So far, I have spent a lot of time talking about many places around Japan, but I have yet to touch on any places within Tokyo itself. Having lived in Tokyo for over 3 years, a lot of the wonder and awe that I had felt when I first arrived has left. However, every time one of my friends, or family arrive for the first time, I’m reminded of the exact same feelings I had when I first stepped out of the station and into Tokyo itself.
To give you an idea, Shinjuku is about the size of a city’s downtown core. There is the business district, the shopping districts, and the dinner/bar district. The main train in and out of Shinjuku is run by JR (Japan Rail). It runs North-South through the heart of Shinjuku. While the majority of interest is located on the East side, business generally runs on the West. The old English saying talking about “the other side of the tracks” is very noticeable here. Living on the West side, you feel relatively safe amongst the everyday workers and it’s generally peaceful at night. When you cross the tracks into the East side, you suddenly feel how busy and hectic Shinjuku can truly be.
The West Side has two sections. The main section is generally the business section, also called the “Skyscraper District”. There are many skyscrapers in this area. The most famous is “Tocho” which is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It’s iconic for Shinjuku. It is the tall “castle” like building located at the edge of the West side. This building has a wonderful observation floor that is free for all tourists and has the best view of Mt. Fuji, when you can actually see it. The only problem is that the windows tend to be dirty, the lights within the building are too bright at night, and you can’t see a lot of the famous landmarks within Tokyo. However, it’s still a great place to visit, and it’s FREE. Just past Tocho is the Shinjuku Chuo Koen (Shinjuku Central Park). It tends to be a popular place for tourists to visit after a quick trip up Tocho, but beware of the homeless people. Around dinner time on Sunday’s, they tend to give out free meals and on weekdays, you can see lots of homeless people all over the park. Don’t worry though. They tend to stick to themselves and it provides a very interesting look into the poor side of Japan. The other famous location for people to visit is the Park Hyatt. It is the location of Bill Murray’s hotel in “Lost in Translation”. It’s a wonderful movie that explains a lot of how people feel when they first enter Tokyo, but the hotel itself isn’t so important. For photo opportunities, I recommend visiting the area both in the day and at night (before 10pm). All of the buildings are lit up, and Tocho usually looks colourful.
The second region of the West side tends to be directly adjacent to the station itself. Running from Odakyu to Keio, and out to Yodobashi Camera. Odakyu and Keio are two department stores and Yodobashi Camera is an electronics shop. Finding Yodobashi Camera is a good idea as you’ll be able to search the buildings for hours looking for unique things to buy. While Akihabara is the cutting edge of technology, Shinjuku is still a decent place to pick up the latest technology. You just won’t get exclusive items, or as many international models with English. The West side is also the best way to get out of Tokyo (westward, of course). Within the Keio Department store is the Keio train line. It runs out West towards Mt. Takao, where you can enjoy a nice day hike. It’s also the best way to get to Ajinomoto Stadium, home of Tokyo’s Football (Soccer) Teams. Odakyu is great to head into Odawara and Hakone. This area is famous for it’s hotsprings. Near the Yodobashi Camera store, the Keio Bus Terminal is a great place to take a highway bus out of Tokyo. Heading to Mt. Fuji is relatively cheap and FAST, if you take the Keio Highway Bus.
Due to the size of this post, I have split it into three posts. Part II and III will be posted each week after this post. Part II will cover the South and East areas of Shinjuku and Part III will cover the East area and Kabukicho.