Just 17 minutes by train from Tokyo and 11 minutes from Shibuya is Ikebukuro, a massive transportation hub. It’s super convenient to get to and full of department stores, electronics megastores, hotels, and more—so it’s been attracting a lot of overseas visitors in recent years as well.
But Ikebukuro has another side to it, too. This part of town is actually in the process of transforming into a hub of Japanese creative culture—a center for anime, manga, theater, art, and more. We walked around the area with BiBi and Karl, two professional models who live in Japan.
Start by taking a stroll through the pop culture area east of the station: Harevutai and Naka-Ikebukuro Park
The Ikebukuro area can be roughly divided into an east side and a west side, with JR Station running through the middle. It’s the east side that’s lined with shops related to pop culture. There’s the main location of a huge anime-themed retailer called Animate Ikebukuro as well as a collection of shops that sell anime goods, dojinshi fanzines, and more. On November 1, a futuristic live performance venue called Harevutai will open in east Ikebukuro as well.
The Harevutai theater is located inside a commercial complex called Hareza Ikebukuro that will have its grand opening in summer 2020. The theater is scheduled to open ahead of that in November 2019.
The theater can hold cutting-edge 2.5D concerts and live performances as stage actors interact with 3D films through a huge transparent screen or a 4K LED display, which are installed on the stage.
There are also plans to host live performances by YouTubers and Vtubers, as well as fashion shows by cosplayers. The theater is also equipped with live streaming capabilities so that performances can be shown all over the world. It’s likely to become the hotbed of new pop culture in Japan.
Karl: Coming to Harevutai reminds me just how technologically advanced Japan is. This is an experience you probably can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Naka-Ikebukuro Park, which is located just in front of Harevutai, is a new spot that just reopened in fall of 2019. In addition to serving as a relaxing spot for pop culture fans coming to Harevutai, there are also plans to open an anime café, hold cosplay events, and more.
Ride a unique minibus and relax in the park with the IKEBUS and Minami-Ikebukuro Park
The IKEBUS is a great way to get around Ikebukuro if you want to take your time exploring the area. It’s a tiny, bright-red electric bus that links all the major hotspots of Ikebukuro, including Hareza Ikebukuro, Minami-Ikebukuro Park, Sunshine City, and Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park.
BiBi: The headlights have the word IKEBUS made to look like eyelashes—it’s so cute! It also has ten tires that all move and remind me of Catbus from Miyazaki’s animated film My Neighbor Totoro.
The bus is designed like something right out of a fairytale, and is the work of designer Eiji Mitooka. Each bus has a different interior design, with each seat is covered in a different textile, for example. Our two hosts were super excited about it.
The bus has a maximum speed of 19 kmh, which gives you a fresh take on the sights in Ikebukuro. The view of the city from the bus windows gradually shifts before your eyes, creating the relaxing feeling of taking your time to soak it all in. After a nice ride, we finally ended up at Minami-Ikebukuro Park. Built in 2016, it is an urban oasis covered with a beautiful lawn area. It’s a favorite stop for locals and overseas visitors alike. Karl and BiBi laid in the grass and looked up at the blue sky.
BiBi: Japanese parks are a little small compared to European parks, but they’re beautifully maintained and great for relaxing. This one’s not that far from the station, and it makes the perfect place for a picnic.
Racines Farm to Park, which is located in the park, is a café run by Racines, an Ikebukuro restaurant known for its long lines. Our companions ordered an iced coffee and a lemonade to go. Their time in the city was certainly exciting and filled with the energy of lots of people moving through, but it was also a time to relax. The fact that you can experience both intermingling in Ikebukuro is certainly one of the area’s charms.
Travel through an art tunnel and end up at a bar: WEROAD and HANABAR
For our last stop, we headed to the western side of Ikebukuro Station. There are walkways through the Ikebukuro Station building that will take you between its eastern and western sides, but it’s more fun to take the colorful underground WEROAD. This walkway was built in 1925, so it’s nearly 100 years old. In 2019, artist Shiho Ueda took charge of fully renovating it. The celling is painted in pastel colors for the entire 77-meter length of the walkway, and the murals extend down to the walls as well.
Ueda asked local residents to tell her about their favorite memories and stories associated with the WEROAD. She got ideas from them, and then layered on the bright colors.
BiBi: The underground walkways in Europe are almost all dirty, scary places covered in graffiti, but this feels safe enough that I could walk through it alone and not worry. The bright colors and the fact that it is connected to the memories and history of the locals makes it really unique.
Karl: Being in this narrow, colorful space makes me feel like I’m in a womb. It feels like you’re being wrapped up in all the pretty colors.
After passing through the WEROAD, the two arrive at the western part of the station. They glance over at the major renovation construction going on at Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park as they keep walking. Soon, their last stop of the day comes into view: HANABAR.
Nana Yui is a dried flower artist who is married to the owner, Daiki Yui—and she’s filled the interior with lovely dried flower arrangements to create a cozy space filled with pleasant aromas. The bar is frequented by everyone from local students and residents to foreigners. That’s one reason you can see thousands of posts if you search for #hanabar in Instagram. There are flower petals incorporated in both the food and drink items, which gives them a fleeting beauty that makes it impossible to put the camera away.
BiBi: The smell in here is so lovely, and the space feels as comfortable as being in my own home. The cocktails are sweet, easy-drinking, and scattered with flowers. It’s such a treat to be here.
Karl: The interior has a European feel, but the cozy comfort of the space is all Japanese. Unlike most Japanese bars, it doesn’t allow smoking, which is wonderful because you can focus on enjoying the smell of the flowers and the taste of the cocktails.
Ikebukuro is a town of delights—from its creative people and places to its eco-friendly parks and chilled-out buses. It’s a great place to experience both excitement and relaxation, no matter where in the area you go.
Address: 1-19-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Getting there: About a four-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (all lines)
Runs: 10:00 AM–8:00 PM
Fare: Single ride ¥200 (age 13+)/¥100 (age 6–12), three-hour pass ¥300 (age 13+)/¥100 (age 6–12), all-day pass ¥500 (age 13+)/¥250 (age 6–12), two-day pass ¥800 (age 13+)/¥400 (age 6–12) Note: Kids 5 and under ride free
Minami-Ikebukuro Park / Racines FARM to PARK
Address: 2-22-1 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Getting there: About a five-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (all lines)
Address: Near the north exit of Ikebukuro Station
Getting there: About a two-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (all lines)
Address: 3-30-6 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Getting there: About a six-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (all lines)