Tell us what not to miss in Shinjuku
April 8, 2012 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Your thoughts on things to do in and around Shinjuku next week.

My wife and I will be in Tokyo next week and staying for part of the week in Shinjuku. What are your recommendations for things in the immediate area we shouldn't miss? We're open to just about anything, but here's some info to the extent it helps:

we're mid-30s, American, do not speak Japanese, we typically like art galleries, bookstores, cafes, vegetarian food, and live music. Not that we're looking for that stuff necessarily. We'll also be leaving Shinjuku for other areas but are curious what we should see in the neighborhood where we're staying. Thanks.
posted by MoonOrb to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's an art gallery of sorts at the top of a building called Roppongi Hills that has an outstanding view of Tokyo at night. I'd at least moderately recommend that for the view alone.

Bookstores are nothing special in Japan. You can't throw a brick without hitting two Book-Off locations. There's a lot less romance to book stores in Japan, though, because they're just sort of… where you buy books (and, often enough, sell ones you've finished reading).

Vegetarian food is a challenge in Japan, because fish and ham are basically considered vegetables (or even condiments) here. I'll leave details on that to someone with more experience, though if you're in Tokyo it'll be much easier for you overall.

The biggest thing I'd recommend is to get out of Tokyo for at least some part of the trip — when I visited it, I felt like of all the big cities I'd been to, it had the least character to it, like some sort of distillation of Big Cityness. Even if it's just visiting another one of Japan's major cities like Osaka (which is admittedly kind of a haul from Tokyo). If you've got any questions on anything linguistic or that I'd be able to help with from rural Japan as someone who speaks the language and is good at Internet, feel free to MeMail me with anything you can think of.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2012

Shinjuku is mostly shopping and restaurants (though, as the previous commenter mentioned, few vegetarian options). If you are looking for a good night view you can check out Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center for free (45th floor, The North Observatory is open daily from 9:30 AM to 11:00 PM).

If you are looking for restaurant recommendations you should check out, which gives you the option to search by restaurant type and area.

Shinjuku park is really nice. And if you want to get outside for most of the day, you will be a couple of stops on the Yamanote line away from Harajuku, and the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park are a great place to spend a nice afternoon.

Don't limit yourself to just Shinjuku if you can help it as there are several things worth seeing just a few stops away.
posted by princeoftheair at 8:10 PM on April 8, 2012

Veg Out Tokyo is a good blog for vegetarian food in Tokyo. Shinjuku and the western part of the city in general is a better bet for vegetarian eats than the eastern part of the city. Best meal I had in Tokyo in 2010 was at Tsubu Tsubu cafe, an adorable macrobiotic joint that's a little bit of a hike from the main shopping areas in Shinjuku. Mominoki House is around Harajuku and has a good reputation (Paul McCartney used to eat there when in Tokyo!) but I thought it wasn't especially worth the money.

If you walk south from Tsubu Tsubu cafe you'll hit Jinbouchou, which has an amazing vintagey feel to it and a bunch of restaurants that have been around since the early 20th century. The used bookstores in this neighborhood are the best but I don't know if they'd be of interest to someone who didn't speak the language. An article on English bookstores in Jinbouchou.

The main Tokyu Hands store is in Shinjuku and it's a paradise of stationery, DIY/crafty stuff, toys, weird science stuff, et cetera. Even if you're not into recreational shopping it's pretty impressive.
posted by Jeanne at 8:23 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Truthfully, the best thing to do in Tokyo is to walk. Walk from Shinjuku to the fashion districts on foot.

Don't worry about not speaking Japanese. Even the metro is totally usable for non-speakers.
posted by rr at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2012

Go to Shinjukugoen (park). It costs a dollar or two to get in, but it's worth it--a really nice place. As for shops, there are plenty around the station. For fun, check out Kabukicho which skirts the northern part of Shinjuku. It's the quasi-red light (pink light?) district, with a lot of touts and sex shops and the like--sleazy but perfectly safe and fun to people watch. During the day, walk from Shinjuku down to Yoyogi, then a bit more to Harajuku. In Harajuku, Takeshita (tah-keh-shta) Dori is a narrow, crowded pedestrian street that will eventually lead to Cat Street and Omotesando. This is the trendy area with lots of shops and cafes. From there, you can walk on to Shibuya.

