Make the Most of Your Visit to Tokyo in 2019!
If you come to Tokyo, classic, must-see spots like the famous Shibuya’s scramble crossing which is crossed by thousands of people an hour, Harajuku’s colorful shops with unique and sometimes strange fashions, and Shinjuku’s busy streets including the notorious red light district will likely be high on your list of places to go. However, did you know that Ikebukuro is a lesser-known district that is just as bustling and exciting?
Unlike Shibuya and Shinjuku, Ikebukuro is not a ward on its own. Some describe it as “up-and-coming”; it is the district that is fast becoming one of the favourite hang-out spots in the city. A goldmine of anime and manga shops, home to the fantastic Sunshine City shopping center, and the location of the pleasant date spot that is the Sunshine Aquarium, this area of Tokyo is a wonderful place to spend at least a day and night or two. From the Sunshine City essentials to historical sites off the beaten path, this list of 77 things to do and places to visit has you covered for a great visit!
A Brief History of Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro actually used to be a small village which became a city called ‘Sugamo’. Originally, this area was known for attracting both locals and foreign residents as it was a cheap place to live. Since the Showa Period, Ikebukuro was a place which attracted arty types, travelers, and generally people who needed affordable housing. Ikebukuro literally means ‘Pond bag’, given the name due to the multiple ponds which used to exist in the area.
The influx of artists and international people has meant that the trendy and somewhat alternative history of Ikebukuro has followed on and continues to the present day. Nowadays, this district is buzzing with life, art, excitement, and music. Many people may not know that it is also famous for its Chinese community, who moved to the area from the 1980’s onwards. There is a bustling Chinatown here, although it is smaller and less known than the Yokohama Chinatown.
Ikebukuro as it is today is a place in which you will find almost anything! It has a unique history and has its fair share of shrines and historic monuments such as the Tokyo Shaheed Minar. It is also stuffed full of anime stores, gaming arcades, old-fashioned Japanese haunted houses, and a plethora of modern department stores.
1. Chill Out at Book and Bed Tokyo
A fairly new addition to Ikebukuro is this unique hotel where the rooms are filled with books from floor to ceiling. There are also beds to relax in that are designed like little coves to snuggle up with your favorite read. Every book lover’s dream, this place is not just somewhere to stay overnight; you can also visit during the day and enjoy refreshments while reading as many books as you like. Not to worry about any language barrier, either, as there are many books available in English. Take a break from the bustling streets of Tokyo and curl up with a book for an hour or two!
2. Do a Walking Tour of Ikebukuro
Walking tours are becoming more and more popular among travelers these days and with very good reason. While you can visit many areas on a bus, getting a real feel of a place is best done by foot, and if you go with a guide, you know you are guaranteed to see everything in good time without getting lost. Ikebukuro may look like a few busy streets at first glance, but explore the area with somebody who knows their way around and you are sure to discover the area’s unique charm.
A walking tour around Ikebukuro promises incredible architecture, rooftop views, an insight into the anime and otaku world and even the chance to experience an earthquake simulation. This full-day tour will take place from around 9:00am to 5:00pm and includes a pick-up from your hotel in the morning along with plenty of food and drink breaks throughout the day.
3. Visit Gokokuji Temple
Gokokuji Temple is a historically significant site that can be found close to eastern Ikebukuro. Built in the 1600s, this Buddhist temple is famous not only for being founded by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty of Japan, but also for having survived numerous air raids on the city during World War II. Many elite historical figures are also interred here.
The area around Gokokuji is a beautiful, quiet spot to learn some interesting things about Japan and its past. The temple is surrounded by trees which transform throughout the seasons and are especially breathtaking during autumn when red, yellow and orange leaves can be admired from all around the temple grounds. You can also visit in early spring to see the cherry blossoms. Take a break from the city and see one of Tokyo’s charming historical buildings.
4. Learn to Bake Healthy Organic Bread and Veggies
While bread may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Japanese cuisine, these days Tokyo seems to have a bakery or patisserie on every corner! Despite this wheat-loving trend, organic bread is still something that is hard to get your hands on. In Ikebukuro, you can learn how to bake organic bread made with natural yeast, Japanese rice, rice malt, and wheat, as well as cooking up some scrumptious dishes made from fresh, organic vegetables.
