Tokyo Shinjuku

ー ROAMING THE STREETS OF SHINJUKU with Shinji Tsuchimochi ―

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The home of Kabukicho, Japan’s largest entertainment quarter; where department stores and electrical appliance stores are abound; a shopping precinct full of large scale book stores and other knick-knacks; a business district with skyscrapers towering over the city; the grounds of a national park with an abundance of greenery; a giant town with multiple faces – Shinjuku.

With approximately 3.47 million people (as of 2016) rushing through the station every day, Shinjuku Station is not only the most trafficked station in Japan, but the entire world. The ward of Shinjuku, centred on this hub, is a microcosm of Japanese society in itself. It is a wonderfully chaotic place full of secrets waiting to be unlocked. My task in this feature article is to introduce to you a small snippet of Shinjuku with the help of drawings by Shinji Tsuchimochi, illustrator of “100 Views of Tokyo”.

SHINJUKU – THE URBAN SUBCENTRE

As you make your way out of the west exit of Shinjuku Station, you are greeted with a bus terminal and a Yodobashi Camera, alongside various other well established electronic goods stores and restaurants. Looking beyond the immediate view reveals a background of high-rising skyscrapers, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Shinjuku-Nishiguchi, along with Umeda over in Osaka, is known for its bustling business district filled with clusters of tall buildings. Hotels such as the Shinjuku Washington Hotel and the Keio Plaza Hotel are also concentrated in this area for business travellers and international tourists to set up base.

Many of the high-rise buildings, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the Shinjuku Center Building, have free observation decks with open spaces that offer great views of Tokyo. The seemingly endless city skyline of Tokyo is sure to impress with its sheer enormity. I highly recommend the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as it offers a 360 degree view on its observation deck.

Image A is Tsumochi’s depiction of the night skyline as seen from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. He originally drew the skyline for use as an album cover by the Japanese rock band, Koochewsen. Tsuchimochi spoke about the piece and remarked, “I get a retro-futuristic sense from the cluster of skyscrapers at Shinjuku-Nishiguchi.”

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi is also where you can find department stores operated by railway companies such as the Keio Department Store and Odakyu Department Store, which makes the area a vibrant place for those who live around Shinjuku, however, due to its strong image as a business district, it seems slightly more subdued compared to the east side. In fact, some people prefer to stroll around the western side precisely because it is less chaotic. Just beyond all of the high-rise buildings is the impressive Shinjuku Central Park – the perfect place to relax with a book or watch as people walk on by.

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One spot around Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station, which absolutely cannot be missed, is Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (image B), which Tsuchimochi describes as, “A place which maintains the unique air of the Shinjuku that started off as a post-war black market city, to what it is now in the present day.” It is a hidden treasure that has preserved the essence of old Japanese drinking establishments; a gem of post-war history.

“Gazing upon all of the izakaya lining the back alleyway as I walked through it made me feel as though I’d stumbled upon a mysterious world.” (Tsuchimochi)


FROM THE SHINJUKU EAST EXIT TO SHINJUKU-SANCHOME

The Shinjuku East Exit is the heart of shopping in Shinjuku with a plethora of various stores lining the streets of the area. Upon exiting the east exit of Shinjuku Station, you are greeted with the district’s main road – Shinjuku Dori. In the 500 metres along both sides of this main road towards Shinjuku-sanchome are all kinds of different stores. For example, Kinokuniya Books, a well-established Japanese book store which has branches worldwide, including Sydney, can be found in this vicinity. On the ground floor of this particular branch is an “inbound corner”, targeted at the ever growing number of visitors flocking to Japan from overseas. There is also a section for international books on a floor above, so it might be worth dropping by for a browse.

Alongside Kinokuniya Books on this street are stores such as, Bicqlo, a collaborative store by the large-scale home appliances chain, Bic Camera, and the international clothing brand, Uniqlo; and the American luxury department store chain, Barneys New York. The variety and reach of the stores found along this street is impressive, to say the least.
Further down Shinjuku Dori, on the left-hand side, is Isetan – a Japanese department store founded all the way back in 1886. The large intersection where Isetan sits is Shinjuku-sanchome.  While Shinjuku-sanchome is home to a number of stores, such as the fashion department store, Marui with the huge Shinjuku Wald 9 cinema on the top floor, there are also lots of little restaurants full of character nestled in the back streets.