You can go to all these places by the Yamanote Line (the bright green one), but if you're up for it, put on your tennis shoes and walk around. (as per rr's suggestion).
posted by zardoz at 9:56 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "get out and walk" idea. The cherry blossoms are blooming right now and are glorious.
posted by Runes at 9:57 PM on April 8, 2012

nthing the "walk around" suggestions. Just home from my first trip to Japan. It was great. I'd been very scared of getting lost, but it didn't happen.
There is a lot of fish and rice and noodles in Japanese cuisine, and not many vegetables, but there is also tofu. I am not vegetarian, but I sometimes got tired of all the fish and had tofu instead. I also had a lot cucumber and other pickles with my rice. And seaweed of course.
You might want to check out this hipsterish guidebook: Tokyo by Tokyo, I bought it as an iPhone App, and used it for a bit of planning in the mornings (whereupon I let my impulses guide me)
If you are there on a Sunday, you may visit the farmers market on Aoyama, between the Shibuya and Omotesando metro stations. On Aoyama there is a great whole food store as well, where you can eat lunch or buy take-away. There is also the "Found Muji" store, a new Muji concept which is interesting.
The gallery mentioned above in Roppongi Hills is Mori Gallery. They have a really good show on now, with Korean artist Lee Bull.
The Nezu Museum has traditional Japanese art, and an amazing garden with a nice-looking restaurant, where I think you need reservations to eat, I couldn't get a table.
If you get exhausted by the intensity of Shinjuku, go to the Meguro river, take the metro to Nakameguro station and head down to the river, bordered by shops, eateries, galleries and cherry trees. So nice.
posted by mumimor at 12:25 AM on April 9, 2012

Seconding the whole food store/ restaurant on Aoyama for vegetarian food, if it's the one I'm thinking of, and which I think is near here. We discovered it while walking from Harajuku to Shibuya, and there was a farmer's market going on there at the time. There's also the Crayon House nearby, which looked promising for vegetarian food, though we didn't try it. As for live music, there's Earthdom near Shinjuku. Saw Damo Suzuki there, and some very messy performance art.
posted by univac at 1:34 AM on April 9, 2012

In shinjuku, there is the sword museum, which had a good deal of English if I recall. You're close enough to Mitaka (on the Chuo rapid line) to check out the Ghibli Museum.

Definitely walk. So much of Tokyo is hiding down side streets. Head south along the Yamanote, and you'll end up in Harajuku (though you'll probably get a touch lost).

And there seems to be a meetup coalescing in Ueno on Friday night, but we're kind of half-assed about it so far. Nothing is set as of yet, but maybe you can check it out.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:08 AM on April 9, 2012

I've been to Crayon House. It's not completely vegetarian but all the food is well-labeled (it's a buffet, at least for lunch) and you can definitely put together enough vegetarian food to make a tasty lunch. It's a really nice space with a children's bookstore upstairs.
posted by Jeanne at 3:57 AM on April 9, 2012

Koenji is a Bohemian neighborhood a short ride from Shinjuku on the Chuo-Sobu line. Koenji is famous for its live houses, which are small bars where live music is played.
posted by quidividi at 5:49 AM on April 9, 2012

For a great used (English!) bookstore, find Good Day Books. Was in nearby Ebisu, just moved down to Gotanda (both are stops on the Yamanote just south of Shinjuku).
posted by Rash at 9:28 AM on April 9, 2012

If you're into art/galleries, here's the Tokyo Art Beat page for Shinjuku.

I too think you should explore more than Shinjuku. I live in Tokyo and I really never go to Shinjuku except maybe for governmental functions. Tokyo's not the most scenic of cities and Shinjuku (with the exception of Shinjuku Gyoen as referenced above) is not very pretty. (There's worse, of course.)
posted by gen at 11:11 PM on April 9, 2012

Note you need to get tickets for the Ghibli Museum in advance. Ask your hotel concierge for help.
posted by gen at 11:12 PM on April 9, 2012

posted by gen at 11:13 PM on April 9, 2012

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