This is based on a piece I had done for Odigo Japan (now Tokyo Creative) back in 2016. All photos are by the author.
Tokyo is the New York City of the anime world. In your first visit, the first time you hear trains rattling across the tracks, hear the sales greetings in stores, or browse a Family Mart for a quick bite will be new only because it is within arm’s reach, not just flickering lights on your screen. Virtually every Tokyo neighbourhood has been featured in anime. But for the purposes of my post back in 2016, we had focused on popular animes and destinations for first-time visitors: Death Note, Durarara!!, Steins:Gate, Nana, Read or Die (ROD), Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name.
Before the turn of the Millenium, Akihabara was the cyberpunk dream: a year-round location for cosplay sightings and bizarre fashion from a pre-social media age. But if you’ve come of age since then, this neighbourhood will be no disappointment; it still has the maid cafes that are featured in the classic Steins:Gate, arcades, and collectibles stores like Mandarake (my guide is for the Nakano location).
Steins:Gate based on a series of events that happened between 2000 and 2001, where a John Titor made claims in on the internet about time leap. Steins:Gate traces those historic internet events. Other animes that feature the area include Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Raxephon, and Darker than Black.
Though I grew up going through Shibuya as a kid, as an adult, I generally preferred Shinjuku. Staying at Komozawa Daigaku and Ikejiri-Ohashi didn’t change that bias. One restaurant, one friend, and a handful of specific animes later, I now have a better appreciation for the area.
The movie in question is The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko), by one of my all-time favourite anime directors, Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars).
But the Shibuya scramble crossing might be one of the most used locations of all time in anime (no statistics, don’t quote). From fantasy and horror Tokyo Ghoul, Tokyo ESP, and Blood C, to iDOLM@STER- Cinderella Girls and slice-of-life shows, some character is bound to either cross Hachiko or the Starbucks.
If you stand at the Shibuya crossing starting at the second-floor Starbucks and go clockwise, you will see the JR tracks with trains passing by every few minutes, the Hachiko dog statue, the Shibuya 109 fashion shopping centre and the Shibuya Center Gai (right beside Starbucks).
If you wander Shibuya enough, you will also spot a number of other locations that feature as backdrops. The reason I go is usually for the LOFT stationery store. If you are a coffee person, then Sarutahiko Coffee or Fuglen are a quick walk away. The other two places many visitors like to check out is the household department store Tokyu Hands and Tower Records.
Anime biased me towards Shinjuku over Shibuya. The reasons are many, but let’s start with Tokyo Godfathers, one of my all-time favourite animes because of its topic choice and brilliant director, the late Satoshi Kon. The second reason is the experience of rain in Shinjuku Gyoen in Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai, which transcends the film’s tragically weak ending. Shinkai fans will know that he basically centres everything around Shinjuku, so arriving at the train station is a homecoming of sorts. You can check out a more detailed Shinjuku anime walk here.
In the 2016 article, my editor’s hand added this lovely sentence: “For heavy anime watchers, Shinjuku is used usually for three things: how overwhelming Tokyo is for an impressionable first-timer, backdrops, and terrorist attacks.” Other titles that have featured this commercial area includes UNGO, X TV, Darker than Black, Tokyo ESP, and Death Note.
Despite Shibuya’s visual pedestrian crossing, Shinjuku is home to the world’s busiest train station: even a decade ago, in 2007, Shinjuku Station had over 3.6 million people transiting every day.
Anime aside, I prefer Shinjuku because it is more diversified than Shibuya’s fashion-oriented crowd. On one side of the tracks, you have the government offices, from which you can view the whole expanse of the Tokyo metropolis for free. On the other side is my favourite park. In between is every store I might want to pop by on a given day: Isetan’s food hall, BICOLO (UNIQLO / BiC Camera), Kinokuniya, and a venerable eatery or two. Finally, the place I usually wander to at nightfall is Omoideyokocho (aka Yakitori Alley) to people watch before settling in to a kissaten, coffee house, I am particularly fond of: Teijimaya Coffee.
To Tokyo locals, Ikebukuro is often dismissed as the gateway to Saitama, effectively an extension of the Greater Tokyo area, but administratively another prefecture. Unknown to most, Ikebukuro is also one of Tokyo’s most cosmopolitan areas, with the highest percentage of immigrants (not expats in their Minato Ward towers). It is here that you should come to get Indian or other ethnic food.
I have a particular fondness for ghettos, though you wouldn’t feel Ikebukuro is one when exiting the vast train station and its Seibu Department store. In fact, Ikebukuro seems so much like any other commercial district at first glance that it takes an anime like Durarara!! to create an irrational attachment to its corners.
Most of it takes place on the East side of Ikebukuro, where Sunshine City is. If you head in that direction, you will be reliving all the streets Celty and Shizuo (alright, plus Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri) roam. You can check out my Durarara Ikebukuro walk for more details.
As befits any commercial area, you will find not one, but two BiC Camera buildings and a LAOX store for your electronics needs. In the evening, head up to the rooftop of the Seibu Department Store to enjoy drinks under a summer night sky.
I saved the best for last. Often overlooked by tourists and scorned by Tokyo people as oshare, an area for the well-heeled, it is my personal favourite shopping district, not least because of the sushi lunch places.
The Ginza anime landmark will be the Seiko clock marking one of the Ginza main crossings. This is the clock on top of the Wako building in Paranoia Agent. It also pops up in classic animes like Read or Die (ROD).
That’s it for now. When I have time, I will share the other neighbourhoods I’ve wandered or spotted on screen.