Ikebukuro used to be written off as a sleaze-ridden wasteland, useful as nothing but a gateway to the wilds of Saitama. Times change. Ikebukuro is now recognized for what it is—a whole lot of fun. Not merely an ersatz Shinjuku or Akihabara, the area has a charm all of its own, buzzes with life 24 hours a day and can boast innumerable things to do, see, buy and eat.
As we can never stress enough, walking is the best (and cheapest) way to experience Tokyo—and Ikebukuro is no exception. Our walking guide will take you on a tour of the very best of Ikebukuro, from the obvious to the somewhat surprising. We’ve done our best to provide directions in the text, but it’s probably wise to make use of the map at the bottom as well.
Getting to Ikebukuro is a breeze from pretty much anywhere in Tokyo, including the airport. Once there, head for the Sunshine City Exit (exit 35), from where we’ll begin our walking tour. Try not get too stressed out on the way there, the station’s underground concourse is notoriously intense, especially at rush hour.
Sunshine City Observatory
Once you emerge from the station’s east exit, you’ll find yourself just down from Sunshine 60 Dori, Ikebukuro’s main strip, home to huge brand stores, lots of people, loud noises, and, at the far end, the entrance to Sunshine City, right next to Tokyu Hands.
Sunshine City is intimidatingly vast. A mutant shopping and entertainment complex, it features tons of shops, a theater, theme parks, restaurants, an aquarium and an observation deck, where we’ll be heading. Located on the top floor of the 60-story Sunshine 60 skyscraper, from here you can get a decent overview of Ikebukuro (and the rest of the city) and attempt to trace your walking route.
Exit Sunshine City (easier said than done), walk beneath the overpass, turn right and keep going until you see the giant blue Animate building. You’re now on Otome Road, the heart of Ikebukuro’s otaku scene. Though less brash than Akihabara, Otome Road is heavenly for manga and anime fans, and still pretty interesting for the casual observer.
After Otome Road, you’re going to need a rest. The recently reopened Minami-Ikebukuro Park is just the spot.
To get there, walk back down Sunshine 60 Dori, turn left down a small road between KFC and Softmap and keep going as straight as you can for about five minutes until you get to the park. It’s not huge, but there’s grass to lie on, decking to sit on and it has a nice community feel to it. Racines, the restaurant set within the park, comes recommended for tasty and organic Western-Japanese fusion food if you’re willing to pay a slight premium for the idyllic setting.
Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre
Now for a little culture. The Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre is a community hub for theater, dance and art, where visitors are encouraged to explore and take advantage of what’s on offer. A huge glass atrium marks the entrance and fills the entire building with light. Head inside and you’ll find a small cafe, a seating area and a nice little souvenir shop on the ground floor, plus a gallery home to regularly rotated and (usually) free exhibitions of various kinds on the fifth. There’s also always something happening in the public plaza that surrounds the park to check out, whether a book sale or a small festival.
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To get there, head back through the station and out the West Exit, from where you should be able to spot the theater to your left.
Next, head around the back of the theater and you’ll come to Nishiikebukuro Park, walk the length of it and you should emerge right next to the campus of Rikkyo University.
This place feels charmingly incongruous with its surroundings, as if someone picked up a chunk of Oxford and dumped it in central Tokyo. The ivy-covered main building is the university’s calling card but the whole leafy campus is studded with buildings of note and is a great spot to have a wander around. Visitors are welcome to do just that, just don’t try and get inside.
Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan
Our final stop is another for the architecture fans. It does, however, take a little finding. The easiest way to get there is to head back to the theater, locate the Metropolitan Hotel right next to it and walk around to the hotel’s rear. Cross the main road, find Hotel Linden and walk up the narrow road that runs adjacent to it. Follow this road until you spot the unmistakable Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan.
Designed by master American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1921, it was originally a university building but is now used for a variety of purposes, including public lectures, community events and ceremonies. It’s understated but elegant design is typical of Wright and seems to fit seamlessly into its surroundings. The art-deco interior, bathed in light from the long windows, is just as good as the facade and well worth a look around. Visitors can do this themselves or there are also free guided tours to take advantage of. Ask at the info desk for details.