S intro3


So, you’ve heard of Harajuku right? The place where young Japanese do extreme dress-up? Okay, well, this week I thought we wouldn’t go there (too famous) – but somewhere that I’d heard was a Harajuku-lite. Hip but more relaxed. A neighbourhood in western Tokyo called Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita as the locals call it.

While I knew we wouldn’t find grown men in onesies or gothic lolitas there, I thought at least we’d see some dress-up. But no. Maybe we missed it. Because Shimokita seemed more cozy and kawaii (cute) than anything else, its narrow car-free alleys filled with a fairly ordinary mix of people hanging out at the independent cafes, vintage clothing shops and tiny bars and eateries.

Pretty amazing considering it’s just 10 minutes by train from the skyscrapers and madness of Shinjuku.

Let’s wander…


Part 1: Food and drinkies in Shimokita

As I mentioned, the neighbourhood is dotted with bars, cafes, restaurants. My favourite bar was the one where Tony Montana was at. No, not that Tony Montana (Al Pacino, Scarface, 1983). This Tony Montana…



everyone stands at a stand-up bar - that's Tony, on the right

everyone stands at a stand-up bar – that’s Tony, on the right





mushrooms and chook on the grill

mushrooms and chook on the grill





hey, hello, anyone?

hey, hello, anyone?






Tony was there with his owner, Kawabata. I asked Kawabata what he liked about living in Shimokita – he said, “It’s exciting”. (Or at least I think that’s what he said. Kawabata, if you’re reading this and I just misquoted you, please let me know.)



what? I'm hungry

what? I’m hungry











Given how many rules there are in Tokyo, I’m sure there’s one that says – No dog, including one named after a famous American actor, is allowed to eat at a bar. But this is Shimokita – chill.

There are lots of cute dogs in the neighbourhood – like this one…



let's call her Fluffy

let’s call her Fluffy





…. but really, Tony Montana was the best.



in their own worlds

in their own worlds





Aside from the bars, the main food focus in the neighbourhood seemed to be on fish and noodles.



fish, fresh and dried

fish, fresh and dried





let's get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

let’s get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne





where would Japan be without its noodles?

where would Japan be without its noodles?





noodles in the making

noodles in the making





As for cafes, my favourite was this one, with a small photography gallery out the back and a very sweet barista, Susumu…



Ballon D'essai

Ballon D’essai











thank you Yoshida!

thank you Yoshida!





Part 2: On the main street

We met all sorts of people…



the inspiration for his hair do? - Teruaki

the inspiration for his hair do? – Teruaki












French-ish – Kaede





half Dutch, half Japanese - Yuzuki and Luca

half Dutch, half Japanese – Yuzuki and Luca











There are few cars around but occasionally you see the odd taxi – of which I am strangely fond. Their bright colours, the lace seat covers and the impeccably dressed taxi drivers and their white gloves. Pity they cost an arm and a leg.










the smartest taxi drivers ever

the smartest taxi drivers ever





Part 3: Obsession No. 1

Lanterns. Love them. Can’t stop snapping them. Especially when combined with gleefully happy two year old Mei.



hanging out with grandpa - Fukai and Mei

hanging out with grandpa – Fukai and Mei











the kiss

the kiss











Speaking of fish and lanterns…



attracted by the light

attracted by the light





early evenings

early evenings





Part 4: House and garden

After we’d explored the main shopping area, we walked up the little hill to check out the houses. While most of them were the typical Tokyo low-rise 70s-80s kind, there was one that caught my eye – old, of course, with a traditional garden.



the garden :: 1

the garden :: 1





the garden :: 2

the garden :: 2





the garden :: 3

the garden :: 3





And I cannot ignore a nice old wall…



wall :: 1

wall :: 1





wall :: 2

wall :: 2











And even when there’s no space for a garden, nature still sneaks in…









Part 5: Autumn

One of the reasons I decided to include Tokyo in this project was I wanted to see the autumn leaves. While there aren’t many in Tokyo, I did spot a few. On trees and as well as elsewhere…



a slow reveal

a slow reveal





Inside this beautifully wrapped packaging from a shop in Shimokita was…



autumn :: 1

autumn :: 1





autumn :: 2

autumn :: 2





autumn :: 3

autumn :: 3





Japanese design is unbelievably wonderful. From their papers and fabrics to the sweets above. And these ones too…









