Streams of screaming neon, high pitched shrieking sounds; people, people everywhere – silent and robotic. There’s no room, there’s no escape – earthquakes yet skyscrapers, it’s hot, it’s humid, it’s calm, it’s still for this is Shinjuku – a business and shopping district in the west of Tokyo and the ultimate, overwhelming experience.
Shinjuku Station is a good place to start. It’s box- like yet convoluted but over two million people successfully pass through each day! That’s quite an achievement! So, with getting lost all part of the fun, there are three main exits. Take the “East Exit” for the high street shopping area, the “South Exit” for the Times Square Shopping Centre and the “West Exit” for the skyscraper and business zone.
Shinjuku West – The Business District
Once the site of a water-filled reservoir, the land on the west side of Shinjuku Station is now dominated by skyscrapers.
For maximum “salary-man” and “office-lady” impact, it’s best to hit the streets around rush hour or lunchtime.
Beginning in Shinjuku Station, follow the signs to the “West Exit”. You should then emerge onto an open-square area surrounded by department stores, banks and insurance companies. The two funnel like constructions at either end are air vents for the station below.
Using the pedestrian walkway that runs along the front of Odakyu Halc department store, make your way towards Fuji Bank. In the streets behind the bank you’ll find what is now considered to be one of the best areas in Tokyo for buying electronic and photographic equipment. Work through the streets in a westerly direction until you come to a main road. Just over this road and opposite the post office, you’ll find the Keio Plaza Hotel. Today, compared to its neighbours it’s small, but in 1971 this was Shinjuku’s tallest building. It’s 170 meters high and has forty seven floors.
From the front entrance of the hotel, head off in a northerly direction. As one road over-passes the other, look to the left for a good view of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. At the end of the overpass you’ll see some steps. These lead down to the concourse of the Mitsui Building. Finished in 1974, the building is 209 meters high and has 55 floors. Inside, together with shops and restaurants, you’ll find the Pentax Forum. This is an exhibition space for photographs and photographic equipment (open daily, except public holidays 10:30 am to 6:30 pm).
Next look for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. With Notre Dame in Paris apparently and clearly the inspiration, you won’t mistake it. The building, the fourth tallest in Japan, was finished in 1990. It’s 296 meters high and thanks to special shock absorbing pillars and posts, it’s supposed to be fully earthquake proof. There are two observation galleries, one in each tower at 45 floors up. Entrance is free and the panoramic view is fantastic. On a clear day, you can even Mount Fuji and Yokohama! (Open: Tuesday to Friday 9:30 am to 5:30. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 9:30 am to 7:30 pm. Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays (if the day before was a public holiday) December 29th – 31st and January 2nd – 3rd inclusive).
Shinjuku Chuo (Central) Park is next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s not particularly picturesque, but you may find it socially interesting – much of it is a shanty town inhabited by down and outs. On some Sundays a flea market is held in the entrance.
Just over the road from the park you should be able to see the Century Hyatt Hotel. With this and the Tokyo Metropolitan Building facing you, turn left and walk towards the set of traffic lights. At the traffic lights turn right, and then make your way back east to find Shinjuku Station. On the way, just past the Hilton Hotel, notice the large red “LOVE” statue next to the I-Land Patio. The I-Land Patio can be quite surreal at times – the sound of gushing water, piped ambient music; shiny, metallic furniture. But the restaurants have nobody in them; the outside tables have nobody at them! It’s an empty space – quite bizarre for Tokyo!
Shomben Yokocho (“Piss Alley”)
Not as the name suggests, “Piss Alley” is in fact a collection of ramshackle huts and restaurants located between the train tracks and the side of the Odakyu Department store. In 1999 when a fire broke out in a ramen shop, the area was almost completely destroyed. Now however it’s been re-built, and as the character has been retained, at night it still remains one of the city’s most atmospheric places to wander.
Shinjuku Eastmouth is the high street shopping area. It’s also where you’ll find “Kabukicho”, the red light district.
From inside Shinjuku Station, follow the signs to the “Central East Exit”. Once out you’ll see “My City”. Somewhat unfortunate in appearance, the building was finished in 1964. The inside is divided into a mass of small shop units.
The two main shopping streets are Shinjuku Dori Avenue and Yasukuni Dori Avenue. Don’t forget too, all the little streets in between. Studio Alta, with its giant TV screen, is directly opposite My City. As a popular rendezvous point, the entrance is often so crowded that meeting the person you’re supposed to be meeting is really no option at all.
A breathtaking building at dusk, the Times Square Shopping Centre stands on land that was once occupied by tumble down wooden shacks and drinking places. Finished in 1996, inside you’ll find a branch of Tokyu Hands the famous arts and crafts shop, and Kinokunia which sells English books.
How to get to Shinjuku
Shinjuku Station is on the JR Yamanote Line, the JR Chuo Line, the JR Sobu Line, the JR Saikyo Line, the Marunouchi Subway Line, the TOEI Shinjuku Line, the Oedo Line, the TOEI no 12 Line, the Odakyu Line and the Keio Line.
Click here to see a map of Shinjuku.