Sugamo is a small area in Tokyo north of Tokyo Dome City and south of Itabashi on Rt. 17 (Hakusan Dori). It’s not a large area but still worth a look. The main attraction is Rikugien Gardens 2 blocks to the east (discussed below).
Central Sugamo facing northeast. The station + atré complex is the white square bldg. right of center. Rt. 17 or Hakusan Dori runs north-south. A Beck’s Coffee is the tiny black bldg. next to the small concrete park in the lower right. The main outdoor covered shopping area is just off 17 in the upper center left. Just north of that on the east side of the street is the APA Hotel Sugamo Ekimae (Ekimae means “at the station”). Continuing to head north on 17 for a few miles leads to the small charming micro-town of Itabashi, which just renovated its train station in 2020.There are various other shops + food palaces around the station as shown above.
Facing south on Hakusan Dori just south of the station. TDC is straight ahead.
Sugamo is not a huge area. But there’s still a fair amount to do. The atré complex over the station is worth a look, and Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street (discussed next) is a must-see. You can also stroll the outdoor shops along the streets on both sides for miles. Rikugien Gardens (discusssed below) a few miles to the east is a must-see. It’s one of the most well-known Japanese gardens in the world and in the spring + fall is spectacular. The town that Rikugien Gardens is in – Komagome – just to the northeast is also worth a quick look and isn’t too far.
Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street
Entrance to Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street which veers off to the left west of Hakusan Dori. The street is lined with charming shops, and if you follow it far enough north you’ll come to Itabashi.The entrance is just north of the APA Hotel on the leftaround 35°44’04.41″ N 139°44’12.70″ E.
Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street is a long narrow north-south street which parallels Hakusan Dori in Sugamo. The street is known as a hang-out spot for seniors, but it’s definitely worth a stop for everyone. The street has some very nice food shops with traditional Japanese foods of all kinds. If you keep going north until the end of Sugamo, you’ll come to the charming micro-town of Itabashi, which recently just built a brand new train station. Itabashi is just north of Ikebukuro and is a jumping off point for many other locations on the JR Saikyo Line such as Ikebukuro.
Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street with its charming shops facing north. Well worth a stroll.
Sugamo Jizo-Dori Shopping Street approaching Itabashi.
If you head south on Hakusan Dori from the station for a few blocks, there’s a side street around 35°43’52.63″ N 139°44’29.39″E heading east just after the MOS Burger on the left. At the end of this street about a mile down is world-famous Rikugien Gardens – one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the country. It’s a must see. Admission is 300-400¥ or so, but it’s worth it for a couple bucks. While you’re there you can stop and check out the town – Komagome – which has its own JR station. It’s a small unremarkable town, but worth a quick walk. There’s also a very large ancient temple there with spectacular architecture. It also has its own APA Hotel – APA Komagome. See our post on Komagome for more about the town. It’s worth a quick look.
The obvious choice in the area, as we mentioned, is APA Sugamo Ekimae 2 blocks north of the station. Clean, upscale, and relatively cheap at $70-$80/night in off-season, it’s the best bet in Sugamo. There are others around in the area too. Check agoda.com for more choices.
North to Itabashi
Only about a mile north of Sugamo is the small charming town of Itabashi. Several rail lines including JR and the Toei Subway stop there. The JR station is on the Saikyo Line. It’s only about a mile walk north on Hakusan Dori and is worth it if you have extra time. See our full multipart post on Itabashi for more info.
Hakusan Dori and the area around TDC actually have some nice bike lanes – if there are no delivery vehicles parked in them.
Cruising south on Hakusan Dori facing southwest at sunset.
Beck’s Coffee near the station. The Japanese word for coffee is coheé.
The covered shopping street just north of the station facing north. APA Sugamo Ekimae is just ahead.You can also hang a right here to explore some of the backstreets where a good 200¥ coin-locker is located.
The covered shopping street on the west side of Hakusan Dori. Note the Toei Subway entrance on the left.
This MOS Burger is just down Hakusan Dori on the east side. If you turn left just after this shop when heading south on Hakusan Dori, you’ll come to world-famous Rikugien Gardens on the right – and Komagome.
