FIVE unforgettable experiences during our Yamagata Minshuku stay!

minshuku-irori-yamagata-prefecture-stay
by Chew Yan Qiao
My colleague and I were blessed with the opportunity to stay at a minshuku at Iide town in Yamagata Prefecture. Minshuku are Japanese-style “bed and breakfast” lodgings. They are usually family run, offer Japanese style rooms, and often include one or two meals as part of the package price. Having thoroughly enjoyed my trip, I would like to share my experience with fellow travelers looking for new adventures!

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1. Quiet, peaceful environment & homely atmosphere

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Arriving at our minshuku, we found that it was surrounded by mountains and a vast number of trees. The calming sound of water running through the river and sight of plantations had us feeling like we were transported to the inaka (countryside). It was truly a beautiful sight that we are not able to see in big cities.

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japanese-minshuku-flowers-countryside-japan

The moment we stepped into the house, it gave off a homely and heartwarming vibe which radiated from every corner. The traditional tatami-style house was designed with wood structures and a pit in the middle where we could warm ourselves in the winter or just gather round to talk.

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irori-central-hearth-in-traditional-japanese-minshuku

Our okami san (女将さん, lady owner), Nobuko san was an 81-year-old lady who has stayed her entire life in this small town.
She started her minshuku business 10 years ago for Japanese who were interested in staying in the countryside to relax from their hectic work life and most importantly, she loves listening to stories from all walks of life. As night fell, we prepared our own futon to sleep. I was able to hear the calming sound of the river at the back of the house and slept soundly throughout the night.

Hands on activities

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We were supposed to experience vegetable farming or experience picking vegetable at the back of the mountains, but because of inconsistent rainfall coupled with the change of season, the ground was too muddy and difficult to move around. We were given another opportunity for some hands-on — Making wagashi (和菓子, traditional Japanese confectionaries)!

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anko-filled-wagashi-in-yamagata

The dessert we were making was sasadango (笹団子), a wagashi from Niigata prefecture. It is filled with anko (アンコ, red bean paste) covered with a dough and wrapped with bamboo leaves. It was also my first time to make wagashi. Although it was difficult to get the fillings in into the wrapping leaves, I had a lot of fun making it. If I were to visit again, I would want to try picking some fresh vegetables from the mountains.

Enjoying sasadango
Enjoying sasadango

Food

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It was sooooo good. Really. I am not joking.
All of our meals were made by Nobuko san, and every single dish was prepared beautifully and believe me, just looking at it already builds up your appetite to devour all the good stuff. With such delicate arrangement and attention to the detail in every dish that was to be presented to the guest, I can only describe her as a top notch service provider. Her omotenashi (sense of hospitality) is simply killer! One of her favorite ingredient to use was sansai (山菜, mountain vegetable). It can be found around the mountains and it needs special preparation when cooking. “Only the natives know” Nobuko san jokingly told us.

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Since I have never tried these type of vegetables, it was really exciting to taste these new veggies. There was the “just-picked” kind of earthy taste with a nice crunch at the end, and it goes really well with the Japanese rice.

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As you can see from the pictures, we were treated to tempura, beef stew, sashimi as well as pickles and fruits, all made with care by Nobuko san. The explosive tastes harmonized incredibly well and at the end of the meal, I felt super well fed and satisfied.
P.S. The rice used was from Yamagata Prefecture and is known as tsuyahime (つや姫). With the natural lighting acting as a backlight, the rice was literally sparkling with warm steam and practically begging me to eat it!

4. Nobuko san’s stories
のぶこさんの物語

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We were fortunate to hear many of Nobuko san’s life stories such as how different it is living in the place now compared to 50 years ago, and about her Europe trip with her friends when she was 70 years old. We were lucky to have a translator next to us to share what Nobuko san said. I think even if you don’t understand the language, body language speaks for itself, and simply listening to her speak was extremely enjoyable.

