Shinjuku is one of the most famous places in Tokyo. But other than its distinction as the busiest station in the world, Shinjuku's merits as a destination have been underemphasized. This is unfair, as it is a place worthy of its fame.
Twelve separate lines run through Shinjuku Station, including the JR Yamanote Line.
Shinjuku is at nine o'clock on the JR Yamanote (loop) Line, on the fashionable western side of the city (alongside Shibuya, Yoyogi and Harajuku). Other lines, above and below ground, pass through Shinjuku and it is also a major stop for highway buses feeding Tokyo from the rest of Japan.
Shinjuku Station is officially the busiest transport hub in the world. When it was registered by Guinness World Records in 2007, an average 3.64 million people per day used Shinjuku Station.
With 36 platforms, over 200 exits, and another 17 platforms in five directly connected stations that can be accessed through hallways without ever surfacing outside, it is labyrinthine. Never be so casual as to suggest meeting someone "outside Shinjuku Station": JR, Keio, Odakyu, Toei, Tokyo Metro and Seibu all have stations within the Shinjuku Station complex, which also boasts underground malls, restaurants and cafes. Shinjuku is defined by its station.
As a result of all this human traffic, Shinjuku caters to all tastes and desires.
Major department stores including Isetan, Takashimaya, Keio and Odakyu have flagship stores in Shinjuku. Kinokuniya Bookstore, Tokyu Hands, Bic Camera, Yodobashi and Labi all have a huge presence right in front of the station.
There are thousands of stores in the immediate vicinity, and if you stroll in any direction from the station there are thousands more shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and movie theaters. Shinjuku has everything you want and much you didn't know you needed.
Kabukicho is where the party happens. Often called the town that doesn't sleep, more accurately, it passes out for a couple of hours late morning.
Despite its sometimes sleazy reputation, it is a must-see destination for young people and foreign visitors. With over 4,000 bars, restaurants, clubs and convenience stores, there is a lot to choose from in such a small area. Oddities like the Robot Restaurant, Godzilla, the Samurai Museum and Thermae-Yu have made it an attraction. Golden Gai, Hanazono Jinja and even Koreatown keep people coming back for more.
Shinjuku is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building (Tocho), which dominates the skyline. The buildings of Tocho don't just stand, they strut. Even among the rest of the towers of south Shinjuku, Tocho stands tall. The views from the free observation decks are stunning. And they stay open until 11:00 p.m.
Amid the steel, concrete and chaos, with millions of people shuffling through each day, Shinjuku Gyoen garden is almost a dreamlike aberration. It's a well-kept secret and outside of cherry blossom season and the turning of the leaves in fall, it is a tranquil escape from the neon and noise.
Emperor Hirohito, who was the last person in the imperial family to have experienced the garden as a "personal" garden, loved Gyoen so much that his funeral was held in a special ceremony here.
The many flowers, carefully manicured trees, the classic Japanese Garden, pagodas and Taiwanese Pavilion, the verdant greenhouse, as well as the balancing of French formal and British landscape styles, all are designed to convey joy and peace to stressed urbanites.