MOS Burger menu. You can actually eat fairly cheap in Japan – under 500¥ (around $5) for a good MOS Burger meal. The company prides itself on fresh ingredients. Our experiences at the chain are generally good.
They even have some fun desserts.
There is also this small guitar school just north of the gardens.
Heading north out of Sugamo on Hakusan Dori to Itabashi in late fall.
The huge temple north of Komagome – eerily silent near midnight.
The west side of Itabashi is a long 2-lane highway running north to east. Head south from here and you’ll end up in Ikebukuro.
If you head out to the west side of Itabashi you can get a nice neighborhood walk through residential backstreets, and along a nice brick footpath which will lead you out to a major 2-lane highway which leads south to Ikebukuro.
To get here from the west side square, follow the way we describe in Part 2 to the Yorkmart grocery, head south, cross the train tracks, and make an immediate right down the first street on your right:
On the right side of this street is a long footpath which winds for several blocks, and then turns left:
As you come to the end of this first part, be on the lookout for a turn to the left in the path shown here:
You’ll pass this apartment complex, and the now-abandoned Ruhe Coffee Shop:
On the way, you’ll also cross many side streets such as this:
And more small houses such as this:
As you pass this chomé sign, you’ll know you’re getting close:
As you come to this part of the path, with lots of trees, you’re getting near the end. At the end of the path, there will be a big red Eneos gas station sign on the right. At this point, turn left.
Along the way you’ll see many stop signs, which in Japan are red triangles:
As you turn left, Don Quijote discount store will be on your left. There is also a nice bicycle shop and golf shop right next to it:
Don Quijote discount store in Itabashi – look for the crazed penguin.
The madness that is Don Quijote.
In Don Quijote, you can even get a Press Sand Maker for a mere $15 USD.
Past Don Quijote, if you follow this highway and head south, you will arrive in Ikebukuro.But be careful – it’s very easy to get lost on backstreets and wind up on the other side of town in no time.
Well, that’s it for this 3-part guide to Itabashi. We hope you’ve found this guide useful – and we hope you will enjoy your trip to Itabashi.
JR Itabashi Station is covered in Part 1. Shin-Itabashi Station is just a few blocks northwest of JR Itabashi Station. We’ll discuss it below.
First the JR Line. The main Itabashi station is on the JRSaikyo Line, and is between Jujo to the north, and Ikebukuro to the south. This is very advantageous – Ikebukuro is one of the biggest and most important interchange hubs on the JR lines, and can be used to route you to other parts of the city quickly – such as Eastern Tokyo (via Chuo Line), and south to Shinjuku. You can also get the Maronuchi Metro Line at Ikebukuro, which shoots you right into the heart of the Maronuchi district, or south to Shibuya. Itabashi is just far enough away to be inexpensive to stay at, but close enough to get to the major interchange stations in just a few minutes. In addition there is a lot to do in Ikebukuro itself, and if you stay in Itabashi you can sight-see in Ikebukuro without paying more for a hotel.
Shin-Itabashi Station is on the Toei Subway Line, and is just a few blocks from the main JR Itabashi Station. To get here, exit the main Itabashi Square area and head to the west side of JR Itabashi Station. There are several ways to do this – 1) Go through JR Itabashi Station, climb the stairs at the far end, exit at the top, head west, and into the square, 2) go through the small pedestrian tunnel at the south exit of the station, turn right on the first side street, and north into the square, or 3) walk north from the main Itabashi Square, then head west, then southwest down side streets to get to the square. The west/north side square is located at 35°44’47.04″ N 139°43’10.81″ E the main square is located at 35°44’43.10″ N 139°43’12.82″ E. The main station sits between them.
To get to the YorkMart, and station, head left (west) past this bldg. just west of the west square, which is to the right in this photo.
To get to the YorkMart, and station, head left (west) up this white-picketed street. The station is just up on the left 1 block.In early fall in Tokyo, the weather is usually still quite nice and summer-like.Just to the left of this is a large Maruetsu grocery store as well.
We won’t cover the Naka-Itabashi Station because it’s several miles to the west, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s also on the Tobu Tojo Line. There is also a nice shopping street + cafés around the station. There’s also a vast long walkway along a small tributary river which you can walk all the way back into central Itabashi. In fact, this waterway runs all the way back east to the Arakawa River, which empties to the south into Tokyo Bay.
