Aoyama (Blue Mountain in Japanese) is located just southeast of Omotesando/Harajuku in western Tokyo. The area is mostly shopping, but it’s worth a look and provides a nice stroll. The town is named after the late samurai Aoyama Tadanari, who was a daimyo in the area during Tokugawa Shogunate rule.
A main street named Aoyama-dori runs south-northeast through the town. You can start anywhere on the street, but if you head east, then south from Omote-sando Station, you can start at the Ao Building:
At the very south end of Aoyama-dori is a large building + complex called Ao Building. Itcontains a Kinokuniya bookstore, 2 outstanding restaurants (steakhouse ECM, and Two Rooms grill), and various other places of interest. If you’re up for a fine dining experience and willing to spend a lot of bucks, Two Rooms is an absolute must-see.
There is also a large farmer’s market just a block south on the same side of the street.
Just a block or so to the south of the market on the other (east) side of the street around 35°39’37.43″ N 139°42’26.78″ E is a popular little yogurt place called Tea and Spoon Nanaya Aoyama. If you’re up for a walk a few blocks to the south, check it out. It’s on a backstreet.
If you’re up for a walk 1/2 a mile to the east, around 35°39’45.14″ N 139°43’01.28″ E is the Nezu Museum.
After you’ve checked out Ao Building, head north on Aoyama-dori for a nice stroll. You can head all the way north on it past the Imperial State House Gardens, and then into Akasaka.
Beer Brain+ Stockholm Roast
Around 35°40’03.31″ N 139°42’52.00″ E as you stroll north is a tiny little project on a trailer built by a few entrepreneurs called Beer Brain. It’s a small popular beer hangout – but it’s tiny – just a plywood shack. There is outside seating.
Also in the area on the same side of the street is a great little outdoor walk-up café called Stockholm Roast (which has seating on the roof). Both are excellent.
As you continue north there are 2 more places of interest: Miyota, a popular restaurant, and Modern Works, a new furniture store:
There is also an Olympic bike shop nearby, which incredibly, sells a Hummer mountain bike made by General Motors.
As you continue north, you’ll come to a fork in the road. You can either take the left side and end up at the new 2020 Olympics complex, or you can take the right side and end up in Akasaka, which is also well-worth seeing. If you’re hungry after all that walking, there is a nice big 2-story Doutour café right at the split. If you take the right side far enough, eventually you’ll end up in Shinjuku.
Take the left side for the Olympic venue, or the right side for Akasaka.The Doutour is just on the left in the center and has some good cheap meals under $5.
Right around the split, if you take the right side, off to the south is the vast Ayoyama Cemetary, which is nearly 1/2 a mile wide. Buried here, among others is Ōkubo Toshimichi, a Japanese statesman from the 1800’s who was a major figure in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Toshimichi was instrumental in ending the Tokugawa Shogunate and the feudal system in Japan. The small town of Okubo, now a Korean enclave, a few miles to the north was named after him.
While there may not be a ton to do in Aoyama, it’s still worth a look. You can stroll Aoyama-dori for hours, get some exercise, and still have fun. You can always check out Omotesando back to the west if you like.
The name Shinjuku means New Lodgings. The area became a busy commerce center during the Edo Period and later again after World War 2. The name derives from the older area Harajuku (Sun Lodgings) to the south.
A diorama depicting Shinjuku during the World War 2 era at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.
Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station on earth. Over 2 million people pass through the station every day. At rush hour the place is so packed it can be hard to move or even find your way around if you’re not familiar with it.
There are both Japan Rail (JR) platforms for common lines such as the Yamanote Line, as well as various subway lines. The station acts as an interchange + transfer point for many lines in Tokyo. There are at least 8 levels in the station, many of them buried deep underground.
There are also lots of shopping areas as well as a newly renovated outside shop area and courtyard (Shinjuku Southern Terrace). The station was vastly expanded in 2009-2010 and is now several times its former size on the south end.
The station is shown above, lower center. On both the north and south ends there are huge clusters of shopping centers, as well as an outdoor courtyard. To the northwest is the Cocoon building, and the Tokyo Metropolitain Gov’t buildings (which has a great free observation deck). Just northeast of the Cocoon Tower is the Odayku department store (depato) complex. To the northeast are the main streets with a dizzying array of outdoor shops, restaurants, and things to do and see.At night the area comes alive with lights + sounds – a photographer’s dream.There are also countless huge electronics shops such as Bic Camera and others.
