I heard the name "Ikebukuro" for the first time during my first trip to Japan. Then I started working in Japan and started to visit Ikebukuro often. In recent years, I have seldom visited Ikebukuro except when going to Chinese restaurants. The weather was fine today, rare in the middle of the rainy season, so I reached back into my memory about Ikebukuro, feeling as if I were walking around there.
Though Ikebukuro is a well known town, what is your image towards it? A very competitive area for ramen (noodles)? The heaven for "Fujoshi (women who like comics depicting male homosexual love)"? A mecca of authentic Chinese restaurants? Actually, as many as 2,710,000 people use Ikebukuro Station everyday, and it is the second biggest terminal station in Tokyo, next to Shinjuku. Today, I introduce Ikebukuro, the town "you seem to know but actually do not know".
1. History of Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro was once called "Ikebukuro Village in Toshima-gun, Musashi Province". The origin of the land name was "Ota Shinrokuro Chigyo Sankan Gohyakumon Ikebukuro" which is specified in "Ei roku Ninen, 1559", an ancient document from the Sengoku Period. When the Meiji Period started, a new municipal system was put into force and Ikebukuro was merged into Sugamo Village. Though Ikebukuro was rural in those days, it instantly developed after a railway started operation. In 1885, the section between Shinagawa and Akabane opened, which is currently the "Saikyo Line" and "Yamanote Line (partial)". However, Ikebukuro Station was not built at that time.
In 1903, Ikebukuro Station opened and Ikebukuro started to transform. Tojo Railway (currently the Tobu Tojo Main Line) and Musashino Railway (currently the Seibu Shinjuku Line) also started operation in Ikeubkuro from the Taisho to Showa Periods, which made Ikebukuro a busy town in a short period. Ikebukuro is currently one of three major subcenters in Tokyo, together with Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line, and many large-sized department stores, special shops, and restaurants are around Ikebukuro Station. As many railways run in Ikebukuro, it has also become a shopping area for residents in the western area of Tokyo and the southern and western areas of Saitama prefecture.
2. Tobu Department Store (Ikebukuro)
B1F Food Section
As Tobu Department Store is directly connected to Ikebukuro Station, it has convenient access from the Tobu Tojo Line. JR and subway lines are also operated. I used to go to the food section on the B1 floor of Tobu Department Store to buy various high-end confections from all over Japan. The shop I went most frequently was "Kyobashi Sembikiya", a renowned Japanese fruit shop which was established in 1881. Sembikiya has been divided into 3 companys; Nihombashi Sembikiya Main branch, Kyobashi Sembikiya, and Ginza Sembikiya. Though 3 of them are specialized in fruits, all of them have different business styles. At Kyobashi Sembikiya here, you can buy desserts with an abundance of high-end fruits.
Next, I go to the event hall on the 8th floor of the Tobu Department Store. In this hall, various events are held regularly. The rainy season will end pretty soon and Tokyo will have the hottest season of the year. As popular fireworks festivals will be held during this season, "The Grand Market for Summer Kimono" is currently being held. It is recommended for those who want to go to firework festivals in their own yukata, or who want to enjoy Japanese experiences. As events held here will change every 2 weeks, directly check the latest event information with the official site of Tobu Department Store.
Next, I go to the porcelin and tableware section on the 6th floor. I am really fond of them. An exhibition of "Arita Ware" is held today. I am sure that everyone loves Arita Ware, one of the best potteries in Japan.
On a different shelf, I found cups made of titanium. They are the masterpiece created with the latest Japanese technologies, and were sent as a gift to the leaders from more than 20 countries at APEC 2010. According to the staff who presented this product, about one third of the ice in the cup will still remain in 2 hours in room temperature. It is really amazing, isn't it?
"Ito-ya" on the 7th floor is recommended to stationery lovers. What I liked were the color inks for fountain pens, as each color had a poetical name. I feel I could write beautiful letters with this pen, even without practicing. There is also a wide variety of fountain pens and other writing instruments.
Next, I go to the watch section where I always visit. Many international brands can be found in this section. Also, do not miss the "World Watch Fair", a watch event held in August at Tobu Department Store! The watch section in Tobu Department Store is the biggest in Tokyo. Renowned Japanese watch brands are very practical and reasonable, so I highly recommend visiting this section when you come to Tobu Department Store.