South to Ikebukuro
Before we get to Itabashi’s main attractions, as a footnote, note that Ikebukuro is just to the south. Itabashi is so close to Ikebukuro, you can walk there. It’s less than 1.5 miles. Or of course, you can take the JR Saikyo Line 1 stop south. To walk, get to the east square outside JR Itabashi Station, head south past the koban, past the APA Hotel, and follow the street all the way east to Rt. 305. Once on 305, head south (right), and walk to Ikebukuro. Very short and easy walk.
Itabashi is small Japanese town, and there aren’t any big, spectacular attractions. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do, and nothing to see. In fact, the town is quite charming with shopping streets, and a main walk all the way to Sugamo to the south along the Nakasendo Hwy, as mentioned above. There are 6 main areas: 1) the area to the east of the station where the main square is, with shops and cafés, 2) the area on the west side of the station, also with side streets + shops/restaurants/cafés. 3) the large shopping street to the north of the Nakasendo Hwy– well worth a look. Lots of charming cafés along this walk. There is also a huge Life Supermarketalong this street, 4) the Nakasendo Hwy itself – which you can walk all the way to the south to Sugamo, and beyond that, Tokyo Dome City, 5) Happy Road Oyama Shopping Street, 6) Sugamo Jizodori Shopping Street.
Let’s take these 1-by-1:
East Square + Shops
Outside the JR Station east exit is a small park with new benches, a fountain, and lots of shops and cafés around the area. On the street to the south are several cafes, and there are restaurants to the north including a big Italian place. There is also a nice Lawsonconbini at the square where you can get some food to take back to the hotel/square, although eating in public is frowned on by the Japanese in general. There’s a also a new small public toilet in the square.
If you head right outside the east square, there are lots of side streets + things to explore. 2 blocks to the north is an east-west street which leads to the west square on the other side of the station. To the right is a small 7-11 and supermarket, along with a lot of other shops. To the south, a nice large Family Martconbini. If you go farther east to the next main north-south street and turn right, you can get to Ikebukuro in less than 2 miles.
Looking north just outside the east square. Lots of restaurants and shops. If you head left at the 2nd light above, you’ll come to the west square. There is also a 7-11 and small supermarket just a few blocks to the right.The Lawson is just to the left before the 1st light.
East-west road from west square outside Itabashi Station. Turn right here, then right again to get to the south/east side of the station.The CO-OP grocery on the corner is quite good and inexpensive. Just above that is a Gusto Café.
More nice local restaurants and shops on the east side.
Explore the area to the east of the station – side streets and interesting things around every corner. If you go far enough east, you’ll come to Rt. 305, which leads to Ikebukuro to the south.
Also on the east side – further east beyond the shops – is the Toden Arakawa Line – better known to locals as the Sakura Tram – and is one of the last small-scale functioning trams in Japan. You can buy a ticket at the station, and ride a loop line around Tokyo and back. The tram has huge windows – giving a vast and clear view of the surrounding area.
West Square and Streets
To the west of the station is another central square, with side streets with lots of shops, restaurants, cafés. If you walk far enough west down the side streets from here, you’ll find the YorkMart grocery store. There is another large grocery (CO-OP) on the corner on the north side of the block the square is in too. To get here, exit JR Itabashi Station at the west exist, and head straight ahead.
A pano of the west square – west exit from the JR Itabashi Station on the left, square in the center, around to the bike locker on the right. Turning right beyond the bike locker takes you down a road to the east side of the station.The large organic grocery (CO-OP) is the orange building shown on the right to the north of the bike locker. The bike locker here is paid, but fairly cheap – around 400¥ for 16 hours. If you leave a bike here, you’ll need to feed the parking machine once a day.
View from the west side square. Side streets are in the center. There is also a nice café on the corner. A Welcia drug store is also down this street. To get to the YorkMart grocery store, head down the street to the left, turn right at the next intersection, then west up the street.
The west square at night. The Maruju Café on the corner is quite good.
Another restaurant on the backstreets on the west side.
Just to the east of the CO-OP grocery, across the railroad tracks is a large TSUTAYA record shop. If you continue right from here for a block, then right again, you will come to the east square.
