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Bustling Shinjuku, the inn district that never sleeps

by Satoko Kawasaki

Staff Photographer

Tokyo’s Shinjuku district never goes to sleep.

Centered around a gigantic complex of railway terminals used by a mind-boggling 3.5 million commuters daily, Shinjuku has everything a megalopolis needs — world-class skyscrapers, shopping and night-time entertainment spots.

Shinjuku traces its roots back 300 years to the Edo Period, when it started out as a collection of inns where people traveling along Koshu Kaido, the old road linking the capital with the prefectures to the west, could rest for the night.

When Tokyo was flattened by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, Shinjuku suffered far less damage than the Ginza and Asakusa districts downtown. This caused people to move in, accelerating its development and prosperity.

Today’s Shinjuku comprises three distinct areas centered on the train station.

The west side is marked by skyscrapers, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and top-notch hotels, like the Park Hyatt and the Hilton.

The east side is a huge shopping area where annual sales top ¥500 billion, besting all other shopping areas in the nation. There are also traditional “rakugo” (comic storytelling) theaters, and cinema complexes.

After the sun goes down, the Kabukicho entertainment district comes to life with salarymen and other pleasure-seekers. Some 3,000 bars, restaurants and adult entertainment establishments, both legal and not, keep the district throbbing until dawn and beyond.

Those who tire of the hustle and bustle of the big city can seek refuge in Shinjuku Gyoen, a blend of French, English and traditional Japanese gardens on the southeast side of the station. Formerly an Edo Period daimyo property, it was transformed after the war and is now one of the country’s most important gardens.

This year is the 129th since Shinjuku Station began in its Meiji Era transformation. Over a century later, Shinjuku continues to expand, drawing people — and their money — to it.

This section, appearing on the first Monday of each month, offers a snapshot view of areas that may interest tourists.