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“As I walked around Shinjuku-sanchome, I came across a restaurant with walls covered in vines and ivy. The contrast of reds and greens caught my eye and upon entering the restaurant, I found it to be a fun little hideaway. The renowned author, Yukio Mishima, and the legendary director, Akira Kurosawa, apparently used to be regulars of this joint.” (Tsuchimochi, image C)
On the southern side of Shinjuku-sanchome is Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a respected historical park and garden. If you’re looking for a quick escape from the city, then this park is the place to relax as you gaze upon the towering high rises in the background. It gets particularly busy during the cherry blossom season, so if you happen to be there when they’re in spectacular full-bloom, then make sure you partake in the Japanese tradition of hanami (cherry blossom viewing).


KABUKICHO, THE TOWN THAT NEVER SLEEPS

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It is not an exaggeration to say that Kabukicho is the main attraction for the many tourists who visit Shinjuku. Kabukicho is the largest entertainment district in Japan and has been depicted in various different movies and games as the grounds for yakuza rivalries. As its entertainment district badge suggests, the streets are full of bright neon lights and the slight sleazy air about it makes it a truly unique place. While it is worth a visit for the flashy atmosphere, it is very important to be on guard as there are a fair few brothels as well as shady establishments aiming to rid you of all your money, and then some. An innocent stroll through the area to soak up the atmosphere won’t get you into any trouble at all, but just be careful of walking into suspicious establishments.

A recommended spot just outside of Kabukicho is a historically important Shinto shrine – the Hanazono Shrine. Also, right next to Hanazono Shrine, is the Shinjuku Golden Gai, which is a tiny area occupying approximately only 6,600 square metres jam-packed with rows of over 200 quaint, low-rise wooden restaurants.

Literary bars and other quirky little places can be found everywhere you turn with writers, editors, directors, actors and other cultural intellects regulars to these establishments. The influence of these patrons and the eccentricity of the area has turned this place into a sub-culture of Tokyo and a home for grassroots underground art. A walk through this area is certainly an enriching experience.

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Tsuchimochi described his work (image D) as follows – “This is the view of the cramped alleyway with all of the different signs bearing the unique names of the bars around. It happened to be raining that day and I almost felt a sense of sorrow from the sight of all the people walking around with their umbrellas. I feel like the sight of Hanazono Shrine in the distance behind all of this is very Japanese.”

The picture drawn by Shinji Tsuchimochi depicts the mysterious charm of the area in a way that no photo seems to be able to capture. I would highly recommended a stroll around the area to experience this atmosphere for yourself.

While I’ve only given you a taste of Shinjuku, I can assure you that Shinjuku is very much a huge place of so many different charms and wonders. Now that you are familiar with the treats the area around Shinjuku Station has to offer, perhaps I can delve even further to the other places to see around Shinjuku next time.


THE TREASURE OF SHINJUKU-NISHIGUCHI
THE KEIO PLAZA HOTEL

– Welcoming guests with the finest stay around at the Premier Grand

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The Keio Plaza Hotel – the pioneer to all of the skyscrapers in Shinjuku and the first high-rise hotel in Japan. Comprised of 1438 rooms in total, the gargantuan hotel is a convenient 5 minute walk from Shinjuku-Nishiguchi. Inside of the hotel are a number of fine dining restaurants, as well as a beauty salon, a tea room for traditional tea ceremonies and even kimono fitting services, just to name a few of the perks. However, all of these luxuries pale in comparison to the unveiling of the Premier Grand in December 2016, which is a club and lounge floor of unmatched opulence garnering a significant amount of attention.

Designed by the leading London-based interior and architectural design firm, G.A Design International, the carefully planned out space and the experience of gazing out towards the view from the spacious bathroom of one of the high rise rooms, combined with the feeling of truly relaxing in the natural, yet luxurious room, is absolutely first class.

Another feature that cannot be missed is the Premier Grand exclusive Club Lounge that looks after any needs you may have during your stay. The Club Lounge is an open space to relax in 160m above the city streets and is exclusively for patrons staying in Premier Grand or Premier Grand Suite rooms. The specially-made breakfast is also served in the Lounge.

From dinner reservations, to meeting arrangements, your dedicated concierge will take care of everything you need. For those who are after the best hotel experience in Shinjuku, look no further than the Premier Grand at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo.

