ー ROAMING THE STREETS OF SHINJUKU with Shinji Tsuchimochi ―
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.
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.
“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
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.
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
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.
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