16 Must-See Places and Things to Do in Shinjuku: Explore the Unexplored!

  • TOKYO
  • SHINJUKU
  • RECOMMENDED
  • If you know anything about Tokyo, then it is highly likely that you have heard of Shinjuku. You may have heard of the city district having the busiest train station in the world and being one of the major economic hubs of Japan’s capital city. It is probably at the top of most tourists’ bucket lists who want to visit this city. The main reasons for wanting to visit include that it is a city that never sleeps and there is so much to do all day and all night!

    If you are planning to visit Tokyo, no doubt you are on the lookout for great things to do in Shinjuku. We have listed 16 points of interest and attractions for you to explore including where to go, what to do, and places to visit both in the daytime and at night. Check out these top attractions and start adding things to your itinerary to get the most out of your visit!

    1. Omoide Yokocho

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    Why not take a stroll down “Memory Lane”? That is the literal translation of Omoide Yokocho, as you can get a nostalgic feel of the 1950s olden Shinjuku. Chow down on some tasty meat on a stick called yakitori while sitting in a slightly cramped bar space surrounded by Japanese salarymen who come to drink beer after a hard day’s work.

    There are about 60 restaurants, most selling yakitori and oden, a one-pot winter dish, tightly crammed into a four-lane space. If you’d like to get a real feel of the Japanese after-work life nostalgic of the flourishing post-war era, don’t miss a visit to Omoide Yokocho.

    Omoide Yokocho website
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    2. Kabukicho

    At first glance, the infamous red light district, Kabukicho, is most likely to seem like the most touristy spot on this list. However, besides the hostess bars and lights, there are many little unknown and unique bars and shops if you ever chance to go deeper into the streets.

    There is the Shinjuku Batting Center where you practice batting, then you can wander around the gay entertainment area of 2-chome while spying hosts and hostesses trying to pick up customers. Finally, there is the mega variety store, Don Quijote (many branches of which are open 24 hours a day), with its huge amount of discounted items including food, costumes, makeup, accessories, household items, unique items, and more. The branch in Shinjuku has four floors of fun and random products as well as your standard snacks, cosmetics, and other appliances. You will never be bored here in Kabukicho!

    Kabukicho website
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    3. Robot Restaurant

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    If you’re not afraid of flashing lights, loud, head-splitting music, or crazy creations like giant female robot cyborgs “dancing” in front of you, then this is the ultimate tourist spot for you! The Robot Restaurant could possibly be the answer to every tourist who is looking for the “modernized Japan experience.” Here, you’ll enjoy a meal and watch a dazzling light show with robotic monsters, bikini-clad girls, and lasers. Book a visit to this completely unique establishment for an entertaining evening!

    Get tickets to the Robot Restaurant here!
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    4. Isetan/Marui for Men

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    For the shopaholics who desire classy fashion, the latest shoes and cosmetics, and the finest gifted fruits (and more in the basement shopping area), don’t miss out on a visit to Isetan Shinjuku! This shopping mall also has a lot of history as it was originally built back in 1933.

    This shopping center isn’t just for women, either! Guys, don’t be depressed imagining having to wait for your significant other while she “ooh”s and “ah”s over all the latest fashions. There is also a separate Isetan Men’s building catered especially for male shoppers! If you are interested in slightly younger modern fashion, there is also the nearby Marui Men’s as well as another separate building for women.

    Isetan Shinjuku Website
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    Marui Website
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    5. Shinjuku Gyoen National Park

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    Shinjuku isn’t all urban chaos with crowds and crowds of people. Take a train or walk through the Shinjuku metro station underground to Shinjuku Gyoen National Park to take a break amidst nature. For a nominal fee of 200 yen for adults and just 50 yen for children, you can relax and enjoy this popular cherry blossom viewing spot (in early spring) which has over 20,000 trees!

    This park, which is a blend of Japanese, French, and English styles, is considered to be one of the most important parks in Tokyo as it was originally an imperial garden opened in 1906. It was then opened to the public as a national garden after the Second World War. Whoever said that Tokyo is nothing but a concrete jungle?