The Wrap

When they ask young people where they most want to live in Tokyo, apparently Shimokita is one of the top choices. I can see why; it’s an incredibly relaxed and friendly little corner of Tokyo that’s minutes away from the bright lights of Shinjuku et al. I just hope it manages to hang on to its charm – just around the corner from Susumu’s hand-drawn coffees is a Starbucks. Just saying.




at the cat cafe

at yet another cat cafe





tea and hot chocolate

tea and hot chocolate





On the ‘home front’

Coco loved Shimokita. Aside from its small town charm, it had a cat cafe. A done deal really.

Now, I hope you’re still reading because I have news. Having almost not come here, Tokyo has got me firmly in its clutches. So we’re staying a few extra weeks. And, I’m so sorry if this is going to disappoint anyone, but I’m cancelling Mexico City. After Tokyo, one more big city may just do me in – well, us in actually. We’re both pretty exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you feel quite odd at times and unable to move. We’ve been going at it for 11 months and it’s showing.

There’s more. You know how I’m running late – as in, I’m only up to ‘Suburb’ No 40 which means I have 12 more installments to go – but the year ends in just six weeks?

Well, the problem is, my Around the World tickets expire at the end of those six weeks. If we don’t finish by then, I’ll have to buy new tickets home. It may not sound like much but it’s just one cost too many – even with the wonderful support of my sponsors and Kickstarter supporters (hello! I love you!), this project has ended up costing me a pretty penny.

I’ve been really struggling with this for weeks. I’m so passionate about this project and so committed to making it the best possible virtual travel experience I can for you. But I just can’t take any more out of my mortgage to fund it (I know, extreme huh?).

So, here’s my solution. I’m going to do 12 ‘suburbs’ in six weeks. Ha! They’ll be shorter for sure, it may kill me, but…

And after Tokyo, we’ll finish the last few weeks in a mystery location.

If anyone has another solution (eg, know someone at Qantas who’ll extend my tickets for another month) please do tell.

I’m so sorry if you’re disappointed by any of this. But I think my plan will work out okay. It’ll just be 52 Suburbs Around the World ‘Lite’ from now on…

This suburb has been brought to you by Nirah Mattila 

See you next week – twice hopefully.


  1. Simeon says:

    Sounds like a plan! On the home straight! (You are up to #92 in total). Amazing effort.

  2. Kristin says:

    Hi Louise,
    I just love your photography and admire your attention to detail. I don’t care if you cancel Mexico City, it has already been an amazing journey and I can imagine how exhausting is must be. Love this post!

  3. Pip says:

    Hi Louise – We were in Tokyo in July and Shimokitazawa was one of our favourites. My daughter was – and is – obsessed with it. She loved the vintage shops, as did I. And don’t worry, you can only do what you can do, and you’ve done it extremely well so far. Pipx

  4. Steve says:

    Another terrific post, Louise. We’ll all be enthusiastically awaiting your next 12 mini-posts, wherever they may be from.

    Not long to go now!

  5. Joel says:

    Love it. Love that cat too. And Susumu and his coffees. =D I’m no expert on Japanese seasons, but my internet research suggests to me that the full-on Autumn colours don’t really reach Tokyo until late November.

    On taxis costing an arm and a leg, boy do I hear you. My friend and I wound up spending ten thousand yen on a taxi when we thought we’d missed the last train of the night. (We were wrong, incidentally.) Even with the cost, they’re still somewhat cool – they can open the rear door from the driver’s seat! – and getting our first sight of Tokyo’s streets from a taxi rather than a train made for a very different experience.

    Just idly, which manga are you taking those photos from? Also, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to say, but where did you wind up setting up your home base?

