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Shinjuku’s Top 10 Essential Spots & Secrets for Sightseeing like a Local!

Shinjuku’s Top 10 Essential Spots & Secrets for Sightseeing like a Local!

Update: 11 August 2018

Shinjuku, Tokyo’s paradise of amusement, entertainment, and neon lights. This vast and exciting urban jungle offers so many exciting things to discover and see, you might find yourself feeling a bit dizzy among the giant buildings, bright lights, and innumerable options on how to spend your time. Worry not, urban adventurer, as we’re here to help! From Kabukicho to Godzilla, let’s explore both essentials and Shinjuku’s little-known secrets!

1. Kabukicho – The Famously Infamous Night Life Paradise

1. Kabukicho – The Famously Infamous Night Life Paradise

Kabukicho is one of Asia’s most famous amusement and red-light districts. Despite its name, there actually is no Kabuki theater in the area! Shortly after World War II, there were plans to construct one but they got dropped due to a lack of funding. However, the name stuck and today, the kabuki-less Kabukicho is famous for restaurants, karaoke parlors, massage parlors, host and hostess clubs, and all sorts of both regular and raunchy amusement options. From game centers to the popular Robot Restaurant, a night in Kabukicho offers fun for everybody, no matter what floats your boat.

2. The Shinjuku TOHO Building - Say Hello to Godzilla!

2. The Shinjuku TOHO Building - Say Hello to Godzilla!
(C) TOHO CO., LTD.

The Shinjuku TOHO Building is likely to immediately catch your eye. One of the most prominent landmarks of the area, the enormous head Godzilla, Japan’s Number One Monster, dangerously glares down from above. This head is situated on the 8th floor of Hotel Gracery Shinjuku and can be admired from up close, entirely for free! Be careful, though, as several times a day, Godzilla will start spewing thick, white smoke and growl menacingly. Don’t be caught off guard or Godzilla might just start chomping on you!

If you need a break from all the sightseeing, we recommend enjoying a cup of coffee at Cafeterrasse Bon Jour, a café that offers an excellent view of the iconic monster.

  • Shinjuku Toho Building
    新宿東宝ビル
    • Address 1-19-1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600021, Japan

3. Toyama Park – Shinjuku’s Little Oasis of Calm and Respite

3. Toyama Park – Shinjuku’s Little Oasis of Calm and Respite
Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association

Next to its big brother, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, the relatively small Toyama Park is easily forgotten. Split in half by Meiji-Dori Street, the park actually is home to the tallest mountain in inner Tokyo. Called Mount Hakone, most Tokyoites rather call it a hill with its height of 44.6 meters. Nonetheless, it’s one of the city’s prime cherry blossom viewing spots and a lush oasis of calm nature throughout the year. Just follow up the paths and stairways, a matter of a few minutes, and you can tell everyone that you climbed Tokyo’s tallest mountain!

  • Toyama Park
    戸山公園
    • Address 3-5-1 Okubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1690072, Japan

4. Shinjuku Niagara Falls

4. Shinjuku Niagara Falls

No, it’s not a joke – Shinjuku really has its own version of the Niagara Falls. Smaller, of course. A lot smaller. Nonetheless, they’re a refreshing sight after touring the densely populated city. This little-known Shinjuku secret can be found at Shinjuku Chuo Park, right next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and its free observation floor. Especially during the summer, the Shinjuku Niagara Falls offer a calm and cool oasis and are definitely worth stopping by, especially if you’re headed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building anyways.

  • Shinjuku Central Park
    新宿中央公園
    • Address 2-11 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600023, Japan

5. Hanazono Shrine – Shinjuku’s Beautifully Traditional Side

5. Hanazono Shrine – Shinjuku’s Beautifully Traditional Side

Shinjuku might have a reputation as a neon-lit amusement paradise, but, as always in Japan, tradition and history aren’t far. You’ll find “traditional Japan” at Hanazono Shrine, just a stone’s throw away from Kabukicho and Golden Gai. Dedicated to Inari, the deity of fertility and success, it has always been a hot spot for locals to pray, wish, and ask for their business to prosper.

