I took this snapshot of the gorgeous Cocoon Tower in the heart of Shinjuku West, 西新宿. This building is home to 10 000 students in three universities during the daytime but at night it serves as the perfect waiting spot for the long distance coaches going from Tokyo to cities all over the country. Is there a better view from a bus stop in Japan? I think not. Here is a high resolution image if you would like to use it for your computer desktop.
One interesting aspect of Tokyo is the cities mix of different architectural styles and neighborhoods. Unlike many other cities in the world, Tokyo has managed to grow the city in a way that many areas stand out quite visibly in character and style. When watching movies and TV dramas set in Tokyo I can often tell where it was shot by looking at the way the streets are laid out, the age and quality of the buildings and the character of people populating the streets. A few areas stand out so much that any shot from any street corner in the area is enough to give the location away. One of my weirder hobbies is to look at old Japanese movies and try to figure out where they were shot!
One of these peculiar areas is next to Shinjuku station, to the west. Every area around Shinjuku station has it’s own feel and character and I have always thought that the area between the station and the huge business and government district called Nishi Shinjuku looks and feels just like Akihabara. So I call it Mini-Akihabara (even though my Japanese friends have no idea what I’m talking about). The difference is that in Mini-Akihabara in Shinjuku, you are surrounded in every direction by huge sky scrapers, leaving the old, run down almost dingy area in the middle and isolated island of post-war small businesses and shops. Here’s a street view down Mini-Akihabara, with the towering Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower at the end. It looks very much like all the other steel band buildings that have sprung up around the world since then. This 50 story building was built between May and October 2008 and at the time I was living in the area so I saw it go up, growing a little taller every day. It even won a gold medal in the Emporis Skyscraper Award of 2008. At the same time in Beijing the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium was completed, which in turn was inspired by an even earlier building by famous icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The Cocoon Tower is the home of three vocational schools and is the second tallest educational building in the world (there’s a fashion school, an IT school and medical school) and currently has 10 000 students studying there every weekday. I’d really like to go inside some day! Does anyone know anyone who studies there?
Someday I’ll try to get better photos than this. It is really difficult to shoot such a tall building from so close beneath it! The whole area of Nishi Shinjuku is extremely interesting from an architectural and engineering viewpoint, the combination of extremely soft ground with extremely tall buildings has created one of the most complex built up areas in the world. I’ll tell you more about it some other time!
Move over Yoshinoya, there’s a new king of Japanese Fast Food in town! Sometimes it pays off to be impulsive. While walking down a back street in Shinjuku West’s (西新宿）”Little Akihabara” district I came across a new rice-bowl fast food chain store I had never seen before. The signs looked fantastic and the prices were incredibly low, without doubt the cheapest “don” (rive bowl) set you can get in Japan. I just had to try it out, even though the surroundings where less than tempting and the shop itself was packed with the usual kind of fast food customers noisily attacking their food. But the food was very tasty, I had grilled beef with a bowl of rice, a corn salad and bowl of miso soup for 480 yen (4.6 Euro or 6.3 USD, and that at a very expensive exchange rate). Amazing. At that taste, that speed and that price, I doubt you can eat better in Japan right now. My set at 480 yen was one of the most expensive on the menu, the regular meals were even cheaper at 320-380 yen.
Chikara Meshi, which could be translated as “Power Grub” or “Strength Food” is a newcomer on the chain store scene, with famous regulars such as Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Sukiya and others. There’s still only eleven stores in and around Tokyo (with one each in Kawaguchi and Omiya, Saitama) but expect to see these popping up every where in the coming months. The shop I was in had people waiting along the walls, and amazingly over half of the customers were women (it’s usually rare to find women in these kind of fast food shops).
So there you have it, if you are on a budget (and even if you aren’t – this food is just too good to be missed) in Tokyo and spot one of these, make sure to give it a try! And I am happy to announce that I have new number one on the list of favorite budget eating places in Tokyo!