INFORMATION

Premier Grand Club Lounge
Hours: 7:00am – 10:00pm (breakfast, tea time and bar time)
Capacity: 154 seats (no smoking, free Wi-Fi available)
Facilities: reception, lounge zone, library area, meeting room, dining area

KEIO PLAZA HOTEL TOKYO

2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku,
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 81-3-3344-0111
Web: www.keioplaza.com 
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【Living in Japan】FIVE WAYS TO LIVE ON A BUDGET IN TOKYO

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1 USE 100-YEN SHOP

A good policy is to always check the 100-yen shop before buying something from a regular store. They carry an amazing variety of items and are ideal places to stock up your apartment with dishes, silverware, and other essentials to survive when you first arrive. Buy in Bulk on your phone to find better deals online while you’re shopping at stores, too. I usually use Amazon to buy big boxes of oatmeal or my fabourite cereal that I know I’ll eat and that last for a long time.

2 BUY IN BULK

Not everything is a bargain at the 100-yen shop, especially toiletries and other things that you’ll use everyday. It’s better to buy essential consumable supplies like tissues, detergent or body soap in bulk from stores like Costco. There are several around Tokyo and if you can find a friend with a membership, tag along with them every once in a while and stock up. It’s also a good idea to buy lots of frozen veggies and fruits, as these can be absurdly expensive when sold fresh in the supermarkets. If you can’t make it to Costco, try finding a local wholesale food store such as “Niku no Hanamasa” (there are several around Tokyo) which caters to restaurants and sells meat and seafood at big discounts. To manage bulk amounts of food, I bought a cheap box of 200 plastic bags which I then use to separate and freeze a few weeks worth of meat and fish.

3 SHOP ON LINE

Shopping online using Amazon or Rakuten is easy and convenient in Japan. You can even have your package sent to a local convenience store for pick up and often can get next day delivery. You can use a barcode reade

4 USE CRAIGSLIST

At any given time, there are a lot of foreign residents who are packing up and leaving Japan and need
to sell their things. I bought a big screen TV and a fridge both from people who lived right down the road from my place. You can search for the item you’re looking for and sometimes even negotiate the price a little as long as you’re willing to pick it up yourself. I sometimes just search the name of my town to see if anyone is selling something locally that’s easy to pick up. This is a great way to buy big items like a washing machine or a stovetop oven.

5 BEWARE OF WARIKAN

Obviously you should try to cook at home as often as possible if you’re living on a budget. And you should also try to pack a lunch everyday if you can. But sometimes you get invited out and want to have fun. In Japan, it’s pretty normal for a group of friends to share all the food and it’s often (but not always) customary to split the bill at the end of the night (called warikan). The problem is that you end up having to help pay for the five bottles of expensive wine someone decided to order. If your friends are considerate they will pitch in more if they had a lot, but don’t count on it! Your best bet is to go to a place with nomi-hodai or all-you-can- drink (usually for two hours) with a set individual price or to go to a Western-style pub where you pay separately as you order, (called betsu-betsu). You can also just buy snacks and drinks at a convenience store but be careful because it’s bad etiquette to eat and drink while walking around.

AKIHABARA

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Located in central Tokyo on the eastern side of Chiyoda-ku and on the intersection of Chuo-dori and Kanda Myojin-dori roads, the Akihabara district, or Akiba as the locals call it, is internationally famous as the ‘go to’ place for electrical and electronic appliances.

In recent years Akihabara has perhaps become even more famous as a mecca for fans of anime and manga. Akihabara is the centre of Japan’s otaku culture and has attracted many otaku from all around the world for a full cultural immersion in their obsessions with anime and manga.

In the late 19th century, Akihabara Station became a major freight transit point, from which the district grew and developed into a futuristic area specialising in electrical appliances. Further into the 20th century, the focus in Akihabara shifted from household electrical goods to catering to specialists and hobbyists. That shift brought a wave of otaku into the district and laid the foundations for the Akihabara we know today.

To fully enjoy Akihabara, it may take more than a leisurely afternoon stroll along its streets. It is important to understand what Akihabara has to offer.

One of the more distinctive features of the area is the multitude of billboards and neon and digital signs featuring images of anime and game characters. Besides electronics and mainstream anime, amateur manga, or doujinshi, are allowed to be freely distributed on the streets. The authors of doujinshi self-publish, printing and distributing their work in hopes of gaining a passionate audience in the otaku world.


