Tokyo Shinjuku The bustling and vibrant nightlife center of Tokyo.
The neon district is a favorite entertainment spot of Tokyo people.
Having the busiest train station in the world is an unlikely perk for a city. But Shinjuku has so much to offer – from modern high-rise buildings to green oases! Shinjuku is a magnet for shopping, eating, and relaxing.
- Take a stroll through Shinjuku-geoen, an oasis of nature amidst the bustling crowds.
- Experience the vibrant nightlife and shopping.
- City Hall, skyscrapers and a futuristic neon city.
How to get there
There are 12 train lines running through Shinjuku Station including the JR Yamanote.
The Shinjuku station is located west of the JR Yamanote Circle Line, in the prestigious western part of the city (close to Shibuya, Yoyogi and Harajuku stations). Other lines, both surface and underground, pass through the station. It is also a major stop for intercity buses coming into Tokyo.
The most important thing is to get your bearings
Shinjuku station is the district’s calling card and officially recognized as the world’s leading transportation hub in terms of passenger traffic. When it was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 it was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day.
There is a veritable maze of 36 platforms, more than 200 exits and 17 platforms on the five immediately adjacent JR, Keio, Odakyu, Toei and Seibu stations. Be vigilant and never offer to meet anyone “near Shinjuku station”! Underground shopping malls, restaurants, and cafes are adjacent to each other here.
More than a transportation hub
Millions of people pass through Shinjuku every day, so the area is filled with establishments and attractions for every taste.
Shinjuku is home to the flagship stores of major chains like Isetan, Takashimaya, Keio, and Odakyu. And Kinokuniya Bookstore, Tokyu Hands, Bic Camera, Yodobashi, and Labi are located right in front of the station.
There are thousands of different stores, restaurants, bars, clubs and cinemas close by. Shinjuku has everything you want, and a lot of it you don’t even know about yet.
Pink lights, nightlife, and all-night partying
In Kabukityo, the party hardly ever stops. It’s often referred to as “the city that doesn’t sleep,” though in fact it does shut down for a couple of hours towards morning.
Despite its somewhat dubious reputation, it is highly recommended for young people and foreign tourists to explore. At the same time it is becoming more and more suitable for family vacations as well. In a small area fits more than four thousand bars, restaurants, clubs and stores – there is plenty to choose from! All sorts of unusual institutions – a restaurant robots, a giant Godzilla, a museum of samurai and bath Thermae-Yu – fuel the interest of tourists. Visiting places like the Golden Gai neighborhood, Hanazono Sanctuary, or even Korea Town, people tend to return at least once more.
Not just for fun
Shinjuku is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Totyo), the architectural dominant feature of the area and the tallest of the local skyscrapers. The views of the city from its observation decks are breathtaking. You can get in before 11 p.m. and it’s free.
The Emperor’s Treasure
Amidst the chaos of concrete, steel, and millions of people rushing in and out, Shinjuku-gyoeng Garden seems like a mirage or a dream. It’s a secret carefully guarded by the locals. Here you can spend some time in silence, a respite from the ubiquitous neon and noise – unless, of course, it’s the blooming sakura season or the autumn leaves.
The garden was once the property of the imperial family of Japan. Its last owner, Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), loved Shinjuku-gyoen so much that he was buried here.
The multitude of flowers, the carefully manicured trees, the classic Japanese garden, the pagodas and Taiwanese pavilion, the greenhouse, the combination of the French formal style with the British landscape style – everything here gives joy and tranquility, which are so lacking in the weary city dwellers of everyday life.
Guide to Tokyo, Part 3: Shinjuku
We continue to talk about Tokyo’s neighborhoods in a joint article with KiMONO magazine.
Editor’s note: Tokyo is a state within a state. And if you don’t delve into the history, culture and traditions of the country and city, you won’t understand anything about Tokyo. We were lucky to find an awesome guide through Tokyo – Ekaterina Stepanova, publisher and editor-in-chief of KiMONO magazine. Each week we’ll publish an itinerary through one of Tokyo’s neighborhoods. This week it’s Shinjuku.