5. An experience that you can never get in big cities

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The whole home stay experience in a minshuku was really fun and exciting. World travelers will definitely love to have this in their list when traveling to Japan.From the warm environment, authentic Japanese meals to the experience of making wagashi, the hospitality that I received filled my heart with warmth. I really enjoyed being able to travel and witness another culture so similar yet so different at the same time. It is truly amazing how traveling can bring us closer to one another, no matter our backgrounds and history.

農家民宿 いろり
IRORI MINSHUKU

Address: 〒999-0436 Iide Town Iwakura, Nishiokitama-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
URL: iide-irori.com
Price: 1 Night 2 meals, 6,800 J
For reservation: [email protected] OR www.iikanjini.com/tomaru/

 

Suikawari: Blindfolded watermelon smashing

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Summer Tradition: Suikawari

The quintessential Japanese beach activity. Similar to the Mexican piñata, suikawari involves blindfolded players trying to smash open a watermelon guided by the shouts of their friends. Usually, a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground. The first person to split the rotund fruit using a bokutou (木刀, wooden sword) or baseball bat is the winner of the game.

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Watermelon splitting on the beach

If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the “Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)” established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.

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Click here to learn more about Japanese traditions related to watermelon.

Explore the unspoiled nature and unique culture of Yanaizu town

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Panoramic Tadami line near Yanaizu Town

Far-removed from the Tokyo lifestyle, the Yanaizu area in Fukushima prefecture is a little-known place filled with unforgettable sights and untapped Japanese cultural history. Even the trip there is something straight out of a Ghibli movie, the type of place where civilization feels like a far-away dream, and reality is something greener and more mysterious. From the highway, miles of uninterrupted forests can be seen, and far in the distance, ice-capped mountains still persevere against the hot summer heat. There’s an untouched wildness impossible to ignore, and Fukushima’s initial charm appears to be exactly that —its pure unspoiled nature.

Lovers of nature and animals can enjoy more than just hopes of sighting wildlife; in fact, even the folklore pays homage to it. References to the legend of Akabeko, the red-haired cow, can be seen everywhere in the town of Yanaizu. The legend claims that in 1611 the Aizu region was hit by a huge earthquake which greatly damaged the area and resulted in many deaths. Upstream villages donated materials for reconstruction, which was carried on the backs of normal, black cows. However, suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, red-haired cows arrived and assisted with carrying the load, only to disappear immediately after. Since then, the area has honored these cows who helped them in a time of great need. Akabeko’s legacy can be seen throughout town, as gift stores offer various red-cow themed products. (In fact, even one of the head town officials features Akabeko on his business card).

Akabeko red cow
Legendary Akabeko cow

However, the cows are a lot more than a souvenir, ancient temples feature them as well. Fukuman Kokuzo Bosatsu Enzo-ji temple is one such place. One of Japan’s three most famous Kokuzo Bosatsu temples, established over 1200 years ago, mainly mirrors the average Japanese temple in style and design, yet offers its own interesting aspects, including a deep appreciation for Akabeko.

Fukuman Kokuzo Enzoji Temple
Fukuman Kokuzo Enzoji Temple
Buddhist Temple / Yaneizu, Fukushima
The temple’s bell

At this temple, in addition to traditional Buddhist buildings, statues of cows dot the courtyard, which also boasts a stunning hillside view of the nearby bridges and a river.

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Cow statue in Yaneizu area

The Tamadi River is a presence in this area that cannot be ignored, stretching leisurely throughout the town and trailing along the mountains, covered by striking red bridges which cut sharp against the landscape and even feature a sightseeing train.

Takiya River / Fukushima
the Takiya River stretches throughtout Yanaizu town

The area’s specialty dishes are abundant, full of flavor, and undeniably Japanese, making good use of hearty ingredients such as meat and soba for a maximum impact. One such dish is Aizu Yanaizu sauce cutlet rice bowl, a variety of Katsudon, a well-known staple on any Japanese menu; however, this dish is thicker and juicier than its counterparts found elsewhere. This particular meal has thick cuts saturated by the signature sauce and a savory aftertaste, as well as a layer of egg between the meat and rice.