Classes are run by the host, Akiko, in her house just 10 minutes from Ikebukuro. Akiko trained as a chef in culinary schools in Tokyo and London and focuses on macrobiotics. Her classes take place at the weekend both in the morning and afternoon for which you can either join a group or book a private individual or group lesson. Try something a little different during your Tokyo stay and learn to cook some delicious and healthy dishes!
Booking details: Learn how to Bake using Natural Yeast
5. Take a Trip to an Owl Café
The famous owl statue that greets you into Ikebukuro Station is a good introduction to the district’s love for owls. This is the place to come to get up close and personal with these incredible birds.
Ikebukuro is home to the Owl Park Café where you can relax in the same space as a variety of different owls and even get the chance to hold them! Unlike a lot of animal cafés, you don’t have a limited time here so you can spend as much time as you like appreciating the owls and getting some great close-up snaps. The café is closed on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and public holidays so be sure to book it into your schedule for another day in the week. For bird lovers, this charming café is not to be missed.
Booking details: Play with Cute Owls at the Owl Park Cafe in Ikebukuro, Tokyo
6. Try Out Virtual Reality at Sunshine 60’s Sky Circus
If you want a view of Tokyo that is different from Tokyo Tower or Sky Tree, head over to the Sunshine 60 observatory. Previously just an observatory deck, they have recently started offering a special aerial virtual reality experience.
A trip to the Sky Circus will take you to the Tenku 251, the observatory deck where you can still get a good eyeful of Tokyo’s incredible views, followed by a trip to a room full of mirrors, experience the world in 4D at the Sky Bridge and finish off at the Sky Party area where you’ll get the chance to experience different types of weather over the city of Tokyo.
Booking details: Get Sky Circus Observatory Tickets for Sunshine 60 in Tokyo!
7. Enjoy a Beginner’s Japanese Lesson
If you want an authentic experience in Japan, learning a bit of the language is one of the best doorways into Japanese culture and also gives you the chance to communicate with local people. After a trip around Ikebukuro, why not head off the famous Otome Road to a language school where you can have a one-off beginner’s lesson in Japanese?
Whether you’re just interested in learning a bit about how Japanese and its three alphabets work or you want to be ready to impress the locals in the shops and restaurants, this will be the perfect introduction to Japanese to give you some simple phrases that will help you get by. This easy and fun lesson might be exactly what you need to boost your confidence when travelling around the country.
Booking details: Begin your trip in Japan with an easy Japanese lesson
8. Get Cultured at Tokyo Metropolitan Theater
Are you looking to do something cultured during your visit? The Tokyo Metropolitan Theater was renovated in 2011 and reopened in 2012 with an impressive new look. The theater hosts a variety of arts programs including dance, music performances, and plays. There are also events and lectures that take place here.
Tickets can be reserved online in English although be warned that most speaking performances will take place in Japanese. Luckily the beauty of the performing arts is that a lot of them can be appreciated without the need for language so non-Japanese speakers should check out the dance and music recitals. Definitely check out this great location in Ikebukuro if you’d like to enjoy a theatre performance.
9. Enjoy a Magic and Comedy Show
Ikebukuro has lots of tricks up its sleeve with its bustling streets as crowded at night as in the day. To experience the nightlife in a unique way, how about visiting a bar that gives you more than just drinks and music? One of Ikebukuro’s bars offers “owarai” Japanese comedy, a lot of which involves slapstick comedy easy to understand, as well as hosting a magician. The exciting atmosphere of the bar is perfect for an evening of entertainment and another side to Japanese culture.
The show runs for two hours and includes an all-you-can-drink offer. Your reservation can be made in English, Chinese, or Korean, so no worries about any language barrier!
Booking details: Enjoy a Magic and Comedy Show in a bar in Ikebukuro, Tokyo!
10. Go Shopping at Seibu Department Store
This department store takes up a huge chunk of Ikebukuro Station. You may notice its big blue banners from the outside and once inside, you’ll definitely feel the classy atmosphere. The station is the terminal for the Seibu Ikebukuro line and thus, the department store is in the same area. You can purchase a whole variety of goods from clothing and accessories to stationery and DVDs. You can also eat at one of the high-quality restaurants. Start (or finish) your trip by spending some time in this classy department store.