If Higashikurume is our community, Ikebukuro is our ‘hood. The train line that runs through our city drops us off in the northern Tokyo neighborhood of the Toshima ward that has a reputation for being a little on the rough side. Over a century ago, Ikebukuro, or Sugamo as it was known back then (Sugamo is now the name of another neighborhood to the south that was divided by Ikebukuro in hopes of developing Ikebukuro into more of a tourist attraction), was home to foreign laborers, a fact that seems to still live on in the number of Chinese immigrants living in the neighborhood. Our friend John said he has been into shops where the shopkeepers don’t speak any Japanese, only Chinese. Yokohama may be known for its Chinatown, but parts of Ikebukuro makes Yokohama Chinatown look more like Disneyland.
Ikebukuro the train station is the second busiest train station in the world, just behind nearby Shinjuku station. Though I must say while Shinjuku station seems cavernous and confusing, Ikebukuro is easier to navigate. It is also home to the flagship Tobu and Seibu department stores, very upscale stores local to Tokyo.
Ikebukuro has a huge food district on the northwest side of the station and a huge shopping district on the east side. Tokyoites might turn up their noses at Ikebukuro because of its rough exterior and the fact that people who live in neighboring Saitama frequent the area (I suppose one might liken it to San Franciscans attitudes toward those from the East Bay back in Northern California). But we live in Saitama and we’re proud of it!
Ikebukuro has a good number of affordable hotels and is a great alternative to staying around the Shinjuku area as the station is nearly as convenient for using subway and trains to get you throughout the rest of the city. The Yamanote and Oedo lines, the lines that circle the city, both have stops in Ikebukuro.
Anyway, our city has everything we need, but if we want to sample a 7 story electronics store or eat a more upscale meal, Ikebukuro is where we end up. Our most frequent destination is Sunshine City, a huge mall that is also home to Toys R Us, which was, until a few years ago, a must visit shop on our visits to Tokyo.
Much of Ikebukuro’s history and structure I am still learning. To understand a city, you have to understand many different aspects of each neighborhood and since Ikebukuro is the closest major neighborhood to our home (and borders the neighborhood of the church we are attending), it is one of the areas I will be studying.