    As for ticket-expiring problems, maybe change your last city to somewhere that’s relatively cheaper to get back to Sydney from, like New Zealand. Or Tasmania? =)

  6. Annie says:

    Looking forward to exploring here when I next return to Tokyo . Arigatoo gozaimasu

  7. Brent says:

    Come on Louise one last push then back to good old Sydney town. I am sure you two are suffering from travellers fatigue but you can only do what you can do. No matter what happens this is a whole lifetime of memories! I has been an amazing experience for all of us.

  8. Louise says:

    Simeon – Aside from the ticket issue hurrying us home, I must say, the pull of home is now very strong, especially as we’re almost in the same time zone.
    Kristin – Oh, thanks for saying. Mexico City, another time huh?
    Pip – I can’t imagine Tokyo in summer. Gets hot right? Very glad you all loved sweet Shimokita too.
    Steve – Arigato mister!
    Joel – Yeah, I keep thinking about that scene in Lost in Translation, shot from a taxi’s point of view. Very cool. Manga are just from a tiny magazine shop at the train station in Shimokita. We ended up renting two apartments – one in Takadanobaba where we are now and the next one in Shibuya, where we move to on Sunday. And yes, NZ and Tasmania are my Plan C if I can’t manage two posts a week! Kind of like the idea of ending up in say, Hobart.
    Annie – I hope Susumu’s cafe will still be there – they just opened it but I hear places come and go pretty quickly in Shimokita.

  9. Nadine says:

    No one will be disappointed. You’ve done brilliantly!

    • Louise says:

      Nadine – Many thanks!

  10. Joel says:

    I still haven’t seen Lost in Translation. Been meaning to, though…

  11. JENNY M says:

    What an interesting experience you’ve had in Japan – it sounds terrific and unique. Having not visited, it was fascinating to read — many thanks and enjoy your last 6 weeks wherever you happen to go!

  12. Gaylee says:

    Louisaaaa….you know what I’m going to say. Bring on Plan C in Auckland. Stay with us for a wee while. Think of our Polynesian population, lots of different cultures and influences. You might just like it. A little Sydney!!!
    We will have to talk.

  13. ellen says:

    if u get home by christmas you could do a quick month in nz over the jan hols I LOVE NEW ZEALAND my two pics for there would be aukland or christchruch aukland of course is the capital and id love to see christchruch to see well in your eyes what is left xxx loving your japan suburbs tho and tasmania would be cool to pls do one or both

  14. Bron E says:

    I understand your exhaustion – both emotional and financial Louisie, however, from my perspective – only slightly selfishly and voyeuristically – I don’t want it all to end either. I must say the NZ suggestions sound wonderful and not a compromise at all. Wonderful country!

  15. Gretel says:

    I love Japan…it is a cultural artwork unique to itself…and your images are no less!!

  16. Joel says:

    Psst. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. =P

  17. chezza says:

    Love how you capture the essence of your area, wherever you are, its a talent.
    I have a professional question- do you have each photo sign approval to have published – is this something that is necessary? I am publishing a family history of where my great grandparents lived and the photos i have taken are from the footpath – do you know is it ok to publish them or do i need owners permission first?
    Love your work Chezza

    • Louise says:

      Chezza – It’s a grey area – I know with my images, I don’t need a person’s written permission to publish them. (Only if I used their image on say, the front of an advertising brochure, would I need it.) But I’m really not sure about your case. I’d contact a publisher of similar things and see if they can advise. Good luck with it.

  18. Cathy says:

    You have done an amazing job, completely understand your logic. And to be fair…Mexico City is pretty full-on, it’s not the easiest city on this planet.

    However you finish up this project, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying you have the greatest admiration of all your followers xx

  19. katerina says:

    Forget Mexico City…..come home and chill for a bit,B 4 some other project pops up !! Have loved each and every post since i first discovered u in my street in Glebe LOL …..xxx

  20. Nirah says:

    Oh my goodness!! I loved this post! And I completely understand the game change…..really really enjoyed the journey you have taken us all on this year..! Inspirational and amazing photos! Well done and looking forward to the mini suburbs…..but please take it easy and don’t overdo it …I think we all agree that have already done a fabulous job! :)

  21. Bron E says:

    PS……….and don’t forget there are other Aussie cities beside Sydney. Melbourne would certainly welcome you both.

