Tokyo Travel Tip - Ikebukuro
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
The most overlooked city in Tokyo
When it comes to Tokyo travel hotspots, everyone talks about Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara, or Ginza. Ikebukuro is often overlooked, which is strange when considering that the city has all the Tokyo-experiences you could want in one place.
Ikebukuro is known to offer many of the same attractions as Akihabara, like huge arcades, otaku warehouses and some low-key maid cafes. This naturally attracts a lot of cosplayers and Harajuku kids, but Ikebukuro has a lot more to offer.
First of all, it has that big city atmosphere that many tourists want to experience when coming to Tokyo. Secondly you will find lots of high-end department stores, many of the best restaurants in town, great bars, and a small Chinatown.
Not to forget Sunshine City; a 240-meter tall shopping mall housing more than 300 shops, a planetarium, an aquarium and a bunch of fancy sky restaurants at its 59th floor. On top of that, literally speaking, you’ll find a digital amusement park and observatory on the 60th floor.
Ikebukuro is the commercial center of Tokyo’s Toshima ward. The population in the area is roughly 300.000, less than 10% of which are Japanese nationals. This makes Ikebukuro the most cosmopolitan city in Tokyo. Ikebukuro station is also noted as the third busiest train station in the world.
Low housing prices led to many artists and foreign workers moving to Ikebukuro in the 1900s. This contributed to the patchwork atmosphere that can be experienced in the area today. Ikebukuro’s Chinatown, established in the 1980s, contributes a lot the international vibe in Ikebukuro.
How to get to Ikebukuro?
Getting to Ikebukuro is easy. All you have to do is to locate the closest station on the JR Yamanote Line, which is the train that goes in circle around all the major cities in Tokyo. In other words, you can travel directly to Ikebukuro on the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara, Ueno and Tokyo Station.
You can also get to Ikebukuro by taking a bunch of other lines, including the Narita Express, the Marunouchi Line, the Yurakucho Line, the Tobu-Tojo Line, the Shonan-Shinjuku Line and the Seibu Ikebukuro Line.
In addition, Ikebukuro is a major hub for Tokyo busses, with direct transport to many larger cities and major airports in the Kanto area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Gunma ++).
Don’t forget that many hotels have shuttle bus services between Ikebukuro, Narita and Haneda airports. Non-hotel guests can also use these shuttle busses, and the price is usually cheaper than express trains.
Get departmentalized at Ikebukuro
There are local shops and small boutiques to be found in Ikebukuro, but first and foremost it is a department store paradise. Right on top of Ikebukuro Station you will find the twin shopping centers Tobu and Seibu.
Both these department stores have amazing delicacy «food markets» located near the underground station exit. We do not have this concept where I come from, but just imagine an endless sea of freshly prepared dinner foods, cakes and all imaginable treats you could ever want.
All stands are trying to outdo each other in terms of presentation, taste, and service. It’s a remarkable experience for sure, which is also typically Japanese. You will find these food markets at most department stores and many train stations, but rarely will you find more extravagant ones than in the basements of Tobu and Seibu.
After re-hinging your jaws from the sights and smells
of the unbelievable amounts of picture perfect food displays,
get ready to shop your brains out!
Tobu and Seibu are a great place to shop for clothes, furniture, interior design, sporting goods and much more. They are both a bit upscale options though. A few minutes walk from the west exit of the station you can find a very nice Marui mall, with stores that are aimed at a younger audience. The same can be said about the Lumine department store, which also can be found right next to the station.
Then, there is the aforementioned Sunshine City. On the top floors it definitely has some high-class restaurants, while the shopping area on the ground levels is best described as family friendly. Still, Sunshine City is pretty dope if you want to find toys and gifts, since you’ll find a Pokémon Center, a Ghibli Shop, and a Disney Store under the same roof.
Where nerds and hipsters collide
The hodgepodge atmosphere created by the many non-Japanese citizens in Ikebukuro is further strengthened by the city’s appeal to hipsters and cosplayers alike. Here you will find loads of upscale shopping right next to huge arcades and huge gaming goods shopping centers.
It should be noted that - to a larger extent than Akihabara - Ikebukuro is famous for catering to female gamers and anime-fans. This means that the goods found in the gaming stores are appallingly cute, and often accompanied by bucket-loads of Korean boy band-memorabilia. But fret not, the selection in most places offers enough to satisfy any gamer, cos-player, anime-hound or Japanophiles who just cant seem to escape their inner child.
The most famous otaku mega-store to visit is Animate. It is known to be the biggest manga-shop in Tokyo, but on its 9 floors you will also find figurines, movies, music, plush teddy bears and enough anime goods to make this place a virtual nerdvana.
As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a Mandarake, a huge Sega Gaming Center and an «arcade park» called St. Tropez a few minutes walk from Animate. In other words, Ikebukuro is a nice alternative to Akihabara. And since it doesn’t cater as much to manchilds as Tokyo’s infamous electric town, it isn’t overloaded with tacky maid cafes wherever you go. Instead, if you look a little closer, you will find «butler cafes» with suited up boys ready to serve otaku girls on demand.
Where to get your eat and drink on
Finally, and this section should maybe have been listed first, since the selection of great restaurants and bars in Ikebukuro is incredible. The twin department stores Tobu and Seibu both have restaurant floors with fantastic restaurants of all kinds and price ranges.
One of the best burgers in town can be found just a stone’s throw away from the station, at Camden, which also has a decent selection of craft beer. Beer Saurus is a similar place, which offers lots of greasy beer food and good brews at rather affordable prices.
If you want to experience something a little more authentic, Daitoen is one of the best dining experiences I had in Tokyo the last year. It is a little pricey, and yakiniku is the name of the game, but the meat was great, the unpasteurized nama-sake was amazing, and the atmosphere was unbeatable.
We could continue to list several pages on great restaurants and recommended dining experiences in Ikebukuro. Safe to say, you can easily find great food on every corner. A final tip is the lunch/dinner buffet at Haabesto (Harvest) on the 9th floor of the Lumine department store. It is a great place to try lots of exciting and delicious dishes at an affordable price.
This concludes our basic guide to Ikebukuro. We might be back with an insider’s guide to the hidden gems of Ikebukuro soon, like some of its many awesome ramen bars. However, we are saving them for now, since our next blog series will be rating our top 10 ramen bars in Tokyo. One of the top 3 is located somewhere in Ikebukuro. Can you guess which one it is? Let us know in the comments.
Ikebukuro in short
Ikebukuro certainly has it all, and then some. It is not many cities in Tokyo where you can find Harajuku kids, high-end shopping and a small Chinatown just a stone’s throw apart. In fact, there are no places like that, other than Ikebukuro.
The atmosphere is hard to describe, but it definitely stands apart from Shinjuku, Shibuya and the other central hotspots. Ikebukuro is a great place to explore and experience Tokyo atmosphere, especially since it has a lot more to offer than this introduction indicates.
We hope this small guide gave you some useful ideas, and also that you all can come back to Tokyo as soon as possible. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have some questions about our blog, or requests for other travel tips you would like us to cover.
City guide by Toshima City Tourist Association: Welcome to Ikebukuro
Japan Visitor: Ikebukuro Guide