Exploring Tokyo: the many faces of Shinjuku

Shinjuku, the biggest district of Tokyo, has everything you can expect from a city where more than 13 million of people live: a forest of skyscrapers, wide boulevards with billboards brighter than Times Square and the biggest subway station in the world. But Shinjuku isn’t just about neon lights, busy streets and modernity: the atmosphere is radically different between the top of the Metropolitan Government Building and the tiny lanes of Golden Gai, between the park of Shinjuku-gyoen and the strip clubs of Kabukicho, between day and night. Come explore the many faces of Shinjuku, the most contrasted area of Tokyo.

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery about Tokyo.

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Shinjuku Station

Officially awarded “busiest station in the world” by Guinness World Records in 2011, Shinjuku station has more than 200 different exits and 3.64 millions of people in average transit here every day. If you’re coming to the area, it might be a smart move to stop one station before or after Shinjuku, and avoiding rush hour if you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of crowds like this…

 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

With its 243m, these giant twin towers dominate all the other skyscrapers of Shinjuku. More than 20,000 people work here! The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is also an absolute must-see for touristsbecause of its free observatory on the 45th floor providing a fabulous view over the city. During the day, prefer the South Tower (closing at 6pm). To the south, you can see the Park Hyatt Hotel (the three towers stuck to each other) where the movie Lost In Translation starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray was filmed. If you’re lucky with the weather, you might also see Mount Fuji to the west…

Only the North Tower stays open at night time (until 11:30pm), but most of the space is occupied by a very expensive restaurant and only a few windows remain accessible to the public. Not very convenient for photographers… But the sight of Tokyo illuminated at your feet is still gorgeous and the building itself is also worth a look at night time.

Kabukicho

If you’re coming to Kabukicho during the day, it might not seem so special: restaurants, shops and gaming rooms, and apart from some weird buildings (King Kong on a wall?) it’s not so different from many other places around Tokyo. But wait until night falls…

tokyo-shinjuku-king-kong

It’s only during night time that the real personality of Kabukicho also known as the “Sleepless Town” becomes visible: one of the biggest entertainment areas in the world… and a giant red-light district. Bars, cinemas and night clubs, but also strip clubs and love hotels are everywhere. As a guy walking there on my own quite late in the evening, I stopped counting how many times I got asked if I wanted some “special attention” for the night! But nobody ever insisted when I politely refused and it never felt insecure, probably quite different to what it would be in other cities around the world.

Golden Gai

On the edge of Kabukicho, the 5 or 6 tiny lanes of Golden Gai couldn’t be more different to the bright neon lights of Shinjuku. This place is so unique that it’s hard to remember that you’re still in Tokyo. Once again, the atmosphere is radically different between day and night. During the day, the lanes are empty…

…but come back after dusk and it will be hard to make your way through the crowds of people, and even harder to find a seat in one of the dozens of Lilliputian bars where not more than 5 or 6 people, bartender included, can stay at the same time!

Hanazono Shrine

The presence of this Shinto shrine in the middle of Shinjuku seems almost anachronic, directly next to the lanes of Golden Gai. A real oasis of peace and spirituality compared to the electric atmosphere of Kabukicho. This shrine dedicated to the god Inari is especially popular with businessmen praying for success.

Shinjuku Gyo-en

The large park (58 hectares) of Shinjuku Gyo-en to the east of Shinjuku is one of the green lungs of Tokyo. It’s impossible to miss this huge area from the observatory of the Metropolitan Government Building. Even if it can be really crowded, it is so vast that it’s always possible to find some peaceful areas and forget about the agitation of the city.

tokyo-shinjuku-gyoen-park-entranceShinjuku Gyo-en is very popular during the Sakura season, when the cherry blossoms are blooming. I had to queue for almost half an hour at the gate, but I was rewarded with one of the best places in Tokyo to admire these stunning pink and white flowers. Tourists, families, women wearing the traditional kimono, all different kind of people can be found in this park, making it a perfect metaphor of Shinjuku, the most contrasted district of the city.

Have you ever visited Tokyo? What’s your favourite place? Share it in the comments!

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