Full of Contradiction
At a glance, Ikebukuro is not much different than other large cities in Japan. It’s in Tokyo, has high buildings and numerous rail lines, and like many other sections of greater Tokyo, Ikebukuro sticks out as a major transportation and business hub. Other than the department stores, large bookstores, cafes and theaters, there are tons of bars, all kinds of clubs, and more game centers than could ever be counted. Although it comes off as no more than the typical Tokyo scenery, the theaters, game centers and clubs in particular have a unique air of a time long past. Masses of all walks of life gather in Ikebukuro. This can come in the form of families, lively youngsters, or couples – not to mention all the foreigners from all over the wolrd. This varying mass of people is no doubt a mind boggling chaotic blend like you may never experience again.
But, why the big crowd all the time? The answer to this lies in the geographic features of Ikebukuro. As workers and students coming in from Saitama and West Tokyo must pass through when transporting to their daily grind at the office or school, it is a gate into greater Tokyo. There is also the lure of shopping, and amusement, which are not as common in the suburbs.
Ikebukuro East Exit
To get to understand this magnetism, start from East Exit. A bit separated from the station, is the Sunshine City. Sunshine 60 street is the lively main street just outside of Sunshine City. It is lined with all sorts of restaurants and theaters. The various colors, shapes, and sizes of people on the narrow streets are a real feast for the eyes.
Just before reaching Sunshine City is TOKYU HANDS – everything under the sun under one roof, this is a multi-floor DYI store that will capture you and never let you go. Moving on to Sunshine City, take the underground passage just next to TOKYU HANDS. Sunshine City is a sprawled out a number of floors of shopping, offices, cultural establishments such as museums, art galleries, vast halls lined with restaurants, an aquarium, a stage theater, a hotel, and a theme park for Japanese speakers called Namja Town. With all of these to choose from you may lose track of time all together.
The building directly neighboring Sunshine City is Toyota Automotive showroom called aMLUX TOKYO, perfect for any lover of automotives.
Taking Meiji Dori in the direction of Shinjuku will bring you to the Zoushigaya and Kishibojin areas are famouse for traditional toys called susukimimizuku (that look like owls with ears), and a fall festival called oeshiki. Great scholars from the Meiji era rest. Their atmospheres are in contrast full of tranquility.
Ikebukuro West Exit
Ikebukuro has another side that must not be excluded. Exit the West Exit and you will find all the department store and bookstore rivals of the East – most noticeable, Tobu. For some mysterious reason, the Chinese characters for the rivaling department stores are exactly opposite of the areas they are located in. Perhaps this is to confuse the unaccustomed into staying in the shops longer. The meaning of Tobu is ‘east area/section,’ although it is located in the west; Seibu means ‘west section,’ but is located in the east. There are also hotels and restaurants; the west displays just as much liveliness as the east. Exiting out into the west, stay to the left and you will see a medium size park. The big building in back of that is Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. Passing the Art Space, and continuing down for a while, an ivy-covered schoolhouse of brick construction will jump out at you. This is Rikkyo University. It has been in established for 129 years. This is a Christian university; the campus has an English look and feeling, and is in a city as large as Ikebukuro a space so totally secluded from the rest of the lively town. A little separated from Rikkyo University, is Jiyu Gakuen and Myonichi-kan, built architecturally as that of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The cityscape is a mix of lively and vibrant station surroundings, and extensive serene residential neighborhoods. In this, Ikebukuro is full of scenery changes.
Don’t forget a stop by the department stores of the east and west. Throughout the department stores, you can find just about anything you’re looking for. The basement floor in the department store’s underground is a must see. While each floor in the rest of the complex has their own unique appeal, this underground world of food is a real eye-opener. Check out the flowing crowd, and take in the daily rhythms and scents of this Japanese everyday life in this kingdom of food.