    Shinjuku Gyoen National Park website
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    6. Shinjuku Central Park

    A newer and lesser known park in Shinjuku is Central Park, which is sandwiched between skyscrapers like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and many apartment buildings, reminiscent of Central Park in New York. Shinjuku’s version even has its own mini Niagara Falls, which has become the symbol of this park. The 80,000 trees add to the overall greenery of the city and makes a pleasant place to take a walk, ride a bike, have a picnic, or just relax!

    Shinjuku Central Park website
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    7. Golden Gai

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    Similar to Omoide Yokocho with its narrow streets and tiny buildings but on the eastern side of Shinjuku versus west, this “Golden Street” lets you revisit the “golden era” of Shinjuku, in which well-off artistic clientele such as manga artists, directors, and literary artists drink pricey drinks in jazzy bars, most likely reminiscing of the latter part of the 20th century.

    The area started off as a brothel district before that became illegal in 1958, but didn’t really flourish due to its nearby rival, Kabukicho, so not as many people know about this street. Come and explore the narrow alleys which are chock-full of history and maybe spot an artist or two!

    Golden Gai website *Japanese only
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    8. Tokyo Metropolitan Building Observation Deck

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    Tokyo Metropolitan Building is an impressive two-tower structure located in Shinjuku’s business district area. Their observatories, north and south, are both completely free to enter, making this building a way to see the city of Tokyo from above much more affordable than visiting Tokyo Sky Tree or Tokyo Tower.

    On a clear day, you can you will be able to see many landmarks of Tokyo including temples, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Dome, even Mount Fuji from one of the two 202 meter all observatories. Here’s a special tip: the panoramic view from the North Observatory is most popular at night when the city lights up!

    Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

    9. Visit Some of the Electronic Stores

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    Are you looking for the latest Japanese cameras, beauty appliances, computers, games, or other electronics? Shinjuku offers the best at some of the biggest branches of Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Yamada Denki, and Sofmap, so you don’t have to go all the way to Akihabara to check them out.

    Be on the lookout for Bicqlo, an 11-storey building which houses Bic Camera, Uniqlo, and GU all together! The staff also speak multiple languages so you can enjoy your shopping spree without any language barrier if you don’t speak Japanese.

    Bicqlo website
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    10. Hanazono Shrine

    Hanazono Shrine is a hidden historic building in the massive concrete jungle that is East Shinjuku, the Hanazono Shrine actually holds a lot of history and was built in the mid 17th century. Come and see many businessmen visiting the shrine to pray for success to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success. Annual events are even held at this shrine so be on the lookout for it!

    Hanazono Shrine website *Japanese only
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    11. Themed Izakaya Pubs

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    Shopping and eating is great, but if you’re here in Japan, you might as well get an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Shinjuku is home to many themed izakayas and cafes, including Christon Cafe which was designed based on a European church of the olden times, the Alice in Wonderland Cafe, and much more! Shinjuku is a goldmine of themed bars and restaurants, so if there is a particular anime or style you love, be sure not to miss it during your stay.

    Christon Cafe Tokyo
    Alice in fantasy book *Automatic translation available

    12. Shinjuku I-Land: LOVE Statue

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    “Let’s meet in front of the LOVE statue” is something you will hear often from local Tokyoites. The large red statue that spells “LOVE” is a common meeting place in Shinjuku as it is visible and easily accessible from the station and other areas. You may have seen this statue in some Japanese movies or dramas, but did you know that there are many different versions all around the world? This charming statue somehow fits the urban landscape perfectly and is a great place to get some photographs.

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    13. Shin-Okubo Koreatown

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    As well as Chinatown in Yokohama, you will find a lovely Korean town in Shinjuku! Brave the crowds and get your Korean food and products fix by just walking about ten minutes from Shinjuku Station’s east exit or a short train ride to Shin-Okubo Station on the Yamanote line.

    Recently, with the K-POP music boom in Japan, Koreatown has become very popular for tourists and locals alike, who want to eat authentic Korean food, buy cheap Korean cosmetics, and buy their favorite idol’s goods. There you will find many restaurants serving delicious Korean food, shops brimming with K-Pop idol posters and CDs, and stores offering Korean makeup and cosmetics. Take a break from Japanese culture and experience Korea without having to leave Tokyo!