At 35°45’00.43″ N 139°42’48.55” E along the Nakasendo Hwy, a long shopping street splits off to the west. It’s well worth a look and goes on for miles. To enter, look for the 1950’s-style Gusto Café on the right, and the PerconaBank on the left. This is where the entrance is. To get to this entrance from the city square, head north on side streets from the station, cross the Nakasendo Hwy, and get onto the sidewalk on the north side. Head west. Keep walking several blocks, until you find the entrance. There is also a nice Family Mart along this area. This street has all kinds of shops and nice cafés like something you’d find in Europe. There is also a huge Japan Post Office here.
Shopping street entrance. Nakasendo Hwy is just on the left. This is facing northwest.
Nakasendo Hwy facing west.There are also sidewalks for peds and bikes.
There are plenty of nice cafés along the street you can visit.
There are all sorts of old interesting things to see along the shopping street.In this case, an old Japan Post residential mailbox.
An old abandoned bike along the shopping street – with a warning telling the owner to remove it. This has been sitting here at least 10 years, maybe 20.Probably once a young girl’s bike – now since long moved on.The ghosts of the past.
Starting at approx. 35°44’54.94″ N 139°43’17.21″ E – just north of the town center in Itabashi, you can go all the way southeast on the Nakasendo Hwy – stop in Sugamo, then beyond down to Tokyo Dome City (TDC). It’s only a few miles + walkable in a few hours. On bike, about 25 mins. Very easy. A nearly straight shot.
There are a few gotchas – such as the road split about 1/2 way to TDC which you must be aware of – we covered that in another post about biking from Itabashi to TDC. Don’t forget the Japanese drive on the left so it’s a good idea to stay on the left sidewalk side of the road.
The city has installed a new bike lane on part of the road near the universities area north of Tokyo Dome, so that part is easy and safe – but sometimes delivery trucks will park in the new bike lane – so be careful.
From Itabash Station, walk north ’til you hit Nakasendo Hwy – you can’t miss it since it’s a huge 2-lane street. You may want to cross to the north side of the street once on the sidewalk, then head right (south).
There are 3 main areas on the way: central shops and sidewalk to Sugamo, Sugamo area + station itself (there’s another nice APA Hotel in Sugamo), road split + university area after Sugamo, and Tokyo Dome City/Bunkyo Civic Center at the end. Along the way there are all kinds of restaurants and shops – including a MOS Burger, and Freshness Burger. There is also a very nice chocolatier shop near the Freshness Burger – just south of it on the same side of the street, in fact.
So…. here’s how to go:
First you’ll go south on the Nakasendo Hwy for a long way. There’s not much to mention here – lots of ordinary high-rise apartments, and some shops. This part looks like this:
This part goes on for quite a way – keep going.
After a while you’ll come into an area with more shop/gas stations/food/retail:
Keep going – head past this + just keep heading south.
After a while you’ll come to a similar area with a MOS Burger on the left, then critical split in the road, which you must take. If you don’t, you’ll end up way to the east on Old Hakusan-Doriwhich will lead you away from TDC. We show both below:
As a footnote – if you turn left on the next street immediately after the MOS Burger, you end up in Komagome – another small Japanese town.At the end of that street is world-famous Rikugien Gardens (See links + vids below).
Now the critical split: just on the right, you’ll see the area shown below with a weird split in the street – there’s a light on the right, with a bike lane about 5 ft. long, then another street, then another sidewalk across the street. This photo is facing southwest:
Wait for the crosswalk signal, then proceed across.
Old Hakusan-Dori goes off to the left. You don’t want that – you want to cross to the other side where you see the people standing, then immediately follow the sidewalk south again (left, or south). This puts you back on Hakusan-Dori south heading towards TDC. Don’t miss this crossing, or you’ll be lost!
If you’re on bike, you’ll want to turn right at the corner shown above because the bike parking lot is 1 block to the right, across from Bunkyo Civic Center. If you’re on foot, you’ll want to continue south for 1 block, then cross at the light and head right into TDC area.
Footnote: if you head left at the intersection shown above, in just a few miles you’ll be in Ueno. If you head left at the next block south shown above, you’ll end up in Akihabara. Both are less than 1 hour’s walk.
