Ikebukuro is a busy commercial area to the north of central Tokyo. It has great shops and restaurants and a large, convenient train station where you can connect to many of the main JR and Metro subway lines including the JR Yamanote line and the Maranouchi and Yurakucho Metro lines.
I stay in Ikebukuro pretty much every year and it’s a place that I’ve come to know and love. I’ve found that there’s so much to see there that I’ve decided to write about it in a couple of parts. Hence the title of this particular blog is appended with ‘Part 1’!
When I first visited Japan and found out I was staying in Ikebukuro, I was a little disappointed because the guidebooks didn’t seem to have much to say other than it being a ‘commercial area’ and I imagined a business district filled with office blocks.
However, once there I soon discovered that Ikebukuro is a great place to stay; very lively with a lot of entertainments, shops, restaurants and bars. And over the years it has really become a fun and active place with music, food and other events being held on most weekends, especially through the spring and summer.
It’s an incredibly busy area and seems to get even more so in the evenings with business people meeting after work, young people getting together in coffee shops and fast food restaurants and, of course, many tourists! If you’re looking for somewhere to have dinner, a drink and meet friends then Ikebukuro is a fantastic place to come.
Around the Station
In Japan, it’s very common for the station to be built within a big department store complex and, of course, Ikebukuro Station is no different except that you will be completely blown away by the scale of the two main stores that dominate the area.
To the west side there is Tobu department store and to the east is Seibu. Both of these stores are absolutely huge and I have got lost in Seibu on more than one occasion. So if you are looking for high end goods, Japanese and western designer clothing, cosmetics, homeware and really anything you can think of, you will find it here – just be careful of the price tag, these shops are not cheap and it’s possible that you can get the same items elsewhere a little cheaper.
Don’t be put off, however, by the exclusive nature of the shopping. The upper floors of both stores feature an array of great restaurants, some formal and some casual, serving both Western and Japanese style food, which are definitely worth perusing if you’re looking for somewhere to eat. Nearly all the restaurants here display big picture menus and plastic food in the windows making it easy to understand what’s on offer.
In the basement floors each store displays a wonderful array of fresh hot and cold food, bentos, sweets, cakes and snacks all presented beautifully and hard to resist.
In addition, Seibu has a roof top garden which is very pleasant on warm afternoons and evenings. In the evening you can get a drink and even eat barbecue food (although I would recommend knowing some Japanese language or having a local person with you as it looks quite confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing!).
Tobu and Seibu are not the only department stores in the vicinity. To the west is Lumine which is definitely one of my favourites as it has concessions for some of the best 100 Yen and 300 Yen shops. It also seems a more manageable size whilst still having a good range of departments and a plentiful supply of restaurants on the top two floors. On the restaurant floors it also has an outdoor decked area which is very pretty in the evenings and where you can enjoy a drink and something to eat.
Which ‘departo’ you choose to explore is probably more to do with where you happen to be rather than consciously choosing one over the others. It is possible to wander around the underground station for quite a distance and come across new things every time you go through or stumble across a particular shop quite by accident and never manage to find again.
Ikebukuro Station is a wonder and you can spend a long time exploring the underground walkways as well as the streets and shops above before you go anywhere near a train!
Minami Ikebukuro Park
Minami Ikebukuro Park can be found a short walk from the east side Seibu exit of Ikebukuro Station.
It has been completely renovated, reopening in 2016, and is now a pleasant green area which is very popular all through the day. It is not a large park but it’s a good place to take a seat and have a break.
It has a lovely family atmosphere and is super clean and well managed. It consists of a large rectangular grass area where people sit and play games surrounded by paving and decking with trees to provide a little shade.
One of the main features of the park is Racines restaurant which is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner and is an excellent place to sit with a coffee while you plan your day. They often have a barbecue going in the evening which is great fun and not too difficult to order as they do the cooking instead of you doing it yourself at the table.
There are public toilets in the park although they are a bit basic and what you’d expect to find in the average park.
The park shuts around 10.00pm and reopens at 8.00am in the morning.
Sunshine City is a large shopping mall and entertainment centre to the east of Ikebukuro Station.
Much of it is taken up with an Alta Mart department store but there are also a great many other shops including Toys R Us, Nitori (homeware), Japanese and western fashion brands, cosmetics and drugstores such as Kokumin, Francfranc, Mighty Soxer (Tabio) and a great 3Coins (300 Yen store).
As you would expect there are also many types of restaurants and coffee shops which means that the place stays busy well into the evening.
It’s not just dedicated to shopping however. In the centre is the Fountain Plaza which is an open square with a stage area that often hosts musical entertainments such as idol band promotions and events featuring anime or video game characters – all of which it is forbidden to film or photograph!
Amongst the other entertainments you can find at Sunshine City are a Pokemon centre, an aquarium, the Sky Circus ‘fun observatory’ which seems to be rides and interactive games, a planetarium and a kind of indoor theme park called Namjatown where you can eat gyoza and desserts and play old fashioned arcade machines.
All in all, Sunshine City is a bright, shiny, noisy experience but it’s great fun. If it’s shopping you’re after then you really will be in heaven but make sure you stay for the food and entertainment as there is always something going on.
There is plenty more to write about the Ikebukuro area so please read my next installment which covers arts, festivals, massive electronics shops and anime culture.