Nakano is a vibrant area of Tokyo just a few minutes west out of Shinjuku Station on the Chuo Rapid line.
It is famous as a centre for ‘otaku’ culture and most travel guides focus on this aspect and on Nakano Broadway, a covered mall close to the station. However, you can discover another side of Nakano which is less well known by tourists.
The Sun Mall and Nakano Broadway are two connected covered malls right opposite the North Exit of the station and across the bus station.
The Sun Mall is a busy bustling shopping centre full of the usual everyday kind of stores for fashion, cosmetics, household goods and western style cafes and fast food. But the big draw is up on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors of the connected Broadway where you can find many small shops stuffed full of vintage and collectable figures, toys, model kits, comic books, magazines and just about every other type of anime and manga themed memorabilia.
There are other things here too. In the basement there are fashion stalls, a supermarket and great fresh food stalls where you can easily find a savoury snack or sweet treat.
If you’re not interested in this kind of ‘otaku’ (nerd) culture, it’s still worth taking a look around and explore the side streets that cross the main Mall. There is a wool shop and a lovely fabric and craft shop tucked away and spread over many floors where I have previously bought books, fabric and craft supplies. I have even found beautiful second-hand obi sashes at an amazing Y1000 each.
Whilst certainly being lively and exciting, it’s not the most glamorous side of Tokyo with the tiny standing bars and noodle shops having a very ‘local’ feel. It is also, without fail, extremely busy and if you’re like me you might find this a little tiring after a while.
However, don’t write off Nakano as ‘Otaku Central’ as it’s still worth a visit even if you’re not interested in that particular aspect of Japanese popular culture and here are a couple of ideas for an 'alternative' side to Nakano.
Nakano Central Park and Shiki no Mori Park
If you are looking for somewhere to sit and enjoy your bento then there is a park not far from Nakano station. Known as Nakano Central Park (and seems to include Shiki no Mori Park), this green space is about 5 minutes walk from the station. From the North exit go up the outdoor escalator to the left and walk straight until you get to the large DoCoMo shop, follow the road round to the right and then take the next left.
Here you will find a large area with a mixture of greenery and paved or decked areas surrounded by a variety of convenience stores, cafes and restaurants.
On week day lunchtimes you will also find a selection of mobile food stalls selling really good bentos and street food. There is lots of outdoor seating with tables and chairs set out and benches around the edge. You can even sit on the grass if it's dry!
In the week the space gets quite busy with office workers and students (being in close proximity to a university) taking their midday break. However, come a little later, maybe after 1.00pm and most of the office workers will have gone back to work and in general it will be quieter.
The park has a nice family feel at the weekends usually with lots of activities going on and families with small children out enjoying the sunshine.
The surroundings are really very pleasant and this is a good spot to people watch, enjoy some fresh air and plan the rest of your trip.
Renga Zaka Streets
If you found the Broadway shopping too hectic and you'd rather something more relaxed and (can I say it?) refined, I would recommend leaving by the South Exit (or turn left out of the North side and left again under the railway bridge) and taking a stroll further up the main road to the south.
On this side of the station, the first landmark is a lovely big Marui department store (OIOI). This is a relief if you need air-conditioned calm or a toilet break. It has lots of good Japanese brands including Muji and Tokyu Hands and there is a cafe and ice cream parlour too but they're usually quite busy.
Firstly though, along the main road either side of Marui there are a few interesting shops including a beautiful bakery and a lovely little shop called Ohashi which sells loose leaf teas in beautiful packaging and tins along with traditional Japanese confectionary which goes with matcha and Japanese tea. All good for souvenirs and gifts!
Back at Marui, go in through the front entrance, take the escalator up to the next floor and head towards the back of the store. Here you will find another entrance which opens up onto a pleasant terrace where you can sit and have a rest. There’s even a vending machine if you need a drink.
Once you come outside here you will find yourself in the midst of a network of pleasant side streets known as Renga Zaka.
These quiet lanes and alleys are decorated with fairy lights and olive trees which gives them a cute European flavour. The streets mainly house eateries including Spanish and Italian restaurants, izakayas, trendy bars and coffee shops but there are other ‘local’ shops tucked in between like beauty salons, flower shops, bike repairs and a very good hat shop.
Wander at your leisure, enjoy a coffee or glass of wine and soak up the atmosphere!
I hope this has given you another view of Nakano and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the refinement and warm atmosphere away from the more touristy Broadway.
Here are my tips for visiting Nakano:
- The ladies toilets in Nakano Broadway are usually empty especially if you go up to the 4th floor. This is basically because your average toy hunter is male!
- Don’t go too early, nothing interesting is open before 12.00pm.