My Japan’s adventure has started to unravel as soon as I stepped into Shinjuku, the same very day I arrived in Japan from Italy, after one day and more of flight. Soon I will start my semester abroad in the private university of J.F. Oberlin, as well as my wanderings throughout Japan. I am very excited to tell my story and the experience I will have during this semester abroad and I decided to start with Shinjuku, the craziest place in Tokyo 😉
Shinjuku – 新宿
Shinjuku is known as the “never-sleeping-city” all around the world and this is, indeed, true. Furthermore Shinjuku is a complicated traffic hub where there are three metro lines, 2 privates lines and, since this was not enough yet, various JR lines pass through here as well. This station is hell and I try to avoid it everytime but how?! it is one of the busiest stations in the world, it is inevitable that you have to pass through here.
Shinjuku has a great concentration of pubs, shops, malls and brothels. It is the best entertainment place in Tokyo. There are many landmarks in this district such as the Shinjuku Gyoen Park, where people go to see Hanami during Cherry Blossom Season, was once the territory of a Daimyo (Feudal Lord), or Kabuki-Chou, the famous red-light district, then the financial centre with its tall buildings, which survived the countless earthquakes, and many others places I will talk about in this article.
Piss Alley – 新宿西口思い出横丁
Why Piss Alley, I wondered, when I first got to know this place by browsing on internet. It is, indeed, a curious name, isn’t it? Well, the name is due to the fact that this area did not have any restroom facilities. Why so?
Well, after the II World War, Piss Alley started out as a cheap drinking spot as, of course, people were very poor after the terrible destruction the war brought. It steadily grew more and more attracting many people who came here to drink with the side effect of getting completely drunk and dirting around. It was not one of the best places to visit in Tokyo, I guess.
The owners of the restaurants did not have any restroom facilities in their shops so they had to pee outside and all drunkards did the same. Nowadays this place has changed drastically also because in 1999 a fire broke out burning to ashes many restaurants thus the government decided to rebuild it.
Now it is the perfect place to go if you want to experience the “old Japan’s vibes” without going to Kyoto or just to try some delicious Yakitori, as it is Piss Alley‘s speciality. The place, despite its infamous name, now is very clean and toilets can be found anywhere. The restaurants are very very small, sometimes they are so full that people sit down on boxes. It is a very interesting sight and it is also fun to dine like that once in a while.
While walking through these narrow and picturesque alleyways, we decided to stop and eat some Yakitori, in a cute and small shop. I highly recommend to go at night because the restaurants are open until late, everywhere it is lighted up by the typical Japanese lanterns and it is very lively: a real Tokyo experience.
Golden Gai – ゴールデン街
Golden Gai is another very-typical-japanese area found in Shinjuku. It managed to maintain its old structure with narrow alleyways connected by even narrower passageways. This is how Tokyo was supposed to look like in the past but unfortunately all the surrounding areas have been destroyed and rebuilt, just with the exception of Golden Gai.
The Golden Gai is a perfect spot for those who love drinking for the great amount of pubs. The shops located here are very peculiar since they are very narrow and small yet looks very cozy. It is mandatory to go at night because during the day everything is close.
For those who are also interested in culture, after drinking some good Japanese beers in one of these typical shops, I advice to pay a visit to the nearby Hanazono Shrine. It is just 5 minutes away by foot and at night it is all lighted up and incredibly nice.
Since the area is very alluring in the eyes of foreigners, many pubs’ owners are trying to put out menus and signs written in English to attract some tourists. It very fun to read the English translations as most of the time they contain cute grammar mistakes 😉
Kabuki-Chou – 歌舞伎町
Kabuki-Chou is one of the districts that make up the Shinjuku‘s ward. It is mainly known for its great concentration of brothels and love hotels but for me it is much more than this.
Kabuki-Chou is a crazy place where you can find any bizarre thing you have always thought was in Japan: countless game centers, anime-like boys, shining pachinko signs all over the streets and loud music in every shop. If you crave to see the crazier part of Japan, this is the place to come.
Kabuki-Chou became a red light district in the Meiji era after they changed the laws against prostitution. The government tried to change its vocation by moving here the Kabuki Theatre of Ginza, which was destroyed by a fire, but the construction never took place and Kabuki-Chou remained unchanged.
In Kabuki-Chou is not just about brothels but also has a wide range of restaurants offering all kinds of Japanese food that you have long craved: Sushi, Yakiniku, Tonkotsu, Ramen, etc. It is also said most of the shops are owned by Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Whether true or not, I do not know but do not be scared, come here because the place is not dangerous.
In Kabuki-Chou you can also come across a very big screen fixed on a tall building at a street intersection. I love passing through here every time and looking at the screen. Sometimes they play live concerts and all the Japanese stop in order to look at their favourite singer.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building – 東京都庁舎
This is one of the tallest and imposing buildings, not just in Shinjuku, but in Tokyo as well. It is home to the Tokyo metropolitan government’s headquarter that rules the 23 wards and minor villages and towns that make up this huge city.
The building is easily accessible from Shinjuku by foot or by a metro placed in front of it. Of course, not the entire building is open to the public but just the two observatory decks. The entrance is also free, you do not need to pay anything.
North Observatory: 9:30 to 23:00
South Observatory: 9:30 to 17:30
The view up there can be pretty amazing if the weather condition is good enough: you can get to see Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Sky Tree or you can come at night and enjoy Tokyo lights from above. There are also some souvenir shops where you can buy gifts for your friends or just rest. The only bad thing is that you have to take photos through a glass so it is quite hard to delete the reflections but you can always take an artistic photo like we did 😉 You can exploit the flaws and turn them into something good.
Map Of Shinjuku