Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) is completely bonkers. Absolutely, 100% mad. The Guinness book of World Records lists it as the number one busiest train station in the world, which is easy to believe knowing that there are more than three million people passing through it each day.
The station has 36 platforms, which connect 12 different subway lines and train lines. Most staggering of all – there are in excess of 200 exits by which you can enter and leave the building. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to know exactly where you are, and oh-so easy to get lost. As a small-town girl with a fear of crowded public transport, it’s hardly the kind of place where I’d usually be found. But never-the-less, the area of Shinjuku is a popular, famous and typical example of the Tokyo that I imagined to discover, and so a major landmark on any tourists itinerary.
Scrambling out of the rabbit warren that is Shinjuku station, close by there is a small temple, which is so out of place it looks like it has fallen from the sky and landed quite accidentally in the middle of all the monolithic Shinjuku sky-scrapers. Despite being in the middle of all the madness,the temple was peaceful and full of people clapping and bowing as they prayed, surrounded by paper bolts of lightning.
Nearby is the bar district, where rows of tiny alleys are crammed full of tiny bars – some of them with only enough seats to host a mere handful of imbibing patrons. A lot of the bars have a table charge, and many others will charge exuberant prices to anyone who isn’t part of their regular customer list. All the same, there are a couple of bars where it’s safe for a foreigner to have a drink without getting ripped off.
Omoide Yokocho means “Memory Lane,” but the place is more frequently referred to as “Piss Alley”. In the past, drinkers at the bars and restaurants didn’t have any nearby public facilities, and would just go and relieve themselves in the street. This practice has (thankfully!) gone out of fashion these days, but instead the street is overflowing with cloudy smoke from the yakitori – Japanese BBQ. The whole alleyway is choked with billowing smoke, and the low ceilings of the restaurants and bars makes it hard for the air to clear at any great speed.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a place that tourists flock to, partly for the Tourist Information Centre on the ground floor, and partly for the twin sky-scrapers which both measure 245m tall. Both towers have observation decks at the 45th floor, free to the public and open until late. The view is wonderful whatever time of day you visit. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible to beady-eyed spectators.