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O kaerinasai, goshujin-sama! One of the top attractions in Akihabara is the maid café. Maid, or cosplay cafés, which are plentiful in the area, are themed restaurants where customers are served by waitresses dressed as French maids.

Some of the more popular have a long wait time, but it is worth it! Well-known examples are @Home Cafe and Maidreamin, both of which have English speaking maids and menus written in English.

On arrival at a maid café, the lovely maids greet male customers with the honorific expression, goshujin-sama (Master), and females with hime-sama (Princess), or ojou- sama (Mistress). Menus offered have combo package options, which may include meals and a commemorative photo. Some cafés invite customers to play games with the maids to win café original memorabilia.

The experience of attending a session at a maid or cosplay café is quite unique. Maids
draw cute, or kawaii images of bears and other characters onto customer drinks with caramel sauce, or serve adorably decorated sundaes quite unlike those in other, ordinary cafés.


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A KB48 is a Japanese idol girl group with many popular hits, named after Akihabara, where the group’s theatre is located. A café and shops specialising in AKB48 memorabilia are also to be found in the district. The café serves food inspired by the group and has a theatre where members perform daily at scheduled times. Reservations are required to view the performances!

What is most unique about AKB48 is the idol group’s concept of teams. Each team has a different image and member line up is subject to change. Daily performances are possible because AKB48 teams rotate, with different teams performing simultaneously at more than one event.


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R adio Kaikan is the place to go to source the latest and greatest electrical goods, as well as antique electronics and hard to find parts. This ten-storey specialist hobby store caters to a wide range of interests, from anime to electronics, and houses more than 30 stores for all your hobby needs. On the ground floor you will also find a shop selling only-in-Japan themed snacks and drinks.


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G amers carries a wide range of anime and manga related goods,including DVDs and games. Be sure to pick up some figurines! Other similar shops include Super Potato and Mandarake.


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Interested in figurines, action figures and other collectibles? Kotobukiya is a store specialising in plastic figurines of Japanese anime characters, as well as internationally renowned action figures.


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J ust a short walk from the electronics district is the Kanda Myojin Shrine. As with most shrines, visitors are able to purchase omamori lucky charms. The charm offered at Kanda Myojin pays homage to the shrine’s proximity to Electronic Town; it is a take-home omamori that looks like a RAM card.

Kanda Shrine is very popular with business owners. The shrine houses Daikoku and Ebisu, who are two of the Seven Gods of Fortune, with responsibility for wealth and business respectively.


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G achapon, or gacha-gacha machine, are vending machines that dispense capsules containing various memorabilia and trinkets. Save your coins and pick up a few capsules for yourself, or as gifts for friends!

Prices range from 100 to 600 yen. Each machine has a theme and offers a random prize. Some feature popular anime characters among their figurines, while the offerings of others can be quite practical, such as drink-coasters, or decorative mini plastic plants.




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V ending machines are commonplace across Japan, and buying from a vending machine is one of the “to do” things when visiting. Akihabara is no different.

Besides beverages such as coffee, soda and juice, vending machines also dispense corn soup and custard puddings in easy-to-open cans. Some of the more unique offerings in Akihabara include oden, and ramen noodles in a can.

The most fascinating thing about vending machines in Japan is the ability to serve hot food. Cans are dispensed hot and their contents may be consumed immediately. At 320 yen a can, it is a fun, economical and unique way to enjoy street food.




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C osplay is an integral part of Akihabara’s culture. Here you may be able to pick up ready-made costumes and accessories, and may encounter people dressed
up as part of a promotion, or simply to express their personal style.

COSPA Gee! is the shop for clothing and merchandise to enhance your cosplay experience. Here you will also find anime and manga related items.




HOW TO GET THERE


The best way to travel to Akihabara is by train, as the district has its own station where several lines converge. JR Yamanote Line is a circle line that links up the majority of the most popular spots in Tokyo, including Akihabara. Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line runs through Roppongi, Ginza and Tsukiji before arriving at Akihabara. Other lines running through Akihabara include the JR Keihin- Tohoku Line and the JR Chuo-Sobu Line. On arrival, exit through the Electric Town exit, which is the closest to Don Quijote Akihabara and Radio Kaikan, around which most of the popular shops and cafes are located. Another handy exit is onto Showa-dori road leading to Yodobashi Camera, a massive department store that offers a one-stop centre for all possible electronic needs. The Akihabara store is a branch of the Shinjuku-based electronic discount giant, and also offers duty free items.