Shinjuku: Where Tokyo goes to Work and Play

Whoever came up with the adage of work hard play hard must have spent time in Shinjuku.  It is the most dynamic of Tokyo’s 23 wards or districts.  Whether you are going there on business or to shop and play, Shinjuku has plenty to do and encapsulates what modern Tokyo is.  Crowded, modern, white collar on one hand, and let your hair down on the other.  

Shinjuku has is a split personality with the heart of its financial might on one side and it’s more seductive east side.  The dividing line between work and play is Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world welcoming a whopping 3.4 million passengers per day.  The maze that is Shinjuku Station has 200 entry and exit points.  It is not a question of if you get lost, but when.  Even locals have been known to head out the wrong exit, forcing them to double back. 

Tokyo’s Skyscraper District

The Heart of Japan’s Economic Might 

Shinjuku is the fuel that drives Japan’s economic engine.  The aptly named Skyscraper District is home to the majority of Tokyo’s tallest buildings.  In them are financial and governmental institutions that make Japan the economic force that it is.  What is essentially the Tokyo city hall, the two towers of Tokyo Metro Government Office’s are a popular visit as they offer the best free observatory in the city.  While you may visit either tower, the south tower provides a little better overall view and on a clear day you can see all the way out to Mt. Fuji.

With many international business taking place here, it comes as no surprise that Shinjuku is home to some of the best hotels in the city, including the Parky Hyatt of Lost in Translation fame.  If that is out of your budget, the no frills business hotels can provide a great value and since many of them cater to foreigners, they typically will have English speakers on staff.  Shinjuku is also home to one of the largest expat populations in Tokyo.  Roughly 10% of the population is made up of foreigners who are living here for business.      

Entrance to Kabukicho

Tokyo At Play

It is easy to unwind after a long day at the office in Shinjuku.  Head across Shinjuku Station and you are thrown into another world of eating, drinking, and adult play. 

There are plenty are eating establishments to get your energy up up for a night on the town.  In fact, Shinjuku has well over 5,000 places to eat with every type of dining option you can imagine.  Among the most popular are the various street food options that offer a quick bite on a budget.  If drinking is on the agenda, Shinjuku has you covered as well.  The famous Golden Gai crams hundreds of tiny bars down a small street.  With only a few chairs in each establishment, it maybe hard to find an open seat.    

Kabukicho is the red light district of Tokyo which is full of various bars, nightclubs, pachinko parlors, love hotels, and more.  While rather innocent and mundane during the day, this district is best seen after dark when it comes alive.  Males will likely get solicited for various activities, but overall it doesn’t have the seedy atmosphere that are common in most red light districts.  The biggest thing to look out for is being overcharged in one of the clubs.  Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world, so simply use some common sense and you have little to worry about.     

Outside the Robot Restaurant

There is plenty to see in Kabukicho for those not looking for an adult experience.  A big draw for westerners is the Robot Restaurant, which has become a sensation for its over the top acid trip of a show.  Be sure to get your tickets in advance as the show often sells out. 

If you love to shop till you drop, Shinjuku has you covered.  Some of the largest department stores call the area around Shinjuku Station home.  Some have as many as 16 stories of merchandise and many even include restaurants and a food court in the basement.  While Akihabara is known as the best place for electronic stores, Shinjuku has plenty of popular stores to buy all the latest electronic gadgets.  Don Quixote is a a must visit.  The 24 hour discount store is a one stop shop of electronics, clothing, gadgets, trinkets, and those only in Japan type gifts. 

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as seen from Central Park


Taking A Break

After all of that working, eating, drinking, playing, and shopping, you may need need a break.  On the eastern side of Shinjuku Station sits Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the best parks in the city, especially during cherry blossom season.  While not free, the nominal cost can keep the park more serene as only those who pay can enjoy the grounds.    

Next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is Central Park, a relaxing place to take a stroll or have a picnic.  For a more spiritual journey visit the Hanazono Shrine located amongst all the hustle and bustle of Eastern Shinjuku. 

Getting To Shinjuku

Whether you are in Tokyo to work, play, shop, eat or all of the above, Shinjuku is a must.  It can provide a great home base for your trip to Tokyo as it has plenty of hotels in all price ranges and is easily accessible to other parts of the city.  

Getting to Shinjuku is easy.  Shinjuku Station is a main transit hub in the city of Tokyo. By train it is on the JR Yamanote, Chuo, Sobu, Saikyo, and Shonan-Shinjuku lines. Subway service also services the station along with various bus lines.

From Narita Airport the Narita Express takes you directly to Shinjuku Station in 85 minutes.  From Haneda Airport take the Keikyu Railways to Shinagawa Station and transfer to the Yamanote Line to Shinjuku Station.  Total transit time is under an hour.  

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