View of Shinjuku from the outdoor platform. The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Toweris on the left, and Odakyu (see below) is the orange building in the center. Ikebukuro is a few stops to the north from here.
Info map at the station on a platform.
From Shinjuku you can take your pick of 2 more interesting areas in either direction: Ikebukuro to the north, or Shibuya to the south.
Madness at a station platform.
At the north entrance of the station around 35°41’31.78″ N 139°42’03.26″ Eis the famous Duckman street performer.
The surface-level of the station has several areas: the main (north) area bisected by Rt. 20 running east-west (this area has the LUMINE and NewWoman modifications made in the early 2000’s. The MyLord bldg. and open terrace to the west of that, the Cocoon bldg. area to the northwest, and the Takashimaya Square area to the south. Of course there are many more areas than this – the station area is huge and takes a whole hour to circumnavigate on foot. Just to the northeast of the LUMINE area is a huge OIOI (pronounced Marui) department store complex, and just to the immediate west on Rt. 20 is a huge Don Quijote discount store. Also at the very south end of the new station redevelopment is a huge outdoor open-air sitting area + cafés (Shinjuku Southern Terrace). You can sit and watch the trains come and go beneath you. Just to the east of the Takashimaya Square complex is the huge Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – a must see. If you go to the gardens and have a few extra minutes, also pop in to Yoyogi just a few minutes’ walk to the south.
At the very south end of the LUMINE bldg. under the train tracks is a huge Shinjuku Tourist Information Office. If you want to pick up some brochures on things to do in the area, stop in when you first arrive.
There are also loads of currency exchanges around the info offices, but their rates may not be the best. You might be better off using a smaller exchange in places such as Akihabara, or the Sakura Exchange in Shibuya.
There’s also a large coin locker bank on the southern side of the info center shown above.
Around 35°41’23.18″ N 139°42’05.80″ E is an east exit from the station, 2 long escaltors, and a huge department store called Flags. There’s a huge GAP that’s been here for over 20 years.
The Flags Building @ the east exit.
Incredibly, right next to the Flags building is a huge, 8-story pachinko parlor called Green Peas, which even has entire floors of Vegas-style slot machines. There is also a huge Taito Game Station arcade just behind it down a side street.
Just northwest of the station is the Odakyu Depato (department store) area. There are plenty of things to do here, and there’s a food floor on the top floor, which includes Shinjuku’s part of the latest craze in Tokyo: pancakes. Rainbow Pancake is on the food floor. There are also elevated walkways to other department stores such as Keio just across the street (Keio‘s food basement is one of the best in Tokyo).
The dept. store complex on the west side. Odakyu is the orange bldg. on the right, and just to the right of that, the KEIO dept. store.Further to the left out of view is a huge Bic Camera. The Cocoon bldg. is just behind the camera to the west.The MyLord terrace area is just beind the KEIO bldg. to the east.There are actually 2 Odakyu complexes – the east side one shown here, and the Odakyu/HALC/Bic Camera annex to the north (out of frame to the left). There is also a major bus stop area here.
Heading in to the east-side Odakyu complex (right). The northern Odakyu/HALC annex is shown here on the left. This photo faces north.
Standing on the northern Odakyu/HALC annex pedestrian overpass facing east. The huge UNIQLO is on the right.
From the station to the east, there are 3 main streets running west-east which parallel each other a few blocks apart. These are: 1), Yasukuni-Dori 2), Shinjuku-Dori, and 3) Koshu-Kaido Dori (Rt. 20).
By far, the most popular of these is Yasukuni-Dori. Several blocks to the eastMeiji-Dori intersects all 3 and runs north-south all the way to the Imperial Palace. In this central area of about 3-4 long blocks, most of the action in Shinjuku happens. The west side is interesting too, but it’s more business/gov’t-oriented. A stroll around the east-side streets at night will floor you with its colors, lights, and dizzing array of things to do.
