AT A GLANCE
Shinjuku has it all. The hustle and bustle, the neon and sleaze and the glitz and the glamor. It has the biggest and busiest train station in the world, some of the best shopping 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 and all its glory. Get your walking shoes on and enjoy the cityscape by day and by night. TS Eliot, in a review of Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring,” wrote:
to transform the rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life; and to transform these despairing noises into music.
Somehow Eliot’s description of early 20th century classical music limns the dichotomy of modern day Shinjuku. It’s barbaric and noisy but it’s beautiful and hushed too.
Shinjuku is an office area and a hotel area and a government area and a lifestyle hub. You get drift. It caters for young and old alike. To the east and south of the mammoth station you will find Isetan and Takashimaya which are two of the largest and most comprehensive department stores in the country. Isetan also has a separate menswear department store which has been touted as one of the best menswear destinations in the world. In the east side you will also have access to Shinjuku nichome which is Japan’s biggest and most popular gay areas with a thriving hive of bars, clubs and relaxation spots. Shinjuku sanchome is the cooler cafe and bar district with a colony of places to eat and drink at reasonable prices.
Shinjuku also plays host to Golden Gai which is basically a chaotic mini-town of tiny bars which entertain tourists and natives alive into the wee small hours. It has an electric atmosphere and it’s best just to pick bars randomly (there are around 200 bars in the area). 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. It’s chaotic and noisy and in your face but just go with the flow and ask locals for their favorite watering holes. They may look rough and ready but they are mostly very friendly and accommodating.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s noisy and colorful like nearby Shibuya. It’s a huge area and can be intimidating to newcomers but after a while you’ll grow to love it’s quirkiness. If you’re looking for a view then head to the The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which gives amazing panoramic views from its observation floors. It’s free too. Nearby is the legendary Park Hyatt - made famous for being used as a location in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. It’s also got culture too with numerous cinemas, independent theaters and the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) which is located in the Hatsudai area.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT
Expect the unexpected. It's an eclectic and cosmopolitan district with lots to offer so get stuck in and don’t be afraid of the backstreets. That’s often where the good stuff is.
A day in Shinjuku starts with coffee in Segafredo, a look around the shops and a stroll in the two main parks - Shinjuku Gyoen and Shinjuku Central Park. A spot of lunch at Masala Dining Indian restaurant (one of the best in the city) and a few drinks in sanchome. Then a trip to the riotous Robot Restaurant which is a real assault on the senses. Then a few late night drinks in the back alleys of Kabukicho and a late night karaoke session.
YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH
After a heavy night in Golden Gai or Kabukicho a leisurely stroll around Shinjuku Gyoen is just the ticket. It’s a beautiful and peaceful park where, weather permitting, it’s possible to have a picnic and a few soft drinks (alcohol is a no-go) and lie back and look at the city’s impressive skyline which encompasses the park. It has a quaint pagoda too and some nice walking paths which is just the tonic for walking off a hangover.