by Mark Leong
Located beyond the well-known Sunshine City Planetarium and Aquarium of Ikebukuro lies a tiny pocket of wonders. More a residential area than a tourist hotspot, Higashi Ikebukuro is a little less hectic than central Ikebukuro.
Technically the only surviving streetcar line in Tokyo, this cute carrier affords passengers typically unseen street-level views of common Tokyo areas. From Higashi Ikebukuro it takes you to Waseda in the southwest and Oji in the north, and then eastwards to Arakawa. A single journey costs ¥160, and an interesting stop is Miyowabashi station, near the Edoperiod red light district of Yoshiwara.
The complex of Japan’s national coin mint also houses a museum where patrons are taken on a journey through the history of the coins we use today. While the main focus is on Japanese coins, the permanent displays also include examples from around the world. Look out for cartoon-themed commemorative sets, multicolored ¥1,000 coins, and finalists from the international coin design competition. Visits are free, but guided tours of the actual mint require advance booking; be sure to ask for the one English-speaking guide, Sawaki-san.
After all the walking and exploring, your legs might welcome a pit stop. Bar de Rico is a Spanish pub and restaurant situated just above the station. The very popular paella takes 40 minutes to prepare so you might want to whet your appetite with some tapas and sangria while you wait.