Tokyo Area Guide: Shinjuku 新宿
First and foremost, Shinjuku means shopping, eating, and partying. Shinjuku has several huge department stores, music stores, electronics stores, and hundreds and hundreds of bars and restaurants catering to every taste imaginable.
Shinjuku is divided into Higashi (east) and Nishi (west) Shinjuku by the train lines that run through Shinjuku Station. Nishi Shinjuku in particular exudes wealth and power with its towering skyscrapers.
Experience Shinjuku’s backstreet bars, that are normally a little hard for tourists to navigate — try this fun and low cost bar hopping tour with locals.
Nearby is the Hyatt Park Hotel (venue for the film 'Lost in Translation') occupying another soaring Kenzo Tange construction: the Shinjuku Park Tower.
Other notable buildings in the Shinjuku area are the tapered and honeycombed Mode Gakuen building (by Tange Associates, the architectural firm headed by Kenzo Tange's son), and the 54-storey Tokyo Opera City with its hi-tech NTT Intercommunication Center, a venue for futuristic exhibitions and events.
Higashi Shinjuku, on the other hand, retains the district's original downtown shitamachi roots. This atmosphere is summed up in Shinjuku's three most well-known entertainment districts: Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ni-chome, and the odd little enclave known as the 'Golden Gai.' Omoide Yokocho, like Goldengai, is another district of narrow alleys, though crammed with izakaya-style eateries.
During the day, Shinjuku's massive department stores, from Shinjuku Station eastwards, are a culture unto themselves. Each caters to a different class of customer, from the bargain basement Keio, to run-of-the-mill Odakyu, through to ubiquitous Marui, Takashimaya and up to the king of them all, Isetan.
Basement floors are a grocery/delicatessen/confectionery cornucopia - full of free munchies (samples are put out to be eaten, not stared at: foodies, dig in - splash out!), and the service is world class at Isetan.
Read more here about Shinjuku shopping, with a shop-by-shop guide to the major stores including BIC Camera, Yodobashi Camera, H&M, Forever 21 and Kinokuniya.
Kabukicho is a red-light district off Yasukuni-dori Avenue, accessible from the Kabukicho or Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae (Shinjuku Ward Office) intersections.
Kabukicho is the setting for much of Natsuo Kirino's novel Out - a dark tale of Tokyo despair.
Kabukicho is renowned for its thousands of hostess bars and its numerous love hotels. Though yakuza are out and about here and (mostly African) touts can get in your face, it is safe enough even at night, and plenty enough restaurants and bars that cater to every taste to keep you from having to wander for too long.
However, it pays to be cautious. As with anywhere seedy, the naive and unwary are easily ripped off. Watch a YouTube video of Kabukicho to get some idea of your surroundings.
Bars in Shinjuku
Bars come and go in Shinjuku but some establishments of long-standing include Dubliners (Tel: 03 3352 6606), located east of Shinjuku Station part of a chain of Irish theme pubs in Tokyo with branches in Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Akasaka, Toranomon and Shinagawa. Tokyo Loose (Tel: 03 3207 5677) is a bar/club open very late with a selction of DJs and with drinks at 500 yen during Happy Hour. Esogie (Tel: 03 3353 3334) is an African bar and restaurant between Yasukuni-dori and Shinjuku-dori east of the Isetan department store. Sip French wine by the glass while standing around wine casks at La Provenle (Tel: 03 3205 8113), a wine tachinomiya near Seibu Shinjuku Station.
Shinjuku may not have as many of Tokyo's top restaurants as other, older areas of the city but there are thousands of places to eat with an amazing range of international styles on offer from African eateries, Middle Eastern and South East Asian. All of Shinjuku's major department stores have restaurant floors as well. Some places to try include Angkor Wat (Tel: 03 3370 3019) for authentic Cambodian cuisine just west of Yoyogi Station, traditional Japanese kaiseki-ryori at Kakiden (Tel: 03 3352 5121) on the 6th-9th floors of the Yasuyo Building near the Central East exit of Shinjuku Station, delicious tempura at Tsunahachi (Tel: 03 3352 1012) and huge American buffets (and amazing views) at the New York Grill on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel.
Shinjuku Ni-chome is the heart of the Tokyo gay scene and the largest gay enclave in Asia.
Shinjuku Ni-Chome is accessible from the Central East Exit or South-East Exit of Shinjuku Station and is about 8 minutes' walk. This conclave of mostly tiny bars, as well as more spacious cruise bars, dance clubs, bookshops, cafes, and saunas, is a little world unto its own after dark. In warm weather, especially, the streets are thronged with men moving from place to place, or as spill-over from street bars, chatting with drinks in hands. All tastes catered for!
Golden Gai is block of bars just east of Kabukicho that preserves the Tokyo of the 1960s. It escaped the fate of most such areas in the 1980s which was arson by the yakuza for the purpose of sale to developers, thanks to the vigilance of its supporters. Famed for its dense rows of tiny bars and its unabashed grottiness, this ground-level warren of tiny bars attracts a multitude of different types, and promises interesting encounters. Of the over 200 bars here, there are many that welcome foreigners. Look for signboards with English.
Need a break from Shinjuku's commercial crash and bang? Beautiful wide Shinjuku Gyoen Park is mere minutes walk away and considered on the best of Tokyo's many parks.
Museums in Shinjuku
Museums in the Shinjuku area include the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Museum of Art (Tel: 03 5405 8686) dedicated to the works of western-style artist Seiji Togo (1897-1978). There are also works on display by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne's "Pommes et Serviette". The Sword Museum (Tel: 03 3379 1386) is close to Hatsudai Station and has around 150 examples of Japanese swords.
For a full listing of Tokyo Museums & Art Galleries click here
Other stations serving the Shinjuku area are Minami-Shinjuku (Odakyu Odawara Line), Nishi-Shinjuku (Marunouchi Line of the Tokyo subway), Shinjuku-Nishiguchi (Toei Oedo Line), Shinjuku San-chome (Tokyo Metro Marunouchi, Fukutoshin Line, Toei Shinjuku Line), Kokuritsu-Kyogijo (Toei Oedo Line) and Tocho-mae (Toei Oedo Line).
Yoyogi, Harajuku and Shibuya stations lie almost directly south of Shinjuku Station on the Yamanote Line.
Shinjuku Station has a number of highway bus terminals with buses to and from many parts of Japan. The Keio WE bus is a 100 yen loop bus that connects east and west districts of Shinjuku.