North Exit + Studio ALTA
The northeast station exit is a popular meeting spot for young people. Just across the street is a building called Studio ALTA with its massive TV display on the outside of the building. If you slip down the small side street to the left at night, you’re in for one of Shinjuku’s nightime delights – a small concrete pedestrian-only area with lots of shops and restaurants. There is also a huge Matsumoto Kiyoshi drug store here, and the rear entrance to the huge Yamada Denki LABi electronics shop (see below). As mentioned above, this is also where the infamous Duckman performs nightly. If you head through the small concrete park, in a few blocks you’ll come to a huge Don Quijote, described next.
Studio ALTA, right. Head down the small side street ahead.
Just north of the north exit. The station entrance is ahead.
Massive Don Quijote on Yasukuni-Dori
On Yasukuni-Dori 2 blocks from the station is a huge Don Quijote discount store. If you’re strolling this street at night, it’s worth a stop in to look around. The place is huge and has multiple floors of just about anything you could want, including a grocery.
As a footnote, you can walk or bike all the way east on Rt. 20 back to Yotsuya (about 6 miles) – there are a lot of interesting things to see along Rt. 20 as well as several other subway station stops at various points – most notably Shinjuku-Sanchome Station around 35°41’26.01″ N 139°42’20.84″ E, and Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station – one more stop the east. All of them pop up onto Rt. 20 at various points. The coolest thing about Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station is its little retro 1950’s-styled entrance on the street around 35°41’19.17″ N 139°42’35.28″ E. There is also a large, cheap, excellent APA Hotel just 1 block west on the same side of the street. There is also a huge Tully’s Coffee just across from Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station.
Heading east on Rt. 20 towards Yotsuya. Note the JTB building on the right.Along this route around this area there are also huge massive department stores such as Isetan, OIOI (pronounced Marui), and Takishimaya. This part of Shinjuku is known as the Shinjuku Ohdori Shopping District. There is also a huge Apple Store here. One of the best kept secrets in this area is the hobby shop on the top floor of the OIOI.
West a few blocks from the west side of the station is the odd-looking Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. It’s mostly offices, but there are a few interesting things on the ground floor. It’s a rather small building, so there’s not a lot to do here. But it’s worth walking to it just to have a look at the architecture.
If you head just northwest from the Cocoon, you’ll come to an iconic part of Shinjuku which includes many buildings from famous photos of Tokyo: such as Sampo Japan Building, and others. There is also a massive pedestrian walkway here which allows you to walk around several of the buildings elevated from the streets.
There is also a very nice massive concrete and green park 2 blocks to the west of Cocoon at the Sojibo Shinjuku Mitsui Building around 35°41’30.14″ N 139°41’38.23″ E.
If you continue west for a few blocks, you’ll next pass the Shinjuku Keio Plaza Hotel, and 2 blocks west of that, you’ll come to the Tokyo Metropolitain Government buildings. These twin buildings house the entire central government for Tokyo. There is a massive open-air concrete courtyard surrounding the buildings, and a free observation deck on the top floors – but be warned, because it’s free, there are usually huge lines for the observatory – even on weekdays. Plan on spending several hours in line – more if it’s peak season such as in the spring or late fall.
The Japanese word for electronics is Denki. There are several huge electronics stores in Shinjuku: There are 2 Yamada Denki LABi stores – one near Studio ALTA mentioned above, and one just west of the MyLord building near the station’s central exit. The one near Studio ALTA is closing soon.
There are 3 huge Bic Camera stores – one in the Odakyu Annex mentioned above, one in the huge UNIQLO store (called BicQLO) around 35°41’29.45″ N 139°42’11.45″ E, and Bic Camera Shinjuku Station East Store just southeast of the Studio ALTA location.
The other big electronics store is the huge Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku West Main Store around 35°41’23.30″ N 139°41’52.96″ E. It’s just a few blocks southeast of the Cocoon Building. There’s also lots of interesting other small shops around the Yodobashi store.
All of the electronics shops are worth a look – if for no other reason than to marvel at their scale and selection.
Jammed in between the MyLord + Keio Dept. Store bldgs. is the excellent Mosaic Street. Definitely worth a stop. We have a full post on it here.
Kinokuniya Book Store
Just across from the BicQLO store mentioned above is a huge Kinokuniya Book Store around 35°41’30.98″ N 139°42’09.99″ E.Kinokuniya is one of the largest book chains in Japan, and this one doesn’t disappoint. If you have any extra time, be sure to pop in and look around. They also have a web store where you can order online.