What a lot of people don’t know is that two other, smaller shrines can be found on Hanazono Shrine’s grounds, said to benefit those that seek to make it big in the entertainment industry, as well as happiness in marriage! In any case, Hanazono Shrine and its grounds are an almost enigmatically traditional spot in the wild, modern district of Shinjuku and definitely worth your time.

  • Hanazono Shrine
    花園神社
    • Address 5-17-3, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600022, Japan

6. Golden Gai – The Tiny Wonderland of Pubs and Bars

6. Golden Gai – The Tiny Wonderland of Pubs and Bars

Golden Gai, right next to Hanazono Shrine, is a block chock-full of microscopically tiny pubs and bars – not literally, of course. Decades ago, it prospered as a black market and, over time, has turned into a cozy, lively corner of Shinjuku that is home to over 200 establishments. Most of them can barely fit five guests at once. Bar-hopping at Golden Gai is an experience that can’t be compared to any other place, be it in Japan or abroad. It’s a favorite pastime of many a Tokyoite on the weekends and after work, and the little bars are generally warm and welcoming. Part of the Golden Gai experience also is to casually chat with the few people occupying a bar, making for interesting encounters and intriguing talks.

  • Shinjuku Golden Gai
    新宿ゴールデン街
    • Address 1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600021, Japan

7. The Lion Statue – Shinjuku Station’s Cat Version of Hachiko

7. The Lion Statue – Shinjuku Station’s Cat Version of Hachiko

Did you know that Shinjuku Station’s East exit is adorned by a lion statue? While not half as popular or famous, it basically is what Hachiko is for Shibuya, both mascot and popular meeting place. It was built by an organization called the “Tokyo Shinjuku Lions Club.” Notice the gap between the lion’s teeth? It’s there to put in coins to raise money for various fundraisers – the current project can always be confirmed at the notice board right next to the statue.

8. Sanagi Shinjuku – The Area’s Most Colorful Event Space

8. Sanagi Shinjuku – The Area’s Most Colorful Event Space

In the past year, the space under Shinjuku’s elevated train tracks has undergone some serious development. The result is a fantastical, positively chaotical place called Sanagi Shinjuku. Galleries, eateries, and an event space all coexist together here, offering art, cuisine from all corners of Asia, excellent Taiwanese beer varieties, and a wonderfully open and wild atmosphere. In a way, the colorful chaos at Sanagi is a perfect, fun reflection of Shinjuku itself – just stop by and enjoy yourself for a while!

  • Sanagi Shinjuku
    サナギ 新宿
    • Address 3-35-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600022, Japan

9. Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower – Shinjuku’s Weirdest Landmark?

9. Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower – Shinjuku’s Weirdest Landmark?

If you walk around Shinjuku, you’ll sooner or later wonder what that big, cocoon-like tower is supposed to be. It’s Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, built in 2008 to house a vocational school operated by the Nippon Educational Foundation. The weird yet stylish cocoon shape of this unique tower is meant to “envelop young people and inspire them” and has become one of the area’s most characteristic landmarks. While the school floors aren’t open to the public, its basement houses a wonderfully big bookstore and a relaxing café can be found on the ground floor.

  • Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower
    モード学園コクーンタワー
    • Address 1-7-3 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 1600023, Japan

10. Shinjuku Tourist Information – The Savior Spot Whenever You Get Lost

10. Shinjuku Tourist Information – The Savior Spot Whenever You Get Lost

Shinjuku can be overwhelming, so if you feel lost or simply want some guidance and tips on what to do and where to go, why not head over to the Shinjuku Tourist Information? It’s located at Shinjuku Station’s East Exit and is equipped with maps and flyers of the neighborhood and its stores, as well as regional information for all over Japan, providing everything you need for sightseeing and travel plans. Everything is available in 13 different languages, including a translation service using tablets, and the staff does its best to show what Japanese hospitality means, sparing no trouble to help you out with whatever you need. Whether you can’t find your next sightseeing goal or don’t know where to start at all, make sure to stop by!

  • Shinjuku Tourist Information
    • Address 3-37-2, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0022
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Shinjuku Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Chuo Main Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line / Toei Shinjuku Line / Toei Oedo Line / Keio Line / Keio New Line / Odakyu Odawara Line)
      1 minute on foot

Written by: Takamasa Yamashita

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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