After visiting the sections above, it is almost lunch time. There are more than 40 restaurants on the 11-15th floors at the Tobu Department Store. I feel like having beef tongue today. "Aoba" is recommended for beef tongue. This restaurant is very famous even in China. They serve very tasty beef tongue, of course.
By the way, are you a tourist? If so, you can receive a 5% OFF coupon at the Tobu "Tax Refund Counter" by showing your passport and an image of a ticket to exchange with the 5% OFF coupon. Furthermore, you can receive 8% as the tax refund (at the Tobu Tax Refund Counter, with no commission fees). Enjoyreasonable shopping with 13% in discounts in total.
3. Around Ikebukuro Station
Tobu Department Store Ikebukuro is at the west exit of Ikebukuro Station. When exiting from the west exit after having lunch, I saw "Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park". This is a famous popular spot where dramas were shot in the past. Next to the Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park is the "Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre", a symbol of the west exit of Ikebukuro Station. Various events are held here, such as concerts and plays. If you make the "Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre" at the west exit of Ikebukuro Station as a meeting spot to meet your friends, you will not lose your way.
The most popular spot around Ikebukuro is "Sunshine City". There are many facilities popular especially among young people, such as a shopping center, observatory, and acquarium. As I have not come to this area for a long time, I will surely visit this spot today.
1. SKY CIRCUS Sunshine 60 Observatory
"Sunshine 60 Observatory" was reborn from an ordinary observatory to enjoy the view to a new observatory where you can enjoy various experiences. The roof top at 251 meters above sea level has the beautiful view of the blue sky. From there, you can enjoy the views of high buildings in Shinjuku in the south-east of Ikebukuro, SKYTREE in the north of Ikebukuro, and even Mt. Fuji when the whether is perfect.
The entrance to the observatory is on the B1F of the Sunshine City 60 Bldg. Tickets can also be purchased in advance online, if you worry about many tourists on holidays, or to avoid standing in line to purchase tickets. A high-speed elevator will immediately take you from the B1F to the observatory on the 60th floor.
Not only the view from the observatory, but you can also enjoy syncronism of lights and mirrors at the "Infinity Scope" Tunnel, where you can enjoy feeling Japan's four seasons along with images of cherry blossom, gold fish, red leaves, and snow. As these images change along with the music, you will feel as if you jumped into a large kareidoscope.
The outer-wall of the "Infinity Scope" is covered with rainbow-colored glass. When you peek into a hall between the gaps in the wall, you can enjoy seeing atomic-like images. It is also fun to take photoes of these images with your cell phone at a close distance to keep the beautiful moments as photos.
"SKY PARTY" is also fun, as the screen detects people and involve them in a tornado, make them chased by rain clouds, and make lightning sounds above their heads. Tourists around me were enjoying them. You can also enjoy human cannonball-type machines as a virtual VR. Though additional payment was required, I wanted to try it as it looked fun.
2. Sunshine Aquarium
The Sunshine Aquarium can be seen below from the observatory. This aqurium was built with the concept of "an oasis in a city". You can enjoy seeing sea lions slowly advancing in a doughnut-shaped water tank above your head, relaxing and sunbathing in the sun, or diving into a swimming pool. Penguins are also fully enjoying swimming in a water tank above your head as if they were flying freely, maybe because they could not see the sun often during the rainy season. I feel really happy to see them at a close distance.
The aquarium is divided into two sections; inside and outside the building. Inside the building is an another world, ideal for a date as it is romantic and quiet. I enjoyed watching a school of fish swimming freely, feeling as if I were diving deep into the sea.
The observatory and aquarium were both very impressive for me. Long time ago, I did not know that Ikebukuro had these places!
3. Otome Road
Ikebukuro has been called "the heaven for Fujoshi (women who like comics depicting male homosexual love)", against that Akihabara has been called "the heaven for Otaku (nerds)". A guide told me about that a few years ago. "Otome Road", next to the Sunshine City, has various shops selling goods related to animations, especially for ladies, as well as vending machines selling unique goods all of which are limited items. It is true that many of the customers of the shops around here are ladies.
This is the end of the travel report today. I will visit Ikebukuro with my friends next time!