Takishimaya Times Square + The Bubble Building + Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden + Cafe La Boheme
Just to the south of the station and the Southern Terrace area is the epic Takashimaya Times Square complex – a huge multi-story shopping/food/entertainment complex, TTS is a must-see in Shinjuku. There are also plenty of interesting shops in the complex’s open-air below-ground area, and the large Tokyu Hands department store (depato) on the south side. To get to TTS, go outside to the southern terrace (on the west side of the station) and head south to the large foot bridges which lead to the complex.
Just south of TTS is the NTT DoCoMo “Bubble Building” HQ. It was nicked-named the Bubble Building because it was built during Japan’s “bubble” economy in the late 1980’s-1990’s. The building’s design was inspired by the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York.
West of TTS is the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – a huge Japanese garden with several ponds, trees, and long walkways. Many of the paths afford excellent photo spots of various parts of Tokyo. There is also a large impressive greenhouse. Admission price is around $6 USD, but it’s worth it. Be sure to check it out.
If you’re in the mood for a brew, just across the street to the north of the greenhouse is the excellent European-themed Cafe La Boheme at 35°41’15.14″ N 139°42’46.09″ E. If you love coffee + have the time, be sure to check it out – it’s excellent.
To the north of the station a bit (oddly in a seedy nightclub area) around 35°41’43.84″ N 139°42’12.63″ E, is the excellent Samurai Museum Shinjuku. This is one of the best samurai museums in Tokyo, and you can even buy swords and take caligraphy lessons there if you want.
Walking to Other Parts of Tokyo from Shinjuku
As mentioned, you can actually walk to other parts of Tokyo (or ride a bike) such as Yotsuya or Akasaka. Ebisu is just to the south and worth a walk. Plan on a few hours, however, and the walk east is a quite a ways. On bike it will take about 30-45 minutes.
Yoyogi is just to the south also, and Nakano just to the northwest.
There are so many food options in Shinjuku it’s hard to know where to start. The options are endless. There are conbini (convenience stores) in the station and they are all good. There are many good places just outside the station, and there are huge and upscale restaurants in the area and in TTS.
The Maple Diner waffle shop near the MyLord building.
Kinokuniya Entreé conbini near the Saikyo Line in the station.
HOKUO the Garden also in the station.
Watch them carbs.
Shake Shack @ Southern Terrace.
Soup Stock Tokyo.
American Bar + Grill, TGI Friday’s jammed down some side street.
Shinjuku is one of the biggest, busiest, and most overwhelming parts of Tokyo – you could easily spend several days exploring it all and not see everything. It’s a must-see part of Tokyo, so plan on spending a few days at least seeing it.
We can’t recommend Shinjuku enough – and you absolutely can’t miss it if you’re in Tokyo. From the station area to vast electronics stores, depatos, the TMG + Cocoon buildings, and the streets, there is more than enough to do here. Be astounded, and be amazed.
The fire trucks are coming up around the bend. You live, you learn. The NTT “Bubble Building” towers in the distance at dusk.
A typical exit info sign in Shinjuku Station.
Inside the Odakyu complex heading down into the station below.
The Yamanote Line heading north for Ikebukuro and Omiya.
Facing the Odakyu/KEIO complex from the taxi stand @ the west side of the station.
Also @ the west side of the station.
At the LUMINE/NewWoman side of the renovations at street level.
The Odakyu Line cuts through the Shinjuku night.
One of many endless excellent restaurants on the backstreets.
There are endless things to discover on the streets of Shinjuku.
A hidden place to park your bike for free in a small underpass.
Stumbling around Shinjuku’s streets in the dark, every once in a while the perfect photo opportunity hits you smack in the face.
Or if you prefer – the B+W version.
Inside Odakyu HALC. This ain’t Walmart.
Outside Odakyu HALC.
Inside Shinjuku Station near MyLord.
Epic view outside Shinjuku Station. LUMINE is on the left, and MyLord is just behind the camera on the left.
On Southern Terrace. MyLord is just ahead behind the trees. The huge bldg. on the left used to be Microsoft‘s Japan HQ.