    • Louise says:

      Bron E – Oh, thanks Bronnie! x

  22. BOYSIE says:

    You may be exhausted but your work is still fresh and fantastic. I loved the pic of fish and lanterns. I have always wanted to visit Japan and thought you summed it up beautifully in a few sentences when you first arrived there. Missing you. Love Guy

    • Louise says:

      Boysie – My darling bro, arigato! Wish you could be here with us. I’m sure it would inspire some of your amazing art. We miss you all so much but won’t be long now. x

  23. suzy says:

    I am selfishly delighted that you’re staying in Tokyo, you are taking such beautiful pictures there and I’m really enjoying your posts. Hope you can enjoy the rest of your stay, and that staying put makes it a bit more relaxing, even with the gruelling 2-suburbs a week.

    (PS My two cents worth, suburbs I love and think you might like too would be Yanaka, Nakameguro and/or Daikanyama, Kichijoji and Ochanomizu. And I know lots of tourists go to Tsukiji for the fish markets, but if you can squeeze it in it is well worth a visit, completely mindblowing)

  24. sandra says:

    i´m not disappointed at all. i enjoyed all your posts and i´m sure that i will do so the next 6 weeks. thank you so much for sharing your impressions with us in such a beautiful way.

  25. jann says:

    Sheer delight, and I’m thrilled you’ll be spending more time in Tokyo. I was there a few years ago, and obviously missed so much! All these photos are captivating, but the one of the older woman w/ a book and the guy in a cap made me swoon. I get exhausted just *thinking* of all the miles you’ve traveled, all the tramping around for photos, all the blog work. BRAVISSIMA!!!!

  26. Phil Wollerman says:

    Hi Louise.

    Just got onto your blog and you are winding up-ish! Your photography and observations are unique and fun. If you come to New Zealand, I should point out that Auckland is not the capital, Wellington is, with it’s coffee and arts culture – you’d find Te Aro the perfect suburb. http://www.newzealand.com/int/wellington/

    Also I have free accommodation with stunning views in Days Bay to offer if you need.

    • Louise says:

      Phil – Very sweet of you to offer the accommodation! If we end up around there, I’ll contact you. Many thanks.

  27. Di says:

    Louise, love your work wherever and whenever.
    Di x

  28. Fer Buenos Aires says:

    Amazing!!! Love all your work. Congratulations! :-)

  29. Louise says:

    Dear all – Many thanks for all these wonderful words. Very glad some of you are thrilled we’re staying longer in Tokyo – and not too worried about cancelling Mexico City. And thank you for saying you don’t mind the idea of shorter posts – although as I write this, that idea isn’t necessarily working out!! (Yesterday was full on rain and just trying to find accom here at short notice that has a kitchen – cos I need to cook most of my food so it’s gluten-free – and isn’t way too expensive… is taking up so much of my time. Agghh!) But we’ll get there, one way or another. x

  30. Chantal says:

    Hi Louise (& Coco)
    Absolutely beautiful images & stories again – it feels like the perfect way for your extraordinary odyssey to be reaching its finale – being in Japan with its zen-ness & calmness & cat cafes. (does life get any better!) It would feel wrong to be heading to Mexico.
    I like the suggestions of finishing where it all began – Australia – a nice resolution to an amazing journey.

  31. Gloria says:

    Well done Louise! You must be exhausted but still manage to deliver a wonderful storyboard of photos every time…keep up the greatness, not long til home now x

  32. Sarah says:

    Oh my – to be honest, I get it – you want to meet your targets, the 52 name, the year, the different suburbs. But there’s life, and life comes with stories! And storied are wonderful. I always enjoy your posts, whether I ‘like’ the place or not, cause you find beauty anywhere. I don’t ‘like’ (nor know, so it’s not an active dislike) Mexico City, so I can take it or leave it! You can go anywhere, or not, and that’s fine by me, I’ll check in regardless :p Even checked when I was overseas with limited downloads – that is commitment!

