Shinjuku is at the center of everything. It encapsulates every visitor’s dream of the Japanese capital through its exhilarating insanity, bright lights, sleaze and crazy, inexhaustible entertainment options. It has the biggest and busiest train station in the world, some of the most elegant and stylish retail and culinary options, it’s home to the local Tokyo government and has some of the most tranquil parks in the city.
It’s impossible not to be impressed with Shinjuku in all its glory. Get your walking boots on and revel in the cityscape by day and night. It’s barbaric and noisy but it’s beautiful, musical and hushed in a (con)fusion of excitement and solitude.
Shopping in Shinjuku
Shinjuku is an office area, hotel district, local government sector and a lifestyle hub. It caters for young and old alike. To the east and south of the mammoth station you will find Isetan and Takashimaya (which has its own, indispensable English bookstore nearby) which are two of the largest and most comprehensive department stores in the country.
The outrageous food floors are worth a trip alone. Isetan also has a separate, stand-alone menswear building around the corner which is often touted as one of the best menswear destinations in the world. The east side also hosts a multi-level Beams (one of the best multi-brand stores in the country) and on the entrance to the unfairly notorious area of Kabukicho is the renowned Don Quijote discount store where visitors will find, well, everything.
Dining in Shinjuku
As you exit the south exit and near the new bus terminal you’ll find Shake Shack and Eggslut if you fancy a culinary taste of home. On the east side is the brilliant Brooklyn Parlor Shinjuku for some awesome burgers and craft beer. Also on the east side is the must-visit area Shinjuku-sanchome district which is packed full of street side eateries where punters can stand on the street or sit on beer crates while eating yakitori and suppin’ some lemon sours.
For a more upscale experience try the legendary New York Bar & Grill at Park Hyatt Tokyo where Sofia Coppola’s famous movie Lost in Translation was filmed. The bar has some of the best views of Tokyo. On the east side (and just across the road from Shinjuku-sanchome) you will find Shinjuku Nichome, which is Japan’s biggest and most popular gay area with a thriving hive of bars, clubs and relaxation spots all with very reasonable prices.
Ask for Tsuyoshi and tell him that Scottish Paul sent you.
Shinjuku also plays host to Golden Gai which is basically a chaotic mini-town of miniscule bars which entertain tourists and natives alike into the wee small hours. It has an electric atmosphere and it’s best just to pick pubs randomly (there are around 250 bars in the area). Ace’s bar is my personal recommendation. Ask for Tsuyoshi and tell him that Scottish Paul sent you. He’ll look after you.
Along the road a bit is the infamous Kabukicho area. It’s the club, bar and entertainment district with a bad boy image. Very much like Roppongi it can grow a little boisterous at times and it’s best to check for prices and seating charges before entering any establishments. But, my god, it can be a lot of fun too.
Culture in Shinjuku
If you’re looking for a view then head to the The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which offers some stunning panoramic views from its observation floors. Also make sure you head to Shinjuku Gyoen which is easily one of Tokyo’s most beautiful parks
Shinjuku has a plethora of cultural spots too with numerous cinemas, independent theaters and the New National Theatre, Tokyo (NNTT), which is located in the Hatsudai area and has a superb lineup of ballet, opera and theatre. Shinjuku is also known as an arts hub and hosts some cool galleries such as the awesome and tiny Ken Nakahashi Gallery, which mostly focuses on cutting-edge photography, Tokyo Opera City, which holds large-scale exhibitions from domestic and international artists, and the newish Yayoi Kusama Museum, which pays homage to one of Japan’s greatest contemporary artists.
You could easily spend weeks in Shinjuku alone. It’s a geographical and spiritual beast with everything you’ve ever dreamed about. Revel in being lost in its backstreets and appreciate its mayhem and intoxicating weirdness. You’ll never forget it.
Feature image: aon168 / Shutterstock.com