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!
Winter is here and there’s fewer and fewer festivals, so why not recall the summer with one of the last big summer festivals, the Fukuro Matsuri in Tokyo’s northern Ikebukuro district and the two day Yosakoi festival. Recently the huge yosakoi dance teams are becoming more popular abroad, as there are now teams in the US, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Ghana! The rules of yosakoi is simple, no more than 150 members per team and they have to contain elements of the original yosakoi music as well as use the traditional wooden clappers. Many teams have also started using the huge flags, the bigger the better, that you can see at the end of this post. The flags are so big that only the strongest team members can handle them and the trick is in getting them to swirl gracefully in the air without touching the ground. It really does look impressive. If you are into sequenced dancing and flashy outfits, yosakoi might just be for you!
At the annual two day Yosakoi performance at the Ikebukuro Fukuro Matsuri I took these photos of wonderful kids dancing! I think the youngest dancer I saw must have been about 4 years old, these however, were a little older. Have a great weekend and remember to do something with your time! Get off the Internet and go out dancing!