Are you looking for things to do in Shinjuku?
Out of Tokyo’s 23 districts, Shinjuku, the centrally-located hub for entertainment, politics, food, and drinks, stands out the most. Shinjuku is like NYC’s Times Square, and it takes on a life of its own with all its small realities and diversity.
Shinjuku literally means “new lodge” in Japanese. In fact, it is relatively a new city compared to other areas like Asakusa, for example. Shinjuku started growing right after the end of World War II. Thanks to its central position and its station, a lot of people started transiting from here. Shinjuku expanded as the city government found the area’s soil foundation very solid and earthquake-resistant. Shinjuku became the beating heart of Tokyo with its tall skyscrapers. Today, the city boasts the biggest and most trafficked train station in the world, Shinjuku Station. More than three million people pass through the station every day, so you better get ready to face the crowd!
After World War II, many areas of Tokyo were severely destroyed. Shinjuku, thanks to its location, turned into a transit point for all the surrounding districts.
Omoide Yokocho or Memory Lane, once called Lucky Street, was a black market where all sorts of things and food were sold. As the post-war economy and infrastructure recovered, the stalls and shops in Omoide Yokocho were exclusively dedicated to food. At that time, there weren’t any public restroom in the area, so shop owners and customers alike used the street as a bathroom, earning Memory Lane its infamous nickname, Piss Alley (don’t worry, there are bathrooms now!).
Today, Omoide Yokocho has about 60 izakaya, or Japanese gastro-pubs, where you can try yakitori chicken skewers, oysters, noodles… or simply walk through to feel its lively vibes.
Golden Gai is a district that, similar to Omoide Yokocho, used to be a black market after World War II. After the black market period, it became a pleasure district and a drinking area with a lot of bars. When prostitution became illegal in 1958, all the shops turned into bars and now we have over 200 of them in just six tiny streets. During the 70s, it was popular among Japanese artists, poets, and writers. They enjoyed the discreet atmosphere of Golden Gai, avoiding the super busy streets of Shinjuku.
Today, this area is popular among the younger Japanese and foreign generations. It is easy to spot groups of tourists who come here to enjoy the old style of Golden Gai and to take cool pictures.
Kabukicho is the heart of entertainment in Shinjuku, and also a red light district.
The original name was Tsunohazu, but was changed to Kabukicho in 1948 when they decided to build a kabuki theatre in the area. Construction of the theater, however, was moved to Ginza, and Kabukicho became a hub for adult entertainment. There are a lot of cabaret clubs, hostess and host clubs, izakayas, and karaoke spots. But, don’t worry! It is safe to walk around in the neighborhood so everyone can enjoy a night out in the area.
Kabukicho is also home to a giant Godzilla who resides right next to the Gracery hotel and the TOHO Cinema. Built in 2015, Godzilla instantly became a major attraction, and the street that leads to it became known as ‘Godzilla Road’.
At one end of Godzilla Road, there is also a huge discount shop, Don Quijote, a mecca for any kind of shopping and, often, a convenient meeting point.
Shin-Okubo is just one stop away from Shinjuku on the JR Yamanote Line. It started to develop as Koreatown in the 90s.
During the 80s, Japan was in need of workers and immigrants. As a result, a lot of South Koreans came to Japan as exchange students. Many of them stayed in Tokyo and opened shops and restaurants. As K-Pop and Korean pop culture gained more popularity, the area completely transformed to accommodate the new cultural trend. All the signs here now are in Korean and you are guaranteed to find merchandise from your favorite K-Pop artist here. In addition to K-Pop, Shin-Okubo is home to cafes and delicious restaurants where you can enjoy Korean barbecue, and to a great selection of Korean makeup and skin care shops.
Shinjuku can be overwhelming, so why don’t you relax and take a walk in Gyoen Park, one of the largest parks in Tokyo? You will forget about the bustling city and take a break from your busy travel schedule.
The park was originally a residential area of the Naito family, the lords of Shinjuku during the Edo Period. Gyoen Park is now open to the public, and anyone can enjoy its beauty. It is located next to the Shinjuku Gyoen Station, and it is only 15 minutes walking distance from Shinjuku Station.
It has 3 main sections: the Japanese Traditional Garden, the French Formal Garden, and the English Landscape Garden. The gardens, highlighting different landscaping styles from around the world, are all worth a visit. With a nice variety of flowers and trees dedicated to each season, the gardens offer beautiful views all year round.
The park is open from 9 am to 4 pm, and the entrance fee 200 yen. Remember, it is usually closed on Mondays, so check their website before going. http://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/index.html
The headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is famous for its decks. If you want to admire the Tokyo skyline, you can access one of the two towers free of charge from 9 am to 11 pm. It is located 10 minutes walking distance from the west side of Shinjuku Station, but you can also get there directly with the Oedo Line (get off at Tochomae station). If you go on a sunny day, you may be able to see Mt. Fuji from here!
What to do in Shinjuku
The fast pace and bright signs of Shinjuku may be overwhelming at first, but fear not! Below is a list of stores, museums, and shrines that you can visit while in the area.
Originally a stationery store, now you can find anything here—stationery, toys, furniture, anything! Almost everything sold here is made in Japan, so you can be assured of the quality and authenticity of your souvenirs.
