Modern Edo…and more
Many of these stations are nationally and internationally famous for being the “faces” of modern Japan with their vibrant town centres, bustling crowds and bright neon lights at night. But sometimes there are hidden gems scattered in the back alleys. Ikebukuro to Shibuya Stations are the neighbourhoods I knew very well. Maybe way too well, because I just realised I did not take many pictures there during the Yamanote Line Trip. Sometimes familiarity kills curiosity.
A commuter hub for those living in the northwestern suburbs of Tokyo. The East Gate area is mainly for shopping and entertainment, while the West Gate one is for more “cultured” affairs. Both sides have their own shares of crowds, but the western side is somewhat less noisy. The unofficial icon of Ikebukuro is owl, whose statues can be found in various places around the station.
JR Ikebukuro Station is a neighbourhood I knew by heart because the West Gate area is home to the university I studied at. I knew where every exit led to, I knew all the back alleys; but what I enjoyed the most was crossing the station building–usually through the “We Road” underground passage–to feel the contrasting ambience of the two sides of the station.
Situated in a rather quiet neighbourhood, the station’s next-door neighbour is Gakushuin University, attended by many members of the Japanese imperial family. A few hundred metres northwest of the station is Mejiro Anglican Episcopal Church with its colourful stained glasses inside the sanctuary. There is also a small garden called Mejiro Teien in the middle of a residential area, just before crossing the Seibu Ikebukuro Line tracks.
My fondest memory of Mejiro Station is when I found the Mejiro Teien as I was walking from the station to school one day. My commuter pass had expired and I decided to save 20 yens (40 yens return) off the normal fare. Lol!
Takadanobaba: student town, home to the famous Waseda University. Another icon, the Big Box shopping centre, stands out next to the station building.
The area to the east and south of the station is widely known as Korean Town, with dozens of shops and restaurants selling Korean products. The most popular of all is the Kankoku Hiroba supermarket. Despite being associated with Korean culture, the area is also home to many non-Korean ethnic restaurants.
Shin-Okubo was one of my two home stations and the one I used to commute. I spent my entire Japanese life here, in one of the most vibrant, multicultural parts of the capital city.
World’s busiest train station, funky skyscrapers, Tokyo government headquarters, huge department stores, parks, entertainment area, red-light district…Shinjuku has it all. But sometimes all we need is to look down. Painted on the pavement at the crossroads of Shinjuku-dôri and Meiji-dôri is the marker of Shinjuku’s Kilometre Zero on a spot which in the middle Edo period was called “oiwake” (literally where the road is divided into two; there is history behind the term).
Shinjuku is my Japanese hometown. And I am a proud former kumin. Enough said.
Shôgatei is a tiny restaurant that sells homemade lunch boxes. It also offers daigaku teishoku (university meal sets) named after Tokyo’s famous universities; the initial idea being to provide some support to students who attended the many crammers in the area.
Yoyogi may not have much to see, but it is one of the best places in Tokyo to find good food.
Harajuku can be an example of a land of contrasts. To the west of the station is tradition-laden Meiji Jingu, while to the east is a mecca for Tokyo underground culture. And while Takeshita Street is loaded with shops selling (relatively) cheap street fashion items, a few metres away, in Omotesando, is a line-up of high-end designers’ boutiques.
Harajuku was a regular weekend destination for me since I used to attend a church service in Omotesando. I used to roam the streets before they got too busy. And when the crowds had become overwhelming, I escaped to even more crowded Shibuya or Shinjuku!
Well, everyone knows Shibuya and what Shibuya has. Here is a snap of the iconic, never “human-less” Scramble Crossing from a different angle.
I visited Shibuya quite often, but mostly for people-watching or just wandering around the streets. The massive Tower Records might be my number one record shop in the city, and a place I would hate to miss when in Shibuya; but when it came to dining, my favourites were the tiny shops under the railway lines!
Sharing the same complex with Yebisu Garden Place, the Museum of Yebisu Beer–Tokyo-native and one of Japan’s oldest beer brand–offers guided tours which include beer tasting. It used to include four types of Yebisu; now only two types are available for tasting.
There is a Showa retro cheap snacks bar somewhere northwest of the station, but I could not locate it when I was there.
Sitting next to Meguro River–itself an attraction, with a castle-shaped hotel overlooking it–Meguro Gajoen is a grand structure housing Japanese traditional as well as Western-style wedding and banquet halls. Do not miss the historic “hyakudan kaidan” (stairway of 100 steps) and especially the toilets!
For Indonesians in Tokyo, Meguro is a home away from home. It is where the Indonesian Embassy and the Indonesian School are. There is also an Indonesian restaurant near the station’s East Gate run by a lady I called “aunt” whom I visited every few months.
Tokyo Design Center is a showroom of home and office furniture with a wide range of products. The building itself is a design and architectural masterpiece.
“Edomiyage” is a shop run by a family for over five generations. It sells various ebisembei (shrimp rice crackers) products. “Gotanda Shinanoya” is a tiny shop selling fresh chickens and chicken products (chicken bento, yakitori, etc.). They are some of the most interesting shops around Gotanda Station.