Katsudon in Yaneizu Fukushima
Katsudon set from Yaneizu

Soba is also a specialty in the Fukushima region; Hakase soba is made entirely from buckwheat raised in the nutrient dense Mt. Hakase area. If just eating soba isn’t enough for you, the local tourist center offers workshops instructing travelers on how to make their own handmade soba.

Handmade soba
Handmade soba
Making soba
Making soba

Soba isn’t the only cultural activity featured in Yanaizu; visitors can also make Awa Manju, a sweet and savory dessert made with sweet bean paste wrapped in millet dough. The workshop is offered at the building directly opposite the visitor’s center.

 

Yaneizu awamanjou
Making Awa Manju

 

Awa Manju
Awa Manju

Other craft making workshops offered in the town include making woven wooden trinkets as a memory of the time spent in Fukushima. When wet, the wood can be manipulated and folded into a variety of intricate designs, strengthening as it dries, and is a traditional craft from the area. The Saito Kiyoshi Art Museum also offers a respite from nature and traditional Japanese lifestyle, featuring modern art in a building whose architecture is just as beautiful as the paintings inside.

Saitokiyoshi Museum
Saito Kiyoshi Museum

Naturally, the onsen in the area also possess a traditional Japanese flavor, having existed for over 1300 years. In fact, it seems to be largely unchanged since that era. Instead of a well-manicured, recently constructed onsen, the Nishiyama Onsen area in Yanaizu town offers an authentic and isolated mountain retreat far away from civilization with lots of character and a large assortment of both indoor and outdoor baths. In fact, lots of them feature a stunning view of nature.

One of the many onsen in Yanaizu town in Fukushima
One of the many onsen in Yanaizu town in Fukushima

The Yanaizu town is still very much a place shrouded in intrigue, isolated deep in the mountains in the north of Japan’s main island, where animals roam the forests freely and the sight of the river feels like a constant presence no matter where you are in Yanaizu. It’s a place of untouched serenity and wilderness, yet also offers cultural experiences. It’s a place of mystery —a mystery that can only be solved by visiting it.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Taylor Bond
Taylor Bond is a freelance writer and photographer. By day, she writes, but by night, she visits as many tabehodai restaurants as she can find. Despite what her visa says, her true ambition in Japan is to become a professional eater.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

 

The owl statues of Ikebukuro

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Over 2.5 million people pass through Ikebukuro Station daily, making it the second busiest station in Tokyo after Shinjuku Station. While Ikebukuro is an important transportation hub, many people stop by simply to enjoy the shopping or anime (cartoon) subculture, which even rivals Akihabara, the famous pop-culture district in Tokyo. For this issue, we decided to explore the area for ourselves and see what it had to offer. Walking through the streets, we found Ikebukuro’s unique combination of elements: a strong-knit modern community blended with a rich historical, art and cultural scene. Join us as we unlock the undiscovered treasures of Ikebukuro!

The owls of Ikebukuro ikefukuro いけふくろ

Thought to bring good luck, the owl has been a community symbol in Ikebukuro since just after WWII, hence the countless sightings of owl-themed items throughout the streets. Start your Ikebukuro owl tour at Ikefukuro! Located in the basement of JR Ikebukuro Station, this owl statue (erected in 1987) has become a famous meet-up spot. The name is a play on words: “Ikebukuro” combined with fukuro (owl in Japanese). The best way to find Ikefukuro is by exiting JR’s Central Gate 2 and turning right.