You’ve probably heard of MUJI: though originally Japanese, the retailer now has stores worldwide. Here you can find clothes, stationery goods, household items, and even furniture! We highly recommend this store for those of you who want items made in Japan. MUJI Japan has the advantage of being cheaper than its overseas counterparts, so definitely stop here if you have a chance!
The Samurai warrior is a symbol of Japan and a symbol of honor. If you are in Shinjuku, you MUST visit the Samurai Museum. Here you can learn about the history of samurai, try on cool samurai armor, learn how to use a samurai sword, and watch shows performed by professional swordsmen. This museum has a lot to offer, but we won’t spoil it for you!
Hanazono and Yasukuni Shrines
The Hanazono Shrine is one of the most historical shrines in Japan. Constructed in the Edo period by the Hanazono family, it is dedicated to Inari, the God of Fertility and worldly success. It is a favorite among businessmen who pray for financial success.
The Yasukuni Shrine was established to commemorate and honor the achievements of those who dedicated their precious lives for their country. The name Yasukuni, given by Emperor Meiji, represents wishes for preserving the peace of the nation. Currently, more than 2,466,000 divinities are enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. These are the souls of men who made the ultimate sacrifice for Japan.
What to eat in Shinjuku
Walking around the vast city of Shinjuku is bound to make you hungry. There are an endless numbers of restaurants in the area, so we will introduce you to our favorites.
Sushi Ten ($$)
Specialized in the omakase style, omakase literally means “up to the chef,” so in this restaurant you will not have to think of what to eat–the chef will make you something using the freshest ingredients, usually caught that same morning. Who knows good sushi better than an expert, the chef himself? You will not be disappointed here!
Address: 4 Chome – 1 – 6 NEWoMan 2F Shinjuku
Very popular among locals and travelers. This restaurant has handmade soba noodles for a reasonable price. Once inside the restaurant, you will have to select what to eat from the vending machine and give the ticket with your order to the staff. We recommend the cold noodles (zarusoba), but if you’re feeling something else, the wax food samples outside the shop will surely help you decide.
Address: 1 Chome – 16 – 2 Kabukicho | 1F Fuji Bldg., Shinjuku
Tenetsu ($ – $$)
A family owned restaurant that has been making excellent tempura for more than 30 years. It is perfect for a satisfying lunch and great for dinner as well. Check your schedule before going in as it is closed on weekends.
Address: 6 – 10 Shinjuku
If you crave tempura on a Sunday, go here. Opened in 1886, this restaurant is open every day and it is simply delicious. Take a seat at the counter and enjoy watching the chef make the tempura in front of your eyes.
Address: 3 Chome – 28 – 14 Shinjuku
Avery good place for salt ramen, our favorite dish here (you can find it on the top left button of the vending machine). Remember that it is customary to slurp noodles in Japan, so try this out if you’re feeling like a local!
Address: 7 Chome – 22 – 34, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku
If you’re feeling adventurous, though, head here for some spicy ramen. They have different types of ramen based on spiciness on a scale of 1 to 10. If you like really spicy food, try level five or six (we haven’t been brave enough to try anything higher!). This place gets crowded, though, so expect to wait for some time during peak hours.
Address: 7 Chome – 8 – 11 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku
Yakiniku (Grilled Meat)
No Meat, No Life ($$ – $$$)
A very popular yakiniku, or grilled meat, place. Here you can enjoy a variety of different meats from loins to organs. They also have course meals for those of you who don’t feel like choosing, and an all you can drink option as well! If the restaurant happens to be full at the time, there are multiple other locations in Shinjuku (the address listed below is the largest one).
Address: 1 Chome – 11 – 1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Shinjuku, the heart of Tokyo, does not disappoint when it comes to offering some really unique entertainment experiences.
Robot Restaurant ($$ – $$$)
This is one of the most famous entertainment facilities in Shinjuku. Many of you may have heard of this place before. Inside you can enjoy a show, or parade, that includes dance and drum performances while sipping on a drink of your choice. Don’t get tricked by the name, though. It is NOT a real restaurant, so we recommend eating beforehand and just going for the show.
Address: 1 Chome – 7 – 1, Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Hells Dinner – The Lock-up ($$ – $$$)
Ever wonder what hell is like? This restaurant’s theme tries to answer that question. Having a meal here is like eating inside a haunted house: the staff wears scary costumes and the menu includes “poisonous” food and cocktails with eyeballs! The decor itself is very creepy and you never know who (or what) will sneak up on you!
(Not recommended for people who get scared easily.)
Address: 1 Chome – 16 – 3 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Do you recall your primary school days? Ahh, the good old times, right? This restaurant’s theme is a Japanese primary school where there is a variety of different rooms, or classrooms, each one hosting a different group of patrons. Schools can be very different in all countries, so if you have ever wondered what it is like to go to school in Japan, you will definitely enjoy this restaurant!
Address: 1 Chome – 16 – 3, Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Sengoku Buyuden ($$ – $$$)
We have the perfect place for history lovers: this restaurant is Sengoku Period themed. The Sengoku dates back to the 15th century when samurai ruled Japan. In this restaurant, you can enjoy different kinds of food and a fine selection of shochu, a Japanese liquor distilled from grain. The samurai armor at the entrance will instantly transport you to the past.
Address : 1 Chome – 6 – 2, Kabukicho, Shinjuku
The colorful and vibrant atmosphere of Shinjuku will make you fall in love with this city. Get ready for the fun!