Three hundred years ago, modern Shinjuku was just a lonely roadside hotel; now it’s Tokyo’s big innovation center, whose bustling neighborhoods attract tourists from all over the world. Shopping streets, ultra-modern skyscrapers, and a large national park – the Japanese say Shinjuku has everything you need to be happy.
Start your exploration of this city-area with Shinjuku station on the Yamanote JR East line: it’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most visited station in the world. The station has many exits to the city. Already on the platform it is worth paying attention to the signs: they, like compass arrows, indicate the direction of travel – south, east, west. West Shinjuku is an area of skyscrapers, where the offices of Japan’s largest corporations are based. To the east is the center of entertainment and shopping: it’s always noisy and crowded. And to the south is an oasis in the middle of the metropolis, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, the most beautiful park in the Japanese capital.
The Tokyo Government Building, listed in the guidebooks as Tokyo Metropolitan Government No. 1, is better to go in the morning and in sunny weather, then you have a chance to see the holy Fuji Mountains from one of the two observation decks on the 45th floor (free entrance). The halls are open daily, but there are also sanitation days, so check the schedule at metro.tokyo.jp.
Afterwards, don’t forget to check out the other buildings in the complex: they were designed by Kenzo Tange, a Pritzker Prize-winning architectural star. In addition to the main building, which looks like twin towers connected by a common base, it includes a high-rise with a Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel in one of the three towers (Building No. 2) and a semicircular assembly building where the city council meets.
Website: metro.tokyo.jp Opening hours: 09:30 to 23:00, the southern site is closed on the first and third Tuesday of each month and the northern site on the second and fourth Mondays.
From the square by the government building, cross the pedestrian bridge over the busy highway to Shinjuku Chuo Park. At its westernmost border is the Kumano-jinja Shinto Shrine, where locals come to ask the gods for prosperity and blessings for newlyweds. There used to be ponds near the temple surrounded by tea houses, but by the middle of the last century they had been filled in.
In the Kumano-jinja courtyard, which you can visit any day between 09:00 and 17:00, be sure to check out the stone slab that showed pilgrims the way in ancient times and the oldest statue of guard dogs in the temple, which has been there since Edo times (1603-1868). In the building itself, don’t miss the eighteenth-century wooden panels depicting actors of the kabuki theater. The temple is dedicated to 12 Shinto deities, and every third Sunday in September, area residents take to the streets and hold a festival in their honor that lasts two days.
Skyscrapers and Contemporary Art
After visiting Kumano-jinja, walk down one of the district’s main streets, Chuo-dori, and admire its incredible skyscrapers. Behind glass and concrete facades you’ll find not only offices but also entire floors of restaurants, from French to Balinese. And don’t miss the conceptual art objects in front of i-Land. For example, the sculpture Love (1993) by Robert Indiana from the United States or the enormous marble finger of Unghia e Marmo (1994) by Giuseppe Penone from Italy.
The skyscraper district ends with the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, also known simply as “Cocoon”. This is the highest educational institution on the planet after Moscow State University, where students from all over the world become fashion designers, specialists in graphics, interior design, nail service and hairdressing, and also learn the basics of fashion business.
Seiji Togo Art Museum
On the 42nd floor of a skyscraper owned by insurance giant Sompo Japan Nipponkoa, across from the Fashion and Design Institute, is an art museum with works by Japanese artist Seiji Togo. His paintings of romantic beauties are known far beyond Japan’s borders.
The artist spent his student years in France, and upon his return he became an avid collector of Western Impressionists: Gauguin, Cézanne, and Van Gogh. Today, the halls of the museum named after him host exhibitions of artists from all over the world, as well as young Japanese talents. The price of admission depends on the exhibition.
Tempura and parfait
For lunch, head to eastern Shinjuku, to the famous Tsunahachi restaurant 100 years ago, where they make traditional tempura. This small establishment in an old building is recognizable by the small queue and dirty blue curtains at the entrance – in the old days it was believed that the dirtier the curtain, the more popular the restaurant, because guests wiped their hands on them when they left after eating.
At Tsunahachi and other restaurants specializing in tempura, they cook it in front of diners as they masterfully dip the freshest seafood in rice batter and toss it in boiling oil. A seafood and vegetable dinner with a bowl of rice and soup costs about ¥1,100. For dessert, we suggest stopping by Takano Fruit Parlour, a parfait of seasonal fruit that is above average. The place is a five-minute walk on the third floor of a corner building on Shinjuku-dori. A daytime set with a drink and a dessert of fresh seasonal fruit, such as mango or melon, costs ¥1,000.