Mitake Shrine 御嶽神社

mitake shrine in ikebukuro owls

Nested in a quiet, residential neighborhood, this shrine will provide an authentic experience of religion and community in Japan. If you go early, you can see residents stopping by before starting their day to say a prayer. In the spirit of Ikebukuro’s community are two statues of owl families and omamori (good luck charms) in the shape of or designed with owls.

owls statue in ikebukuro

mitake shrine red torii owl ikebukuro

In the spirit of Ikebukuro’s community are two statues of owl families and omamori (good luck charms) in the shape of or designed with owls.

omamori charms ikebukuro owls mitaka shrine
owl charm ikebukuro
Hours: Open 24/7 year-round
Address: 3-51-2 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Miharado 三原堂

In business since 1937, this traditional Japanese confectionary shop features a café for customers to relax and savor their top-notch offerings, all made with Japan’s f inest ingredients. Don’t miss the owl-shaped monaka (wafer sandwich with red bean filling), which was created to appeal to a younger generation who tended to see traditional confectionary as being only for older people.
Owl-shaped confection
Owl-shaped confection
Hours: 11am – 9pm
Address: 1F 1-6-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit the Hotel Metropolitan’s website here.

Ikefukuro café いけふくろうカフェ

foreigner visitor tourist owl cafe ikebukuro
cute owls in ikebukuro owl cafe tokyo

For animal lovers, this up-close interaction with owls is an hour of heaven! With over 30 birds out of their cages at a time, you will meet owls you have never laid eyes on before. Take advantage of the knowledgeable and Englishfriendly staff to learn more about these majestic birds of prey. Your heart is bound to melt as you pet the necks of these fascinating, friendly creatures!

Hours: 1pm – 7pm (weekdays), 12pm – 6pm (weekends)
*To ensure a spot, make reservation by phone or email.
Admission: 1,500 yen (weekdays), 1,600 yen (weekends)
*Includes a bottle of water
Address: Sakimoto Bldg. 6F, 1-17-1 Minamiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit Ikefukuro Cafe’s website here.

Stroll through Ikebukuro’s Picturesque District

ikebukuro old town shop

Only a 15-minute walk separates you from the bustling inner city of Ikebukuro and its nostalgic old town, Zoshigaya. Wander through the myriad alleys and discover the wonder of secluded spots, all of which look like illustrations lifted from a picture book.

Tabi-Neko Zakka shop 旅猫雑貨店

Find the perfect souvenir

souvenir shop in ikebuuro old town

This adorable shop is the perfect place to buy authentic Japanese souvenirs for people back home! In line with the store’s slogan, “Let’s enjoy Japanese lifestyle,” the owner collects popular traditional toys and fun general goods that are certain to brighten your day. One of its hottest sellers are kamifusen (Japanese paper balloons), which come in different shapes/characters. For cat lovers, this is the perfect place to find Japanese feline-themed items!

Hours: 12pm – 7pm weekdays, 11am – 6pm weekends and national holidays Closed: Mon (opened if a national holiday) & Tue
Address: 2-22-17 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Chiasma Coffee キアズマ珈琲

Enjoy your coffee in peace

charisma cafe ikebukuro

From the decor to the jazz playing in the background, this coffee shop provides a tranquil ambiance making it the perfect spot to relax. Inspired by his grandfather’s coffee shop, the owner has created a vintage-like space with a modern touch. With beans that have been carefully selected and roasted in-house, the result is a cup of top-quality drip coffee. To go with your coffee, indulge in some mouth-watering homemade cakes!

cafe charisma owl mug ikebukuro tokyo
cafe charisma ikebukuro sandwhich
Hours: 10:30am-7pm Closed: Wed
Address: 3-19-5 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Kishimojin-do Temple 鬼子母神堂

Temple with several historical landmarks

temple in zoshigaya

The greenery surrounding Kishimojin-do leaves you wondering if you are still in Tokyo! Famous for enshrining Kishimojin, goddess of child care, many have visited to pray for the safe birth and growth of their children. Ironically, Kishimojin was originally an evil goddess who ate children, but after her son was hidden away, she reformed and became the deity she is today. This is why the name of the temple includes the kanji character for demon ( 鬼), but without an extra stroke to symbolize the removal of her horns.

statue demon Kishimojin-do Temple
owls at Kishimojin-do Temple
Address: 3-15-20 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Toden Arakawa Line 都電荒川線

Take a trolley ride through charming Tokyo

Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In addition to walking, there is no better way to enjoy Ikebukuro’s old town than with a ride on the Toei Streetcar (Toden) Arakawa Line. With Tokyo’s advanced train system, this one-and-only remaining streetcar service is a hidden gem; the oldest section still operating today opened in 1913. Enjoy the charming scenery as you ride through neighborhoods of both historical and cultural importance.