Bunkyo Civic Center. The bike parking lot is just behind it to the right.Also behind BCC is Korakuen Station – one of the most critical stations on the Maronuchi Metro subway line.The round top area of the bldg. is a free observation deck with some of the best views in Tokyo.
Marunouchi Line map. The current station is shown in red. The small colored circles on the line map indicate interchange stations to other lines. Text is both English and Japanese.Some stations, such as Akasaka-Mitsuke are critical interchanges to major lines such as Ginza and Namboku.The arrows indicate the name + number of the next + previous stations on the line.
There are all kinds of shops along both sides of the streets. Restaurants, and a British “The Hub” pub on the corner at the light. Just to the south of that is Meets Port – another shopping area that is part of TDC.
Well, you made it. Enjoy Tokyo Dome City – there are all kinds of things to do here – rides, restaurants, a grocery store, shopping mall, coffee, and a baseball museum. Nana’s Green Tea matcha parlour is not to be missed in the LaQua mall area. There is also a nice Don Quijote discount store right across the street. There is a luxury hotel as well as a First Cabin capsule hotel right in TDC.
As a footnote if you head just another block south, you’ll come to Suidobashi Station. See our other article on things to explore around the Suidobashi Station area. That article also covers how to make the trip entirely on bike.
Enjoy your time in Itabashi! We hope this guide makes your visit easier and enjoyable.
My return to the first small town I stayed at in Japan 18 years ago – Itabashi in northwest Tokyo.
The name Itabashi literally means plankbridge.
Itabashi is part of a larger northwestern area of Tokyo called Toshima City.
In 2001, on my first trip to Japan, right off the airplane, I landed in the charming small town of Itabashi. I was excited. Everything in Japan was new to me then, and I was thrilled to be there.
Purely by accident I discovered a great Japanese hotel chain APA Hotels, which has a hotel in Itabashi, right next to the JR Itabashi train station. APA stands for “Always Pleasant Amenities” and they mean it. APA’s are usually cheap, very clean + have soundproof windows. The APA Itabashi hotel off season is an low $65/night – which is what you would pay for a Motel 6 in the US, but APAs are much much better.
The rooms have a fridge, HDTV, power, charging sockets, and nice bathrooms. Well worth the $. There’s also a nice cafe, vending machine, and ice machine (which the Japanese call Ice Engines).
In 2019, I returned to Itabashi, 18 years after my initial sojurn, and stayed just 3 doors down from the room I stayed in during 2001.
This post is a memory of that journey, and about my new adventure in Itabashi in 2019.
The 2001 Photos + Trip
In 2001 digital cameras were still a new thing. All the photos in this section were taken on an Apple QuickTake 200 – which at the time was a hot camera. By today’s standards these are postage-stamp resolution, but they provide a good comparison with the 2019 trip.
In 2001 I hopped a flight from California to Tokyo. The city was overwhelming as was the 16-hour flight. Upon landing I took the NEX from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station, changed trains to the JR Chuo Line, changed again at Shinjuku Station, and took the Saikyo Line up to Itabashi. I will never forget the momemt I stepped off the train and onto the street below the station – the subdued feeling of calmness and relative silence for a city this large.
Overflying the Chiba peninsula into Narita, Summer 2001.
I headed straight to the hotel – APA Itabashi. I was amazed at the cleanliness + quality of both the city + hotel.
OriginalJR Itabashi Station – where I first stepped onto the street in Japan for the first time, now replaced.
City center square – just across from the station.This area and the station have been renovated in 2019 for the 2020 Summer Games.Note this view for later.
APA Hotel just to the west of the station.There is a small pedestrian tunnel on the right which leads to the other city square up to the north of the station.
Just to the east of APA Hotel. The small police box or Koban is the small white bldg. on the right. The small brown bldg. on the left has been torn down and replaced with a big new remodelled station in 2019.People in Japan don’t steal bikes and amazingly, all of these parked bikes were unlocked.Note this view for later below.
The Koban from the front. The old station is just to the right, and the city square is just behind the camera.APA Hotel is to the left.
One block south of the hotel. The yellow + red sign is the Daily Yamazaki – a 7-11 type convenience store chain in Japan. In Japan these stores are known as Conbini.
Diagonally from the Daily Yamazaki was this vending machine corner – still the same today.
