Shinjuku: Tokyo High City and Low

A visitor’s guide to Shinjuku’s Neighbourhoods


“There’s an anything goes feeling to the place.”

From time to time, the question arises on travel discussion forums: which is the best neighbourhood in Tokyo? Never mind the vagueness of the question. If I had, say, 36 hours in Tokyo, I’d head to Shinjuku, a city-within-a-city. There’s no better place to get a feeling of 36 million people living together Blade Runner-style than in this west-end microcosm of The Big Sushi.

It’s where I first landed in Japan 18 years ago. Then, I spun a jet-lagged fugue through Shinjuku’s neon canyonlands, elevated footpaths, tatamisidestreets and alleys, and in the labyrinthian train station. You know: the setting for Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray? That was me, minus the hair — and Scarlett Johansson.

Now, Shinjuku still pulls me into its orbit whenever I want some “bright lights, big city” excitement in my suburban commuter life. Familiar landmarks — the massive, six-storey Kinokuniya bookstore on the Southern Terrace, Shinjuku Gyoen park and garden, the warren of dive bars in Golden Gai — calm my nerves, and help re-center my wanderlost spirit.

After almost two decades of exploring this multi-nodal city, Shinjuku is still the single neighbourhood which best embodies Tokyo high city and low.

For the same reason, Shinjuku ranks first in places I recommend for first-time visits to The Big Sushi.

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