Mixing Shibuya’s fashion and Akihabara’s otaku niche, Northern Tokyo’s Ikebukuro is a commercial and entertainment district that has a little something for everyone. After towering department stores, choice ramen, Pokemon Store headquarters, and one of the biggest shopping malls in Tokyo, you’re only scratching the surface when looking at everything that the neighborhood has to offer.
What Is It?
The area that makes up most of Ikebukuro was historically Sugamo, most known for the site of Sugamo Prison, Japan’s de facto prison for political enemies, Allied spies, and even war criminals during the occupation of Japan. Ikebukuro’s kanji literally means “pond bag”, named for the many ponds that were once found there. Around the turn of the century, cheap land attracted artists and foreigners to Ikebukuro, giving it a cultured and worldly feel. After the neighborhood was absorbed into Toshima in 1932, it quickly developed into the urban commercial center that it is today.
What Can You Do?
The main attraction is undoubtedly Sunshine City, Tokyo oldest city within a city. The massive shopping complex is 240 meters tall and had at one point in time Japan’s tallest building. Besides having hundreds of fashion stops and and restaurants, it’s also home to the largest Pokemon Store in Japan, Sunshine 60 Observatory, the Ancient Orient Museum, Tokyo J-World, and Namco Namja Town. It’s also worth mentioning that Sunshine City sits on the ruins of Sugamo Prison. There’s probably some irony or at least a pun you could reach for there.
J-World and Namja Town are indoor theme parks that are very popular during the weekend and on rainy days. While J-World features attractions based on One Piece, Naruto, and Dragonball Z, Namja Town’s main draw is being so downright awful that it is hilarious. Particularly its old-school haunted house, which is so bad that it makes you appreciate Halloween carnivals from back in grade school.
Outside of Sunshine City is Otome Road, famous for featuring many shops with anime and manga that cater exclusively to women. It would also be nye impossible to miss Animate, the largest anime goods store in the world. There are also tons of manga (and butler) cafes, game stations, and cosplay shops. It’s why otaku will often compare Ikebukuro to Akihabara. If a day of shopping and sightseeing has wiped you out, you can rest up at one of Ikebukuro’s many themed love hotels. It even has its own pleasure district like Tokyo’s other love hotel capitals (Shibuya, Uguisudani, and Kabukicho).
Lastly, east of Ikebukuro Station is Gokoku-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple and large cemetery with many notable and famous historical Japanese currently interned. It’s one of the few temple to survive unscathed during the air raids of WWII. It has since been deemed an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. Despite its status and history, the temple doesn’t see very many crowds.
What Can You Eat?
You won’t have to look very far to find delicious eats in Ikebukuro. Besides the plethora of Japanese food chains in the area, there is also the standard western fare. But of special note is Mutekiya, considered by many Japanese to be the best tokonatsu ramen shop in Tokyo, which is really saying something. It’s both small and popular so you should expect long wait times and judgemental stares from the queue line.
The Seibu Roof Garden and Beer Terrace at the top of Ikebukuro Station is a beautiful hangout with inexpensive and delicious options from gourmet fries to pizza slices. If you’re looking for entertainment to go with your meal then take a trip to that that so-bad-it’s-good theme park mentioned up top—Namco Namja Town. It’s also home to Gyoza Stadium where you can compare different kinds of gyoza from all over Japan. For desert why not throw caution to the wind and enjoy some squid and shark ice cream while you’re there.
Where Is It?
Ikebukuro Station is a major Tokyo hub and the second busiest train station in the world after Shinjuku. Numerous railways lines connect to it from all over Tokyo. The JR East lines are the Yamanote Line, Saikyo Line, and Shonan-Shinjuku Line. Railways include the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line and the Tobu-Tojo Line. Finally, the Tokyo Metro Lines are the Marunouchi Line, Yurakucho Line, and the Fukutoshin Line.