APA Itabashi hotel lobby with cafe in 2001. Still the same today.
APA Itabashi room view in 2001 looking west. Today the small white apato bldg. has been torn down and replaced with a massive condo development which blocks nearly the entire view.The platform for JR Itabashi Station is just below, but the hotel has soundproof windows.Note this view for later, below.
APA Itabashi room. The rooms are tiny, but quite good, and very clean. They even have a tiny desk. Note the old-style CRT-type TV from 2001. In all APAs in Japan, these have now been replaced with HDTV’s.
The 2019 Photos + Trip
So in 2019 I began to make plans to return to Japan for an extended tour. I immediately began to think of returning to Itabashi as my 1st stop – just for fun – to see if it had changed. So I booked the same hotel for 2 weeks. This time I played the flight smart and stayed overnight in the Pacific Northwest in the US – which cuts the flight time down from 16 hours to a mere 10 – and makes it much easier. If you live in Vancouver you can do the same – although flight time will be 12 instead of 10 hours. 10 hours is doable. 16 is murder.
Upon landing at Narita and staying over in a local hotel for 2 nights to adjust to the time change, I once again booked a NEX train and shot right into Tokyo. I had not been back in 18 years.
Tokyo Station had changed and was now much more massive – by an order of several magnitudes. On top of that, all the train stations in Tokyo were being remodeled that fall in preparation for the 2020 Summer Games. I struggled my 3 bags through the station and its labyrinth tunnels to get the Chuo Line once again to Shinjuku.
Once in Shinjuku (whose station was also completely torn up), I bought a Suica prepaid IC card and headed for the Saikyo Line platform. After a few minutes’ wait, I boarded and rode the line back north – just as I had done 18 years earlier. Just as I had remembered, it was only a short hop.
The train stopped at Itabashi, brakes squealing, the doors opened, and I once again stepped off onto the platform. Time rewound decades as I vividly recalled my first step into Japan nearly 20 years earlier.
To my amazement, with the exception of a large white bldg. to the east of the station, nothing had changed. Nothing. The station + platform were almost unchanged. The back of the hotel, which faces the station was as if I had never left. I saw the long oval windows of the hotel restaurant where I had eaten my first breakfast in Japan the day after arriving the first time in 2001. Memories of that trip came flooding back – the unique smell of Japan, the low quiet rumble of this city of 30 million people, the cleanliness, the sky, the trains.
Return to Itabashi – as if by time machine – 18 years later.
I headed to the stairs – which had been replaced by a new escalator. It was here I learned the stations were being remodeled for the Olympics. Inside, the station had completely changed. Modern marble walls, new restrooms, a new conbini inside the station which had not existed before.
The new Itabashi Station was finally completed in June 2020– including a new row of shops on the right side.
South/East side of the new station. Entrance is on the left. Note the nice new pavement.In almost 20 years this is about the only thing that has changed in Itabashi.
I slapped my Suica card on the turnstile’s IC reader with a beep, and passed through. I went up the new exit ramp, around the corner of the new station, and onto the same street where I first set foot 18 years ago.
Nothing had changed.
The same small white police Koban, the same small town square + fountain, the shops + apartments, the same street.
First step out of Itabashi Station in 2019 – except for the large new station bldg. on the left, nothing had changed. The same Koban is visible up on the right. The pedestrian tunnel entrance is visible on the left.
The pedestrian tunnel leading to the north side of the station, bike parking, and the west city square.
Itabashi city square today – just outside the station.
Dental office directly across from the hotel. Except for a freshly painted railing, and new sidewalk pavement, nothing had changed.
I walked to the right 1 block and there was the hotel – exactly as I had left it a long time ago. The same dentist office right across the street, the same small Italian restaurant where I had first eaten pizza in Japan in 2001. The Daily Yamakaziconbini right across from it. Surely, I said to myself, the same vending machines can’t still be on the corner – where I had tasted my first Japanese soft drink – Pocari Sweat in 2001. I walked down the street – and there it was – the same vending machine corner. As if by time machine, I was back in Tokyo, after all this time, at the exact same spot I remembered from long ago. And everything was exactly the same.
With the exception of the new station bldg, Itabashi had been trapped in a time warp.