Imperial Garden and Greenhouse
After lunch, it’s time to stroll through one of Tokyo’s largest and most beautiful parks, Shinjuku-gyoen. It has a Japanese imperial garden with tea houses from the Meiji era (1868-1912), lawns for games and recreation, a greenhouse, a French rose garden, and a plane tree alley. The biggest rush here is in April, when the cherry blossoms bloom, and from November to December, when it’s time to admire the red maples, the Momiji.
Admission: 150 yen for adults and 50 yen for children. Opening hours: 09:00 to 16:00, closed Mondays and public holidays.
By evening, head back to the station along Shinjuku-dori, sparkling with lights like a Christmas tree. There are hundreds of establishments here, from noodle cafes to jewelry boutiques. Don’t pass by the Isetan Mall, which sells Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Dsquared2 and other luxury brands. Rei Kawakubo, Issei Miyake, Yoji Yamamoto and other young Japanese designers are also present, and it is considered very prestigious to show your stuff at Isetan.
The mall is strictly divided into sectors: there is a floor of cosmetics, footwear, traditional products and goods for children. Be sure to go to the minus first floor – it is the center of gastronomic life of Tokyo. The stalls feature traditional Japanese foods from marbled beef to square watermelons, and edible gifts like chocolates or rice crackers – you can bring them back from Japan as a souvenir.
The temple is the keeper of the neighborhood.
If shopping bags don’t interfere with your walk, take Meiji-dori. Just a couple of blocks away, you’ll see the red gate-poria, the entrance to Hanazono-jinja Shrine. For more than three centuries, it has been considered the protector of Shinjuku from natural disasters and disease.
Once a month, the square in front of the temple hosts colorful events for the citizens: the Cherry Blossom Festival in April or the Winning Rooster Fair in November. If you find yourself here during the fair, buy an amulet for good luck, especially important in the year of the Rooster, as it will protect its owner for 12 years.
The Hanazono-jinja also features a small wooden tunnel restored after the war, symbolizing a passage to another world, for worshiping the deity Inari (in the form of a fox) and the Shinjuku heritage-listed stone guardian-dog statues at the opposite entrance to the courtyard. Another symbol of the temple is the mythical phoenix-like bird depicted on its coat of arms. There is a legend that it once actually flew into these places.
Entertainment in Kabuki-chou
North of Shinjuku JR East is the largest red light district in Tokyo, Kabuki-chō. Rock bars, lave hotels, strip clubs – the neighborhood reveals the hidden sexual component of Japanese life. You can go on a tour here during the daytime, but it’s more interesting in the evening, when the underground life begins to boil there.
There’s no danger, but the idea that something not quite legal is going on around here will spice up your evening. The neighborhood originated in the post-war era and is named after the Kabuki Theater, which was never built. Recently, Kabuki-chō has been undergoing extensive redevelopment, with streets being widened, old dilapidated buildings being demolished, and dubious establishments being shut down.
In 2016, the Gracery Shinjuku Hotel, with a huge Godzilla head on the roof, appeared in the heart of it. There are restaurants and a movie theater on the lower floors, and a terrace bar with a panoramic view of the city on the top floor.
Grill bar and night views of the city
If the Kabuki-cho atmosphere is not to your liking, change into an evening gown and go to one of the skyscrapers in western Shinjuku for dinner. For example, on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel in Government Building No. 2, at the New York Grill restaurant. You might have seen it in the movie Difficulties of Translation: it was there that Bill Murray’s character listened to a sweet-voiced singer and dreamed of love while on a business trip to Tokyo.
The New York Grill is the place where wealthy Tokyoites usually dine: haute cuisine, exquisite interior, and a beautiful panoramic view of the city. After sunset, great music played by the best jazz bands of the city really plays here. The place is so popular that tables for the evening are booked up days in advance, but you can come without an appointment and just have a glass of wine at the bar. Lunch is ¥4,000 and dinner from ¥10,000. There is a sommelier. The dress code is black tie.