A quiet morning at Animate Ikebukuro.
By now, geeks around the globe are cognizant of Akihabara.Once Tokyo’s post-war electronics haven, the neighborhood has grown into a modern mecca for anime fans. As its popularity has swelled, so have the crowds.However, that hasn’t quite been the case with Tokyo’s other geek neighborhood, Ikebukuro. Designated as a haven for female fans specifically, tourists may consider it too niche for general geek tastes. After my own visit, however, I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here are some of the reasons I think it’s worth checking out Ikebukuro:
During my most recent trip to Tokyo, I visited both Akihabara and Ikebukuro on consecutive Sundays. One was far less busy than the other. For a district that offers the commercial opportunities of trendy Shinjuku and nerdy Akihabara in one, Ikebukuro is still low-key.
Just a few blocks from the train station, there are multiple plazas and parks that provide shady respite separate from the urban sprawl. Unlike Akihabara, Ikebukuro provides an escape from its bustling shopping centers and gaming arcades. I liked Naka Ikebukuro Park, which features one of the area’s most prominent owl statues—since fukuro means owl, there are plenty of puns on the anime that partially rhymes with that neighborhood.
Even in the most packed anime goods shops, there was a notable difference in the clientele, too—women and girls everywhere. With female fans, you can often determine their geeky interests through the embellishments on their purses, sometimes called itabags (itai means painful, and connotes the obsessive nature of the decorations), which was fun to do. You can even buy your own itabag, a backpack or messenger bag with clear panels ready to be filled with pins denoting your favorite characters, at many Ikebukuro anime shops.
What makes Ikebukuro associated so strongly with female fans in particular is a commercial stretch nicknamed Otome (maiden) Road. Here you can find a row of anime goods shops targeted at women, and specifically at women who like cute anime boys.
I’d heard so much about Otome Road, that I never realized the more standard geek shops have locations in Ikebukuro, too. There’s an Animate with manga, music, and character goods from all the latest airing shows—and a few classics like Revolutionary Girl Utena, too. There’s a Mandarake ephemera store, and since it’s in Ikebukuro, it is less picked over than the Akiba branch. There were several specialty stores devoted specifically to cosplay or video games.
Additionally, the high-rise department stores in Ikebukuro are decidedly geeky. I made a point of visiting the seventh floor of the Yamada Department Store, which is exclusively dedicated to model kits from the Gundam anime franchise. More well-known is the Sunshine City shopping complex and its nerd-friendly features.
Sunshine City Attractions
Sunshine City is packed with specialty stores. There’s a shop dedicated to Disney merchandise and they get even more specific: like, a shop that’s nothing but Snoopy. But the store that is of most interest to international geeks is the Pokémon Center. It’s the largest Pokémon specialty store in Tokyo, featuring every possible iteration of Pikachu, exclusive swag you can’t get anywhere else, and (this was my favorite) Ditto versions of at least twenty Pokémon.
There is also a theme park specifically for fans of Shonen Jump, one of the most popular manga magazines in Japan. J-World Tokyo is an attraction that reminds me of Disneyland except instead of references to Mickey Mouse, you get Luffy from One Piece. There was a virtual Dragon Ball roller coaster, carnival games (I played one based on Hunter x Hunter where you try to toss “Hisoka’s” cards into a slot), dining opportunities and plenty of photo ops based on everything from Kuroko’s Basketball to The Prince of Tennis.
Lodging and Dining
Since Ikebukuro doesn’t have the name appeal of Akihabara, it was also considerably cheaper (well, for Tokyo, at least). I stayed a three-minute walk from Ikebukuro station for $80 a night at Centurion Hotel Ikebukuro—adequate for a chain hotel, with great English-language customer service. The highlight of my stay was free breakfast at Denny’s. Denny’s is completely different in Japan, with both traditional Japanese and Western food options (sort of. We don’t usually have salad as a side dish to our morning pancakes) and an all you can drink “drink bar.”
Ikebukuro is full of “Western” dining options, though I use Western lightly here since it’s mostly nothing I’ve seen outside of Japan. There are plenty of Starbucks-reminiscent cafes where you can get a latte or a croissant. There’s Pepper Lunch, a diner that specializes in hamburg steak (like hamburgers, minus the bun) and sizzling beef of all styles. If you’re feeling fancy, there are several butler cafes, Ikebukuro’s answer to Akihabara’s maid cafes, in which handsome men—or sometimes, handsome women in drag—wait on your every need.
Ikebukuro has everything a geek tourist could want, just at a lower decibel than Akihabara offers. For a less overwhelming fandom experience, it’s worth checking out.
source -forbes/lauren orsini