URL: visit Toden Arakawa Line’s website here.

Taste of Mt. Fuji: a short hiking adventure

View from the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko

You don’t need to climb all the way to the top of Mt. Fuji to experience the beautiful alpine nature and breathtaking landscapes that Japan’s tallest peak has to offer.

The iconic volcano is easily accessible with the Fuji Five Lakes Sightseeing Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), which departs from Kawaguchiko Station and takes visitors through a lush forest and all the way up to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, which is the highest point on the mountain that is reachable by car and where most hikers start their ascent to the top.

The area features the Komitake Shrine, where a special festival is held annually at the start of the climbing season on July 1st. Visitors can also find the Unjo-kaku tourist facility, the perfect place to purchase souvenirs and have a heartwarming meal. Holders of a “Highlights Fujisan-Go” ticket, can get 10% off their meals here.

From there, visitors can either start the long ascent to the top or enjoy a short hike to Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station and admire the changing landscape as trees begin to thin. You can also get glimpses of Lake Yamanakako as well as a great variety of flowers. It is an easy and beautiful hike, perfect for a short excursion to Mt. Fuji with friends or family.

Three of our WAttention Ninja had the opportunity to join the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course) and hike from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station to the 6th Station. This is what they had to say about their trip.

Ivonne Pereyra

Our adventure began with a train ride from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station. It was a long ride, but my friends and the beautiful landscape made it so much more enjoyable. At Kawaguchiko Station, signs in English made it easy for us to find our way to join the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), which took us all the way to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. When we arrived, it was a littler cooler than I expected because of the higher altitude, but I had come prepared! A light jacket was more than enough for the occasion. We then hiked up to the 6th Station, which was a little tiring but also worth the effort with the beautiful scenery along the way. After returning to the 5th Station, we bought souvenirs and soaked up the breathtaking landscape surrounding us. Before we knew it, it was time to take the bus back to Shinjuku Station!
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roddy3
We got up early to take a train at Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station, where we joined the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course). It was really fun to learn about the area while enjoying the astonishing landscape. When we got to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant inside the Unjo-kaku, where we stocked up on the calories with delicious chicken karage. Afterwards, we took the easiest route and hiked up to the Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station. At one point, we thought we would never reach our destination, but we had fun together as we sang and took many pictures along the way. Surprisingly, the hike back to 5th Station went so much faster! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we wanted to make sure we bought some souvenirs before heading back to Shinjuku. Our trip came to an end with a two-hour bus ride back to Shinjuku Station, which was very comfortable and enjoyable with AC and free Wi-Fi.

Hina Alvarez

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Julie Dricot

Our train ride from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko Station was enjoyable with the scenic view along the way. When we arrived at Kawaguchiko Station, we then joined the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), where our tour guide shared many interesting historical facts about the area, and for those who don’t speak Japanese, a GPS-based automated multilingual guidance system explained the sights in English, Chinese and Thai. All the way up to Fujikyu Unjo-kaku, located on the Fuji Subaru Line 5th station, we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of Mt. Fuji! Upon arriving at the 5th Station, we took our time to explore the area, including Komitake Shrine where we witnessed an incredible view overlooking the beautiful landscape of the area. We then took the easiest route up to Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station. Though we quickly got tired, it was so much fun and rewarding when we finally reached our destination. I’m glad to have experienced this with my friends and would highly recommend it to people seeking an adventure around Mt. Fuji.
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Sample schedule for a day on the Fuji-Goko Bus Tour (AM Course) and a short hike from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station.
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Fuji Five Lake Sightseeing Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-go” Mt.Fuji 5th station observation route (AM course)

