Since I was living in Shinjuku, this was the part of town I spent the most time in. Arriving and walking around the area on the first night was definitely…an experience. I don’t want to play the ‘ignorant foreigner that only talks about how weird Japan is’ card constantly, but Shinjuku is definitely…out there.
Shinjuku Station is supposedly the busiest subway station in the world, and I can believe it. I’ve gotten used to the pretty orderly (if also quite busy) subway system in Seoul, and this was definitely on a different level. The subway in general is quite well-organized with English signs everywhere, but still felt a bit confusing to me at first, especially since bigger stations haShinve multiple lines departing on them. In contrast, most Seoul stations only house one or two lines, which makes transfers easier. After taking a train from Narita airport (which is really far out, but at least the ride is pretty scenic and features an old school dutch-style windmill of all things), I boarded my first subway and felt like I was gonna be smushed. So many people, pushing in all possible directions. People behind me rushed to get in and pushed me so hard that I thought I was gonna fall over. Inside, I turned around to see what muscle-bound bro had exerted so much force on me…and it were three teenage girls, one of which might have pushed me with a tuba. Alrighty. But to be fair, that was the only time during the trip that this happened and things settled down quite a bit afterwards.
Shinjuku is most well-known as a nightlife district, and it definitely lives up to that reputation. Tons of people, gigantic blinking LEDs, pachinko halls and other entertainment locals everywhere. Really makes for one hell of a walk.
I’m gonna have to play the ignorant foreigner now: Pachinko halls are literal hellholes. The noise is indescribable and made me feel like I was gonna go deaf if I stayed in there for longer than a minute. I’ve been told that you stop noticing the noise if you stay longer (not sure if that’s a good thing), but I simply could not take it. Arcade halls are also very noisy, but in a much less unpleasant way.
Also, let me warn you of the claw machines that you can find everywhere: The prices are cool and the machines look really easy to beat, but of course they aren’t. Or maybe I’m just clumsy as fuck. Especially on the first couple of days, when I was still used to mentally converting between Euro and Korean Won, I spent way too much money on these machines. Turns out that thinking they were much cheaper than they actually are, since one yen roughly equals 1o won. But I simply could not pass up the chance to grab some Vegeta toys!
(Also, if you want to pick up a bunch of anime merch and whatnot while you’re there, I regret to inform you that it’s all really expensive)
Shinjuku is also home to the apparently famous Robot Restaurant. It certainly looks like one hell of a show from the outside, but I was too cheap to give it a try.
Good to know.
Kabukichō is a notorious part of Shinjuku that was very close to my hotel, so I walked through it pretty much every night. And boy was it a bizarre experience every time. It’s the red light district, famous for – as Wikipedia elegantly puts it – ‘sex-related establishment’. That sums it up pretty well, as it seems that ‘massage parlors’ make up a third of all shops on some corners. There are sleazy men trying to get you to follow them on every corner. I don’t quite understand the strategy, as I would certainly not follow these characters into a side street or establishment even if I was in the mood for “some tiddies” that they eloquently advertized. But then again, it seems to work for them, so what do I know. One dude thrusted a literal binder full of women into my face. Mitt Romney would be so proud (#datedreferences). It’s one of those things that becomes really, really creepy if you think about it too long (or, at all). But it’s Tokyo, so you kinda just roll with it. Either way, it’s definitely an experience.
Luckily, years of watching anime had at least prepared me for Japan’s odd fascination with random German phrases. Again, probably don’t want to know what is going on here.
Here’s the street my hostel was located in, right next to Okubo station. Fittingly, that area is apparently ‘best known as Tokyo’s historic ethnic Korean neighborhood’ (thanks Wikipedia).