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    14. Park Hyatt Hotel New York Bar

    Fans of the 2003 movie Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, will be glad to know that you can visit the bar in which many scenes were shot, as it is very accessible in Shinjuku! According to bar-goers, the New York Bar deserves five stars for its amazing views of Tokyo, good drinks, live music, and smart interior. If you like this movie, or you’d just like to visit somewhere special, make a trip to Park Hyatt Hotel New York Bar.

    Park Hyatt Hotel New York Bar website
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    15. Shinjuku Musashinokan

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    Shinjuku Musashinokan is a movie theater that has been in Shinjuku since 1920. It is famous for showing some of the most appreciated films in the country such as Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness. As well as being interesting historically, the theatre still shows movies today on its three screens. Take a breather and watch a Japanese or foreign movie at the long-standing theater, Shinjuku Musashinokan!

    Shinjuku Musashinokan *Automatic translation available
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    16. Godzilla Head

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    As a sort of mascot for Toho Cinemas’ new Kabukicho movie theater, marketing experts decided to enlist Godzilla’s aid to help their new venture stand out above the rest, literally. If you go down the main road of Kabukicho towards Shidax Karaoke, you will be able to spot the 1992 Godzilla vs. Mothra 12-meter version of Godzilla towering over Toho Cinemas. Godzilla even roars from time to time!

    You can even stay in Godzilla-view rooms offered by the next door Hotel Gracery! It would surely be an interesting story for friends and family back home to tell them you woke up with Godzilla looking at you every day.

    Toho Cinemas Shinjuku *Automatic translation available
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    Further Sights to Explore

    Aside from these 16 wonderful and unmissable sights, there are many other things to do and see in this district.

    For nice views of trains coming in and out of the city and a variety of nice restaurants and cafes, visit the Southern Terrace, which is a promenade across from the South Exit of Shinjuku Station. For more relaxation in the middle of the chaos, visit Tokyo Opera City which has some nice shops and an art gallery with modern exhibitions.

    If you are on a budget and looking for free things to do, there are plenty! Taiso-Ji Temple is a lesser-known Buddhist site but a great place for a picnic and some photo opportunities. Visit the interesting Tokyo Fire Museum which is free, or learn about the fascinating history of Japanese toilets at Toto Tokyo Center Showroom! For cheap nightlife optons, head to ni-chome (the popular gay district) for many happy hour deals and exciting bars and clubs!

    Getting Around Shinjuku

    One thing you will quickly realize is that Shinjuku is absolutely huge! As mentioned before, Shinjuku Station is one of the busiest stations in the world and you may well get lost in it if it’s your first time to the area! Here is some basic advice about getting around Shinjuku easily.

    Shinjuku Station

    Shinjuku Station has many different exits and is complicated to navigate. Broadly speaking, you should head to the East Exit for most of the bars and nightlife including Kabukicho, the West Exit for skyscrapers and department stores, and the South Exit and New South Exit for shopping areas.

    Shinjuku Station is also home to a Narita Airport Express Train which leaves from platforms 5 and 6, and there are many signs written in English to direct you to these platforms.

    Aside from these, it’s also useful to know that Shinjuku has other stations besides the main Shinjuku Station. This includes Seibu-Shinjuku Station, which is a five-minute walk from the main station and heads West of Tokyo, and the Odakyu Odawara Shinjuku Station which has trains to Kanagawa and Hakone (a popular town with views of Mount Fuji).

    The City

    The district of Shinjuku itself is big but it is fairly easy to walk around, thanks to nice pedestrian areas and clear signs and directions. You will often see maps with English directions scattered around the main central areas, and if you get lost you will usually find a police officer or store vendor who can speak some English and help you out. People are usually very willing to help in this city!

    The main area of bars, shops, and restaurants are easily accessible by foot. If you wish to go to Shinjuku Gyoen Park, you can walk or you could get the subway to Shinjuku-gyoenmae Station.

    So there you have it: 16 places to go in Shinjuku for you to explore! Now get off the main road and drink in the nostalgic aura of a bar in Golden Gai, fill your stomach with crazy “themed” food, shop ’til you drop, and so much more! Shinjuku is the city that never sleeps, but we’re sure that you will enjoy it to the fullest by completing this bucket list!

    Would you like to stay in Shinjuku? Check out all the hotels in the area here!

    Featured image: jp.fotolia.com/