Available dates: Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays from April 22nd to November 19th, 2017 (Except from May 3rd to 5th)
Cost: Adults 2,800 JPY, Children 1,400 JPY for either the AM or PM course.
Adults 4,500 Children 2,250 JPY for both the AM & the PM courses.
Address: Kawaguchiko St.
3641 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0301
Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station
Fujisan 8545-1 Narusawa-mura, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0320
URL: Visit this website to make an online reservation *Reservation closes 30 min before departure, however if there are available seats, you can buy your tickets at the ticket counter.


Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with this useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-
・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
apli

Ikebukuro East Exit: where pop culture thrives

ikebukuro east exit

Ikebukuro’s east exit is the perfect spot for everyone – whether you are an anime lover, a passionate shopper or a trendwatcher looking for the next best electronic device – this area will not leave you wanting for more!

A butlers-café : SWALLOWTAIL 執事カフェ スワロウテイル

Not just another maid café
butlers cafe in ikebukuro east exit
Ever wonder what it would be like to have a butler? Well, now is your chance to fulfill that fantasy! At this unique café, you will be served by male staff dressed as Victorian butlers. Their impressive attention to detail will leave you supremely satisfied and absolutely amused. Since taking photos inside the café is not allowed, stop by the gift shop across the street to buy a souvenir for memory’s sake. If there is a cancellation, you may be able to make a walk-in reservation, but to ensure that you do not miss this unique opportunity, it’s best to book a spot online.

butler in butler cafe ikebukuro tokyo
ikebukuro cafe look interior
Hours: cafe 10:30am – 9:20pm Closed: Can vary by the month. Check online for further information.
Address: 1F Showa Bldg., 3-12-12 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL: Visit A butlers-café : SWALLOWTAIL’s website here.

HACOSTADIUM Cosset Ikebukuro ハコスタジアム コセット池袋本店

Cosplay wonderland for a day
cosplay paradise photo studio
This rental photography studio takes cosplay (dressing in costume) to an entirely new level! Reserve a spot online (in Japanese only) or walk-in without reservation (if space is available). After checking in at the 6th floor, head to the changing room where they have space for you to do your hair and makeup. If need of a costume, don’t worry, there is a cosplay store on the 2nd to 4th floor of the building! Once changed, head down to the 5th floor where the fun begins! No videotaping is allowed, but you can take photos in any of the ten sets. If available, you can also ask the staff to take your photos. You may have to share with other customers, but this is the perfect way to observe authentic cosplay.

different scenarios cosplay
alice cosplay
Hours: 10am – 8:30pm
Address: Animate Sunshine 5/6 F, 3-2-1 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL: Visit Hacostadium’s website here. (only in Japanese)

Alice in an old castle 古城の国のアリス

Enter a captivating magical place
alice in the old castle themed restaurant ikebukuro
With an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland theme, this restaurant takes you into a whole different magical realm! From glamorous chandeliers to giant playing cards, it is as though you stepped into the Queen of Hearts’ enchanted castle. The floor is divided into five themed sections: the red bedroom; the queen’s crystal ball; the magical mirror dress room; the ocean temple; and the mermaid cave. Be sure to make reservations.

seat at alice in the old ikebukuro
food at alice in the old castle themed restaurant in ikebukuro
Hours: 5pm – 11:30pm (Last Order 10:30pm) weekdays, 4pm – 11:30pm (Last Order 10:30pm) weekends and national holidays
Address: Suzukazu Bldg. B1, 2-16-8 Minamiikebukuro,Toshima-ku

animate アニメイト 池袋本店

Wonderland for anime lovers
animate main store in ikebukuro

If you are looking for anime related goods, a visit to animate is an absolute must! This nine-story building, the largest anime merchandise store in the world, is a virtual mecca for anime aficionados. There are three floors for manga (comic books), two floors for anime merchandise, and a floor for CDs, DVDs and games. The store also holds exhibitions, talk shows and autograph events featuring popular voice actors. If you are interested in trending manga, stop by the 2nd floor to be truly in-the-know. Be prepared to spend a whole afternoon at animate time will fly!