I headed into the hotel on the right. Same bike parking lot, same sign, same street. Once again, memories came flooding back. The large brass frame on the front door’s circular sliding glass doors, floor tiles, and 200¥ coin lockers – all the same. I headed up the ramped lobby, past the small coffee bar I remembered, and to the front desk. Not one thing in the lobby had changed. Even the same painting on the stairs leading up to the restaurant.
APA hotel today – even the bike parking fence is the same – in fact, it hasn’t even been painted.
I checked in. The staff were polite as usual. I got my room key, and dragged my bags toward the elevator. Past the Hoshizaki Ice Engine I had used 18 years before.
Into the elevator.
To my amazement, the hotel staff placed me in a room exactly 3 doors down from the very first room I had stayed in 18 years earlier. I didn’t request it – somehow it just turned out that way. Same floor, same wallpaper, same hotel – even the same side of the hall. Just 3 doors down.
4th floor in the hotel.
Just for fun, I walked to the end of the hall and to the door of the room I had stayed in during 2001. I looked out the same fire escape window at the first skyline view I had ever had of Tokyo. I just stood for a minute thinking in silence – 18 years – amazed that I was even here again, in the same spot.
My original room in 2001.
Looking south towards Ikebukuro. The groaning city in the gathering dark.
I went back down the hall to my room, unlocked the door and stepped inside. Everything here too, was just as I remembered it – except the view was now blocked by a huge new condo development. I opened the window and looked out into the humid late summer air. That familiar smell – the smell of Japan. The station platform below was just as I left it too.
Back in Japan for the first time in 18 years.
What a thrill.
In Part 2 I describe more about the town, the other side of the station, and things to do + see. Enjoy!
It turns out this is fairly easy – given a few caveats.
JR Itabashi Station, right – newly finished in 2020.
The main avenue that runs from Itabashi to Tokyo Dome City is called Hakusan-Dori. You can cruise all the way from northwest Tokyo down to Tokyo Dome and beyond on this one street. In fact, if you pass Tokyo Dome City heading east, you can take Hakusan-Dori all the way to the Imeperial Palace and Maruonuchi.
So, in photos we’ll show you roughly how to get there.
(As a side note, if you plan to come back this same way, note that as you pass Sugamo Station heading back north, you’ll come upon Jizo-Dori Shopping Street on the left. This is a must-see area, especially at dusk. Loads of great food and shops to explore. See our other post on Jizo-Dori Street).
Keep cruising for several miles. You’ll pass charming side streets, and a huge Mizuho Bank, which is, by chance, one block north of the world HQ of Pioneer Corporation, shown below.
The large white bldg. to the southeast is the world HQ of Pioneer Corp.
As the Fig Newton Man used to say in the 1970’s: here’s the tricky part:
Hakusan-Dorisplits shortly up ahead. The old street veers to the left and you don’t want to miss the split to the right, or you’ll be taken well out of your way. The split is shown below and when you come to it, cross at the light shown, then veer back left into a brand new bike lane:
Japan’s few bike lanes were designed to have a row of parking spaces to the right for deliveries to park in but lots of trucks just ignore them and park in the bike lane itself anyway – making it even more dangerous. Be extremely careful when passing vehicles parked in the bike lane. It’s easy for traffic not to see you since you’ll be where they don’t expect you to be – in the parking spaces to the right!
Keep cruising and shortly you’ll come to Bunkyo Civic Center. You can either turn right here, or go 1-2 more blocks + turn down the side alley next to the 1st Tokyo Dome City bldg (the big pink one on the right). In either case, your goal is to scope out the huge bike parking lot behind Bunkyo Civic Center. As a short side trip after parking your bike you might want to go check out the huge observation deck atop the city hall, shown below:
On most days – unless you arrive before dawn – the bike lot will most likely be full. In that case, just park your bike in the lot and put a lock on it. As with most places in Japan, the bike parking isn’t strictly enforced in the short-term. Just don’t leave your bike there overnight or for a few days – or else it might get towed. A Gorin Lock + bike lock will keep it safe. You generally don’t need to worry about bike theft in Japan.
Our $200 Chinese special parked in the lot – along with dozens of other bikes just sitting there, many without locks. Bike parking in the short-term isn’t strictly enforced in Japan.