When people picture Tokyo, they usually imagine tall skyscrapers, bright lights, busy train stations, and tiny bars and restaurants, or in other words, all of the aspects that make the Shinjuku area so unique! Shinjuku is the epitome of Tokyo as a city and encapsulates the true vibrancy and energy of Japan’s capital. Although Shinjuku is technically a city, when people refer to it, they usually mean a large area surrounding the train station including Yoyogi, Sendagaya, and parts of Shibuya. Shinjuku literally translates to “new lodge” and is a major economic as well as transit hub of Tokyo. Housing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, as well as the busiest train station in the world, Shinjuku is one of Japan’s most visited neighborhoods, and for good reason. Shinjuku can be simplified into two main areas, West Shinjuku and East Shinjuku. West Shinjuku includes most of the government and administrative offices, super-tall buildings, and department stores while West Shinjuku has gardens, temples and shrines, museums, and a red light district. Believe it or not, it’s very much possible to see all of this (and even more!) for ¥1,000 or less but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with one of the most impressive parts of Shinjuku, the train station.
The World’s Busiest Train Station
Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest train station, used by an average of more than three and a half million people per day. Being the main traffic hub between the city center and Western Tokyo, Shinjuku Station has around 36 platforms and more than 200 exits. I’m not suggesting that you tour around this large train station- you’ll probably get lost- but these are certainly impressive facts to keep in mind as you arrive into the station and search for (and hopefully find) your exit. Wherever you are coming from, seeing the hustle and bustle of so many people in such a small and intricate building makes traveling to this station worth it, especially if you live in Tokyo and haven’t yet been to Shinjuku! Don’t you want to say you passed through the busiest train station in the world?
The Best View in the City
Once you have had your fill of crowds and exits, go west and navigate yourself directly to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It might sound boring, but this building offers two observation decks on the 45th floor for free. It is one of the best views in the city and if you happen to be lucky enough to visit on a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji from the top. Beware of going on weekends as it can get very crowded, but even when there is a line, it moves fairly quickly. Keep in mind that the observation decks (at least one of them, anyway), is always open from 9:30 in the morning until 11:00 in the evening, so you can always make your way here for sunset or for a nighttime skyline view if you prefer. There are a few small pop-up shops selling snacks and souvenirs at the top and of course, a selection of beverages from vending machines in case you need a coffee to hold you over until lunch. From the South Tower, you can see Odaiba Bay and Mount Fuji and from the North, you see city and skyline. Try to visit both, if you can!
Lunch for Cheap
For lunch, there is no shortage of options in the Shinjuku area. Some of the most expensive restaurants in the country are in Shinjuku but given the fact that is an area rife with office buildings and salarymen, there are also plenty of fast, cheap, and extremely good options. For ramen, I recommend Menya Musashi or, if you don’t like fish (or fish-based soup), Ichiran Shinjuku, both of which are affordable. If you’re in the mood for sushi, head to Himawari Zushi for scrumptious fish for as little as ¥150 per plate plus a great conveyor sushi belt experience. If you’re not too hungry (or if you don’t like Japanese food), you can check out Berg, a small brewpub offering affordable coffee, beers, and hotdog sets which are a perfect quick snack before exploring more of Shinjuku. Finally, if you want to try something new, head to Banh Mi Sandwich for a classic Vietnamese sandwich (you can choose the filling) on a fresh baguette for as little as ¥330, depending on the size and filling that you select. You really can’t go wrong with any of these food options in Shinjuku.
Gardens and Shrines
After lunch, head to Shinjuku Gyoen Park. It’s not free, but it is more than worth the ¥200 admission price. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the most stunning parks in Japan, if not the world. You can easily spend hours here walking through the different gardens, looking at various plant species, or even bringing a picnic to enjoy in the sunshine. The only downside is that alcohol isn’t allowed! Bring a friend or a book and explore the massive park and all it has to offer. There is even a teahouse towards the middle of the park where you can try a traditional green tea. Of all of the places to skip over in Shinjuku, do not miss out on this gorgeous and green park of Tokyo, made even more stunning by the changes it undergoes each season. You won’t regret it! And as you get ready to leave the park, head towards the Shinjuku Gate exit and make your way to the Hanazono Shrine on your way out. It is an underrated red and gold shrine that is often overlooked by tourists and easy to stop off at after exiting the park. Quickly check out the intricate details of this Shinto Shrine before moving on to the final activity of the day.
28 Strikes, You’re Out
As it gets later and darker, most people will tell you to head to Kabukicho, the infamous entertainment turned red light district of Shinjuku. If you like love hotels and seed bars, explore the area but with caution, be careful not to be ripped off. However, if you are up for a one-of-a-kind experience, instead of visiting Kabukicho, go to the Shinjuku Batting Centre and hit a few balls! It may seem odd at first, but you’ll quickly see that swinging with all of your might at baseballs flying past you not only gives you a rush but stress relief and a great workout! Just be sure to stretch before and after, especially if you are not used to this kind of exercise. The best part about this batting cage is that it’s only ¥300 for 28 balls, more than enough if it’s your first time. And while they don’t exactly offer lessons, there are plenty of friendly locals around willing to help if needed. You might even find your new hobby and I personally promise you’ll have more fun swinging at baseballs than in the red light district.
Shinjuku has something for everyone whether you like views, the outdoors, sports, or good food. Perhaps that’s why Shinjuku is always so busy and bustling with energy. If you haven’t visited Shinjuku yet, you are certainly in for a treat and if you have, I suggest you go back and explore some new parts as well, it’s not a city that disappoints.
ADP / United States
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