Back at the end of September this year I visited the annual Fukuro matsuri being held every year at in Ikebukuro’s west area. It is a huge multi day festival where omikoshi teams from all neighborhoods in the area take part. I have blogged about it several times before but every year I see something different. As usual I arrived a little bit late, but just in time to see the omikoshi teams start their parade around pass the Ikebukuro Station West Exit and into the entertainment district to the south west of the station. There must be thousands of participants dressed in the traditional hanten, the short coats that you can see a lot of in these photos. I still haven’t gone through all the photos I took so there will probably be more to come!
Ikebukuro might not make it onto any top ten lists of major Tokyo tourist spots – it is more like an eternal number 11 – but that is also part of the charm of this area. To be honest talking about Ikebukuro (and especially the busy station east exit area) in terms of “not well known” is a little bit absurd as this place happens to be the third busiest train station in the world with about 910 million people passing through in a year! That is pretty mindboggling. And it is only the third biggest station in Japan and in Tokyo. In the space of 6 to 7 years the entire population of the world passes through here.
I took these photos as I was changing between the Seibu Ikebukuro line and the JR Station. For the beginning Japanese learner the station exits are actually more confusing than to just concentrate only on the English. Two huge department stores dominate the station, the Seibu and the Tobu, both of whose names include characters for directions. For some reason (it could be a brilliant joke) the Seibu (literally Western Musashino Province, the old name for an area of modern Tokyo and Saitama prefecture) department store occupies the east exit… and… the Tobu (literally Eastern Musashino Province) occupies the west exit. So 西武東口, and 東武西口. Looks similar?
If you are a tourist in Tokyo and have a bit of extra time I can recommend a stop over in Ikebukuro. There’s plenty of electronics shopping (Bic Camera, Yamada Denki, Sofmap), and what used to be the highest concentration of department stores in the world just 15 years ago: Seibu, Tobu, Parco, Lumine, Marui, Tokyu Hands etc. All the big names are here. There’s even a spot for the manga lovers in the Otomedori, “Virgin Street”, which as the name implies caters almost exclusively to female fans (short rule of thumb: women go to Ikebukuro, men go to Akihabara, everyone goes to Nakano). There’s also a number of high ranking national universities in the area so there is plenty of entertainment even poor students can afford. Right now the area is mostly popular with Chinese tourists, which judging from countless hours of observation, is due to the excellent shopping in the area.
Speaking about shopping, can you spot the almost legendary Donkihote store every one of the photos? It occupies what used to be the Sakuraya electronics department store and is easily one of the most popular stores for tourists visiting Japan.
Two and a half years ago I posted about one of the great joys of Tokyo, the live jazz street bands that play for free outside some of the major stations, like this band. A couple of weeks ago I happened to see them again in the very same spot, some new members, but the fantastic drummer was still there! You can see a short 45 second clip of him in this video. Before I got my camera ready another photographer (blogger perhaps?) started shooting in front of me. It’s always fun to see other photographers at work!
Summer is over and on comes the sad feeling of not being able to enjoy many more festivals. I know I have probably visited more festivals than 99.9% of the population of Japan this year, but I still crave more. Luckily the big one is coming up soon, the massive Kawagoe Matsuri that I have blogged so much about in the last few years. It’s on this weekend in Saitama prefecture’s Kawagoe City, and if you can only attend one single Japanese festival in your life, this might well be the one to aim for! It’s an easy train ride from Tokyo so there’s no excuse if you’re anywhere near the Kanto area. It’s going to be very very crowded, so if this weeks bad weather continues you might be in for a lucky break, as rain always means fewer people. Still, I wouldn’t expect less than a million people crowded into the narrow streets of Hon-Kawagoe! Talking about crowded streets, here’s a few photos I took at Ikebukuro’s Fukuro Matsuri a month ago. You don’t want to stand in the way of these omikoshi teams!