    • Louise says:

      Sarah – That is commitment! I’m very lucky, I have THE best followers ever!

  33. donna says:

    You are an inspiration to many Louise and your dedication to your art and your vision is so beautifully expressed in your images…it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are well and happy ….enjoy Tokyo and look forward to meeting you when you get back to Sydney

    • Louise says:

      Donna – Arigatou gozaimasu! Very lovely of you to say.

  34. Jackie Nolan says:

    Japan is so amazing! Love your choice of suburbs. Shimokita is wonderful as is Shinjuku. The food and
    drink, bars,cafes and restaurants are sensational.
    Love especially your photos of the pug eating sushi,
    fat cat in the basket with hat and the adorable
    Japanese girl with the blue bow. Such a great
    view of life here. Thanks so much for the insight.
    Your photos and summary are once again special.

  35. Belinda says:

    I’m loving Tokyo, more than happy for you to stay for a lot longer :)
    Bookending with Aussie cities has a sort of poetry to it, I think. If you decided to finish back in Australia it would be very literal full circle from the original 52 Suburbs.

  36. Olivia says:

    I am a traveller and vintage clothing lover. I have been to Harajuku and I just loved it. I was amazed by its vintage shops! It is comparable to Toronto’s vintage shops when it comes to the range and quality! I highly recommend Harajuku for its vintage shops and also all pleasant places to stop by for a drink or a meal.

  37. Susan Kennedy says:

    Hi Louise
    I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed this adventure of yours. You have an incredible eye and intuition…many thanks for this wonderful gift you have put out to the world…and as someone who lives an hour south of Mexico City, let me just…well decided…on a good day the place is intense, but if you should decide to get there another time feel free to contact me for ideas or whatever help you might be looking for….best of luck with the rest of your journey!!!

  38. Denise says:

    Can I add my vote for Wellington? Te Aro is a good suggestion, Aro Valley would be even better. Also Newtown, for its multicultural mix.

  39. Whispering Gums says:

    Just a quick comment. We went to Japan for three weeks in 2006 and fell head over heals in love. We’ve been back two more times (2007 and 2011 less than 2 months after the tsunami), each for three weeks. I reckon we’ll be back again. It’s visually beautiful, the people are friendly, and the food is great (though a bit of a challenge for we gluten averse people I do admit!). Loved this post …

  40. Catharine says:

    Excited to see more of Tokyo! I went to Cihangir in Istanbul the other day just because of your blog. Good luck with the next 6 weeks! xx

    • Louise says:

      Love it! Did you find the cat cafe?!

  41. Victoria says:

    Louise and Coco,
    My daughter and I met you at the Shimokita Starbuck’s when you were about to embark on photographing the area (actually, it was the girls who met first!). You have captured my neighbourhood beautifully; it has made me realise how lucky I am to have called Japan my home for the last 15 years, so thank you for that.

    • Louise says:

      Hello! We remember you well. So happy you checked in here. And yes, you’re very lucky to have lived so long in Japan, it’s such an incredible place – I am crossing my fingers I’ll be able to explore more of it some time.

  42. scott garrett says:

    Spend half of my year in Tokyo and around most of Japan..I love your shots.Really nice!Thanks for that!

  43. HAZM says:

    Might be an idiotic question, but were you fluent in Japanese at the time of this visit? I was in Japan/Shimokita recently, and although the people were incredibly approachable, friendly and helpful, their English was mostly nonexistent so I had to muddle my way through in very basic Japanese. I am very impressed (and jealous) that you seem to have connected with so many living stories!

    • Louise says:

      No, definitely not fluent in Japanese! I spoke a handful of words and used lots of hand gesturing to communicate. Tricky as you say but the Japanese people are so patient and generous, they’d wait it out until we finally understood one another – in a basic sense!

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