhand clothing shops and fringe theaters lined along narrow streets, the Shimokitazawa district of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, is popular among young people.

The area commonly referred to as “Shimokita” has undergone a renewal this year as new facilities have opened as part of a redevelopment project in front of Shimokitazawa Station. However, what makes this project unique is that residents and companies have managed to keep the town’s characteristic look.

In May, construction was completed on Shimokita Senrogai — various shops, facilities and an event space built on the approximately 1.7-kilometer strip of land that used to have trains running through it — near Shimokitazawa Station on the Odakyu Line. Odakyu trains have been running underground in the area since 2013, so the tracks were removed, leaving the land unoccupied.

There are 13 facilities in Shimokita Senrogai, which translates to Shimokita railway track street. Among them are Yuen Bettei Daita, a ryokan Japanese-style inn with an open-air bath filled with water from an onsen hot spring in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Shimokita College, where students, as well as working adults, can live and study together.

The redevelopment project was handled by Odakyu Electric Railway Co.

“We didn’t want to go the facility-led development route, which would lead to tall buildings, franchise shops and company offices,” said Takaaki Mukai of Odakyu Electric Railway. “Instead, we wanted to try support-style development, which focuses on building a town in line with what the residents want.”

In March, the facility Mikan Shimokita opened in front of Shimokitazawa Station. The shopping and restaurant complex developed by Keio Corp. has a unique exterior and a wide variety of tenants. Keio said it is working with the facility users to convey the charms of the area on the facility’s website and seeks to create a town that works with the local community.

Years of discussions

The redevelopment project became a reality after many years of hard work by the residents who wanted to preserve the town’s aesthetic.

In 2003, it was decided that a portion of the Odakyu Line would go underground. In addition, there were plans for an arterial road to be built in front of the station that ran through the shopping district. Musicians and members of theater companies protested the plans, saying, “We don’t need a big road in Shimokita,” as the project would lead to the evictions of many shop tenants. Large-scale rallies and meetings were frequently held for the cause.

However, opinions among the residents were divided, according to Kenji Shimodaira, 60, a leading figure in the protest at the time who has lived in Shimokitazawa for more than 40 years. Some said it would be more convenient if the new road was built, while others argued that Shimokita is what it is because it is inconvenient. As a result of Shimodaira’s urging, residents, the Setagaya Ward mayor and railway companies discussed the issue for many years.

In the end, they realized that everyone wanted to make Shimokita a better place. After listening to residents’ concerns, Odakyu Electric Railway built Shimokita Senrogai as a symbol of cityscapes only seen in Shimokitazawa.

“Now we have a place where people can easily experience Shimokita,” Shimodaira said. “The town has become an even livelier place.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenji Shimodaira stands at the entrance of a shopping street near Shimokitazawa Station.

Future still unknown

Even though the redevelopment plans in front of the station are properly in progress, plans are still up in the air for the ward’s arterial road project.

As some shop tenants still have not moved out, the project’s completion is now postponed to fiscal 2028. The negotiations between the shops and the ward are still ongoing.

“Some shops say they will never move out, so the [project’s] future is up in the air,” said Shimodaira.

Shimodaira and his associates are planning to regularly hold screenings of a documentary about the entire redevelopment project at a movie theater near the station to inform others about how they solved problems in the area through negotiations.