Shinjuku and Shibuya, the dual centers of Western Tokyo, three stops apart on the Yamanote line, started to boom only after the 1923 earthquake. This part of the city is new Tokyo – all vitality and energy, fast-paced, constantly changing, and challenging the more traditional pleasures of Central and Northern Tokyo. Modern architectural landmarks are dotted around, from the Olympic Stadiums of Yoyogi Park to the magnificent twin-towered home for the city government in West Shinjuku.
Shibuya, along with neighboring Harajuku and Minami- Aoyama, is the epicenter of both young and haute-couture Japanese fashion. Nightlife is also in plentiful supply with Roppongi’s cosmopolitan clubs, bars, and music venues, and the neon lights and pachinko parlors of East Shinjuku. In these overwhelmingly modern surroundings, historical sights are few and far between but include the popular Meiji Shrine and the nearby Sword Museum.
Street-by-Street: East Shinjuku
East Shinjuku is where Tokyo plays. The area has been a nightlife center from Edo times on, when it was the first night stop on the old Tokaido road to Kyoto. Since Shinjuku station opened in the 1880s, entertainments have been targeted at commuters (mainly men) en route back to the suburbs.
Amusements are focused in the tiny bars of Golden Gai, and in the red-light district of Kabukicho. Daytime attractions include several art galleries, a tranquil shrine, and some of Tokyo’s best department stores. A late-afternoon stroll as the neon starts to light up will take in both sides of this fascinating, bustling area.
Most of Tokyo’s skyscraper office blocks (and some of its most expensive land) are clustered just to the west of Shinjuku station. About 250,000 people work here each day. Many of the hotels and some office blocks have top-floor restaurants with views of the city.
In 1960 the government designated Shinjuku a fukutoshin (“secondary heart of the city”); in 1991, when the city government moved into architect Kenzo Tange’s massive 48-story Metropolitan Government Offices, many started calling it shin toshin (the new capital). Tange’s building was dubbed “tax tower” by those outraged at its US$1 billion cost.
With over two million people passing through each day, this is the busiest train station in the world. As well as being a major stop on both the JR and metropolitan subway systems, Shinjuku station is the starting point for trains and buses into the suburbs. On the Yamanote and Chuo line platforms during the morning rush hour (from about 7:30 to 9am) staff are employed to push those last few commuters on to the train, making sure the odd body part isn’t slammed in one of the closing doors.
The corridors connecting all the lines and train networks are edged with hundreds of shops and restaurants. It’s easy to lose your way in this maze of seemingly identical passages, and it is often simpler to find your bearings at ground level.
For a time in the 1980s and early 1990s, a substantial number of homeless (mostly men) built cardboard villages in the station’s corridors. In a controversial move, the municipal government forcibly removed them; they settled in new places, including Ueno Park.