From Akihabara to Harajuku, I’ve been surprised time and again by how calm and peaceful Tokyo’s neighborhoods are. Some neighborhoods (ahem, Ebisu) have practically been ghost towns.
Today we’re in Ikebukuro.
On a Saturday.
The game has changed.
Catching Waves at Ikebukuro Station
Ikebukuro Station is one of the busiest subway stations in the world, second only to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station.
The doors of the train slide open with a hiss and a we are instantly swept out into a sea of commuters. Turbulent currents of crowds push and pull in every direction, threatening to take you with them to destinations unknown.
We catch a wave of arms and legs and ride it. Once you stop fighting the current, you find that you can move relatively quickly throughout the station.
Changing directions is a different matter. We see an exit, but that’s not where this wave is going, so we ride on.
Thankfully, Ikebukuro Station has much to offer, should you never reach the surface. The station is expansive– as we do our best to navigate the crowds, we see more shops and restaurants than we have at any other train station in Tokyo.
We spy a small kiosk with a long line, which is usually a good sign. This is a Kanesue kiosk, and they’re making fresh Warabi Mochi right before our eyes.
A little girl is having a staring contest with the Ichigo Daifuku on the counter. It has me beat before I can even blink.
The daifuku is topped with a bright red strawberry (ichigo) overflowing with sweet flavor. The fresh rose-colored mochi is incredibly soft and delicate.
Energized by the mochi, we dive back into the sea of people, determined to find an exit. Above heads bobbing like the surface of an uneasy ocean, the white light of the Takano department store shines like a beacon of refuge.
Eventually we reach the wide doors of Takano, but we are not prepared for what we find.
The entire floor of the store is filled with food. Extending far into the distance are display cases containing mochi, pastries, senbei, cakes, waffles, and even $80 melons.
The Streets of Ikebukuro
We finally reach the surface and take our first breath of the fresh Ikebukuro air.
Strangely, it doesn’t feel any less crowded out here in the open than it did down in the station. In fact, it actually feels more congested.
Today is Saturday, and it appears that all of Tokyo has come out to Ikebukuro to enjoy the weekend.
Things began to make more sense as we walk further from the station. Ikebukuro is almost completely composed of shopping and entertainment. The streets are lined with multi-level video game arcades and movie theaters sit on every corner.
Ikebukuro has everything you want for a fun-filled weekend in Tokyo.
Well, almost everything.
We’ve built up a good appetite from navigating the crowds of Ikebukuro. It’s time for lunch, but food unfortunately appears to be an afterthought here.
You’ll only find fast food and convenience stores meant for a quick bite to eat as you pass from one video game arcade to another in this entertainment-centric district.
We’re not quite that desperate yet, so we wade through the crowds and fight the current to make our way back to the train station to seek out another part of Tokyo with fewer crowds and more food.
From what we’ve seen in Ikebukuro today, we might be searching for some time.
5 Days in Tokyo
- Otsuka — Tucked between Tokyo’s hot spots is a place where golden hour never ends.
- A Different View of Harajuku — We discover that serenity is surprisingly easy to find in Harajuku.
- Lost in Ebisu — A random stop in Tokyo turns out to be more than we bargained for.
- Old Town Akihabara — Pass under the bridge to a different side of Tokyo’s futuristic district.
- Ginza to Tsukiji — A search for fresh fish leads to a surprising discovery about Tokyo’s Ginza district.
- Lunch at Tsukiji Fish Market — This is where you go to get the freshest fish in Tokyo.
- The Solitary Soldier — Sunset at Japan’s Imperial Palace.
- Finding Peace in Hibiya Park — A small pocket of peace amidst Tokyo’s never-ending activity.
- Cats of Hibiya Park — Hanging out with some furry friends.
- Saturday in Ikebukuro — Ikebukuro. Weekend. It’s over.
- Okachimachi Crunchy — Walking down Tokyo’s multifaceted shopping boulevard.
- Hidden Yanaka — Frozen in time.
- Kanesue Ichigo Daifuku — Anko-filled mochi with a strawberry on top. You want this.