I don’t care what anyone says–I want to go to Ikebukkuro!!



When I came to Tokyo in August, I made a list of the various cities within Tokyo, and I picked maybe 8 or 10 of the most well known. My plan was to hit one up every day and explore it as thoroughly as I could. That plan worked out kind of well for me, so I repeated it again this time, with the stipulation that I’d revisit my favorites for at least half the time before setting out anywhere new.

Ikebukkuro didn’t make the cut back in august—it sounded too much like places I’d already seen—but I wanted to at least drop by and see the famous Sunshine City Building, which has a movie theater, aquarium, observation deck, and theme park, among other things. I don’t like captive animal shows, and all of the movies out that week were kind of sucky, but I wanted to stop by NamJa Town. Namja Town is an amusement park owned by the video game producer Namco, who I believe makes those Katamari games I tried once and got violently nauseous from. For 300 yen, you get full access to what looks like awesome carnival games, two haunted houses, various stalls and attractions, and TWO special food areas! One area has gyoza of every possible type and filling, and the other has ice cream and gelato in every flavor you can think of, plus some you’ll never consider without prompting… like horsemeat.

Obviously, I’d be staying away from that one, and staying away from ice cream in general—but I sure as hell wanted to see it, and I felt like I hadn’t eaten to satisfaction in a week and a half! I love all the non-ride aspects of amusement parks, too—put me in front of a “Make your own coin” machine, and you can come pick me and my wheelbarrow of doubloons up eight hours later—so I was pretty excited to see this place. More so than any other, almost.

I spend the morning at Starbucks with a lavender earl grey soy latte, which starts out awesome and then got me feeling icky like I just drank perfume. I finally get on the Yamanote line at around 9.30 am. It is still rush hour but not nearly so crazy, and I’m excited for my day of gyoza, so I don’t care about being smushed. The Yamanote line is a JR owned train that circles Tokyo’s most heavily populated areas, and it is so ubiquitous and efficient that I had to make an effort to take other train lines, just to get a sense of variety. Japanese trains charge you based on how far you go, and Ikebukuro is not far from Shinjuku at all, so this trip was about 150 yen. You can get a Suica card for the JR lines, and a Pasmo for the Metro lines. One of them crosses over, too. Wish I remembered which one.

This is not really inidcative of conditions on the Yamanote line, because I was too much of a chicken to bust out the flip when people were around, but I did manage to arrive on the platform at an empty 3 minute stretch, and got this short video so you can see how clean and awesome subways are:

The Pasmo is a cuter card— very pretty in grey and light pink—but the Suica has a penguin on it and also started selling associated character goods (see one of my favorite blogs ever, shibuya246.com/, for more on the Suica penguin madness), so I liked Suica more.

You put money on —I think you need a deposit of 5000 yen to start—and if you are short or out of funds at the end of the trip, a big red arrow will light up on the electronic turnstyles, and you’ll have to go get a fare adjustment. It’s just like the Metrocard, only permanent. It’s awesome.

So, I get to Ikebukuro, and I don’t have a map or anything, because the Sunshine City Complexes are supposed to be insanely tall and huge, and I figure there is no way I can miss them, right? The station has two exits that each lead directly into the basement of competing department stores, Seibo and Tobu. I told you that Japanese people love department stores! I pick one and go with it, thinking all paths lead to Sunshine.

I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I couldn’t find the buildings to save my life. Really! Couldn’t find them! Where ARE they?? I walked ALL around Ikebukuro—Mitsukoshi camera, check, Parco check, bunch of pachinko parlors check—and went out through both department store exits. Where is this place? I could have asked, but my New Yorker pride wouldn’t let me—it would be like the equivalent of asking which direction the Empire State Building is in. I felt like it was such an obvious find that someone was going to tell me Just. Look.Up. or something. And I really didn’t need to feel chubby, boring, AND stupid on two consecutive vacation days. I went into a little cafe chain that sold tofu burgers on “New York Style” bagels, and then I headed to Ebisu to try and salvage the day.

I did manage to spot this Cafe Du Monde, which may or may not be like the one in New Orleans. Beignets in Japan---must try.

Unfortunately, It was the coldest day so far and I was not wearing the magical white coat, and I was just kind of over walking around aimlessly in general, so I hung out in whatever department store Ebisu empties out into  that looks like every other department store that isn’t in Shibuya and went home. I took a hot bath before trying to go to the movies to see UP, but the bath made me sleepy and I stumbled to the phone for a wake up call before passing out with my hair soaking wet from the bath. I guess being lost and hungry for most of the day really did wipe me out.

This fruit salad and plum wine combo didn't hurt my sleepy fairy, either.

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