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Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City

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It’s best to take Sunshine City’s name at face value. And I don’t mean that it’s filled with sunshine, but that it’s truly a city of its own. This enormous complex spreads across four buildings, including the Sunshine 60, which became the tallest building in Asia upon its completion in 1978.

Sunshine City Tokyo

You could fly into Tokyo, take the metro to Ikebukuro, stay in the Sunshine City Prince Hotel, go shopping the in the Alpa mall, check out the Ancient Orient Museum, and entertain yourself at the Namja Town arcade. That’s a busy schedule, and you haven’t even left Sunshine City. In fact, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what this complex has to offer.

Over the next few days, you could shop in a second giant mall (the Alta), admire the view from the observation deck atop the Sunshine 60, check out the recently-refurbished aquarium, go to the planetarium, catch a show at the Sunshine Theater, play around at another arcade/theme-park called J-World, and choose your meals from around 90 restaurants. What a great vacation you’ve had in Sunshine City! (Next time you’ll have to check out this other city called Tokyo, which I’ve heard is okay, too.)

Jürgen and I experienced a mere fraction of Sunshine City’s attractions. After getting completely lost among the shops on the lower floors, we made our way to the World Import Mart Building, which hosts the two indoor theme parks, Namja Town and J-World. At the top of this building is the aquarium, and below that, a salon dedicated to Go, crowded with serious-looking guys bent over game boards.

We decided to entirely skip the Bunka Kaiken building, along with its Museum of the Ancient Orient, and instead wandered across the Rooftop Sunshine Plaza, on our way to the Sunshine 60. Here, one of the the world’s fastest elevators whisked us up to the top floor.

Considering the admission price, this isn’t among the better observation decks in Tokyo. It was crowded, and you’re not allowed close to the windows, except at a few points which are usually packed with people. But still, we enjoyed Sunshine City, another completely overwhelming place in the world’s most overwhelming city.

Location on our Map

Order Japanese Snacks From Here

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June 18, 2014 at 7:51 am Comments (0)

Shopping Fever in Ikebukuro

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Along with Shinjuku and Shibuya, Ikebukuro is the third and northernmost of Western Tokyo’s great centers. Built around an enormous train station, this is yet another mind-blowing conglomeration of people, buildings, entertainment, shopping and chaos that could easily be its own city. And a large one, at that.

Ikebukuro Tokyo

Ikebukuro Station serves nearly three million passengers a day, but perhaps even more than transportation, the neighborhood is focused on shopping. The station is squished between two enormous malls: Seibu on the east, and Tōbu on the west. The electronics retailer BIC Camera also has its flagship store abutting the station, and an endless array of anime shops line the broad pedestrian shopping streets.

We didn’t plan on shopping during our initial exploration of Ikebukuro, but when we boarded the train back home, it was with a few bags full of goodies. We’re weak, but you try visiting a store like Tokyu Hands and walking away without making a purchase. It’s impossible! I’m not even sure how to describe this place, but everything it sells is everything you’ve ever wanted. Weird Japanese products, souvenirs, toys, household gadgets, luggage, clothes, and even a cat cafe are spread across seven unbelievable floors. When we finally escaped the clutches of Tokyu Hands, we were several thousand yen lighter.

Thanks to its wide streets, Ikebukuro feels less congested than Shinjuku or Shibuya and we enjoyed the vibe here. As the sun went down and the lights came on, we walked by a few anime shops. Ikebukruo’s Otome Road is a center of manga and cosplay culture, where some of Tokyo’s biggest anime stores are found. By this time, we had given up any semblance of self-control, and bought whatever anime merchandise caught our eye, however useless.

The night got expensive, but it was also a lot of fun, and we were immediately ready to declare Ikebukuro as one of our favorites neighborhoods in Tokyo. But for some reason, we never returned. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s probably for the best; our wallets probably couldn’t have survived another Ikebukuro-style bashing.

Locations on our Map: Ikebukuro Station | Tokyu Hands

Cheap Flights To Tokyo

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June 17, 2014 at 2:49 pm Comments (0)

A Trip to Kawagoe

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An hour to the northwest of Tokyo, Kawagoe is one of the more popular excursions from the capital. It’s known as “Little Edo” because it retains the distinctive kura-zukuri buildings which once lined the streets of the capital. We spent a day seeing the city’s sights.

Kawagoe

After taking the train to Kawagoe Station, we had to walk for twenty minutes to reach the historic center of town. At first, Kawagoe felt like any other Tokyo neighborhood: big buildings, pachinko halls, cellphone stores, and tons of people. But upon reaching the historic zone, the atmosphere changed dramatically. It might be overdoing things to say that we had been swept into the past, but certainly we were no longer in the modern day.

The kura-zukuri style of construction prominent during the final years of Edo is still evident in Kawagoe, and only in Kawagoe. Heavy warehouses of layered clay and plaster atop a wooden frame, and capped with thick tile roofs, these buildings were designed to withstand the constant fires which so plagued the capital. They’re definitely sturdy; I’m surprised more haven’t survived. We got a good look at how they’re built during a visit to the Museum of Kura-zukuri, found inside one of the kura on the main street of Chuo-dori.

We would enter quite a few kura during our day in Kawagoe. One houses the Kameya Sweets Shop, while another sells goods in a setting straight out of Edo, with the vendor and her wares standing on elevated tatami mats. This is Osawa Family House, which was built in 1792 and is the oldest kura-zukuri remaining in Japan. And then there’s the Yamazaki Art Museum. The exhibits are small, and won’t take much of your time, but the museum is worth visiting just to see the inside of the old warehouse.

Kawagoe

Although these kura-zukuri are easily Kawagoe’s most well-known feature, the city’s most emblematic structure is the old wooden bell tower in the center of town. The three-story Toki-no-kane was originally built in 1644 and is still rung four times a day.

By lunch, we had worked up a mighty appetite, and sat down at Kotobukian, where the specialty is green-tea soba. Each of us were served a wobbling tower of five stacked bowls, each filled with soba noodles and accompanied with a different condiment. This was a lot of food, but the noodles went down surprisingly fast and gave us the energy we’d need during the second half of a long day in Kawagoe…

Locations on our Map: Kawagoe Station | Museum of Kura-zukuri | Yamazaki Art Museum | Toki-no-kane Bell Tower | Kotobukian

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May 28, 2014 at 1:24 am Comments (3)
Ikebukuro's Sunshine City It's best to take Sunshine City's name at face value. And I don't mean that it's filled with sunshine, but that it's truly a city of its own. This enormous complex spreads across four buildings, including the Sunshine 60, which became the tallest building in Asia upon its completion in 1978.
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