Hours: 10am – 9pm
Address: 1-20-7 Higashiikebukuro,
Toshima-ku

 

Ikebukuro West Exit; A taste of art and culture

bridge ikebukuro red west exit culture
Considered to be Ikebukuro’s central location for decades, the west exit has deep roots in the district’s history and culture. With the establishment of a rail line in 1914 (present-day Tobu Tojo Line), Ikebukuro became a hub for educational institutes, starting with Rikkyo University; even to this day, there are several prep and vocational schools in the vicinity. With the introduction of additional rail lines during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, the formerly farmland district morphed into a thriving urban area. To enjoy architecture from that time, stop by Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, a former girl’s school that was designed in 1921 by the legendary American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

During the Meiji period, an artisan village called Atorie Mura, nicknamed “Ikebukuro Montparnasse” after the 1920’s art district of Paris, brought many Japanese artists and writers together. Destroyed by air raids during WWII, its history and spirit live on in art galleries and events around town. Venture over to Morikazu Kumatani Art Museum to get a taste of works from an artist of that time! In addition to art and architecture, music also plays a key role around the west exit. From the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre to “live houses” (small concert venues), you are sure to find any sort of music that matches your taste. Take a breather to soothe your soul by checking out west Ikebukuro’s historical and modern artistic sides!

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo ホテル椿山荘東京

Relaxing Oasis

hotel chinsanzo tokyo ikebukuro

If you don’t mind a little walking, head over to Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, a 35-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station. After a cup of tea while taking in the superb view from the hotel’s lobby lounge, Le Jardin, head down and marvel
at the luxury garden oasis, which blooms throughout the seasons. With its firefly events and beautiful hydrangea in early June, not to mention its colorful crape-myrtle from July to August, you can take a stroll through the narrow lanes and explore the many Japanese objects placed throughout the surroundings. It’s a quiet place of peace within a bustling metropolis, inviting you to dream away the daily city grind.

Hours:Le Jardin 9:30am –10pm (Last Order)
Address: 2-10-8 Sekiguchi, Bunkyoku
URL:Visit Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo’s website here.

Rikkyo University cafeteria’ Daiichi-Shokudo立教大学 第一食堂

Time travel to the Taisho period

rikki university

Rikkyo University, one of the six leading universities in Tokyo, was founded in 1874 and is well known
for its exterior of red brick buildings and a chapel. This historical location makes it worth a visit and invites you to take a rest at the main dining hall of the institute. Completed in 1919, the cafeteria is located in the main building of the campus, which acts as the symbol of the university. Among other campus buildings, it has been selected as an Historical Building of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The hall, with its high ceiling, black wooden beams and dark stucco walls, takes you right back to the middle of the Taisho period , feeling the lively atmosphere of the past. After sampling some typical Japanese dishes (at very reasonable prices), set off for your next adventure!

rikki university outside trees
rikki university outside
Hours: Mon – Fri 8:30am – 5:30pm; Sat 10am – 5:30pm
Address: 3-34-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre 東京芸術劇場

Enchanting Concert Hall

concert hall ikebukuro tokyo

The high ceiling and fabulous glass facade are bound to catch the attention of all passersby, especially when beautifully lit up for the evening. Though opened in 1990 (reopened in 2012 after renovation), the modern architecture and interior are exactly what you would expect from Tokyo’s central theater – elegant and enchanting. From classical music, theater and dance, this concert hall offers a variety of performing arts. Make reservations online or visit the box office on-site to get a chance to see the Concert Hall, where a magnificent pipe organ (said to be one of the world’s largest) is on display!

Address:1-8-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre’s website here.