The rate of globalization that the world is facing is at its fastest now. You can see this just by how so many cultures are mixing, merging, and co-existing in places that were once purely focused on the ways of life of its own country.
If you look around Japan, you’ll see how a country that was once so closed off to the world 150 years ago opens its arms and embraces globalization. Shin Okubo is one of the more obvious manifestations of globalization in Japan – and the grand welcome of it, too.
What is Shin Okubo, and Where in Tokyo Is it Located?
Within the Special ward of Shinjuku in Tokyo, exists a neighborhood that exemplifies the concentration of South Korean influence in Japan, named Shin-Okubo – written as “新大久保” in Japanese. Many people of Korean descent live here and have formed a community here as well. Whether they’re fresh immigrants who plan to become Japanese, or simply South Koreans working in Japan, Shin-Okubo is a slice of home for them because of its many South Korean pubs, shops, and restaurants.
Some attribute the presence of many South Koreans in this part of Tokyo because of “Hallyu”, which is also called “The Korean Wave”. This term refers to the sudden surge of popularity when it comes to the high consumption of South Korea’s popular culture in other countries. Examples of this are their Korean television shows and music.
Currently, a report made by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry just last 2013 indicated that 500 businesses were operating, 350 of which were in the restaurant service industry.
Korea, and An Open-Minded Japan
The development of technology and more affordable types of transformation has led to passing elements of cultures around at a much quicker rate. The internet and affordable plane tickets are shaping the world as it is known, leading to more traveled, and more curious citizens. For example - Your average Japanese person, who would have probably just kept to himself 100 years ago, can scroll past a picture of kimchi on the internet, and start to wonder how other Korean foods taste.
Seeing that Korea is also very near Japan, it isn’t too difficult to travel here for leisure or business. In fact, Koreans and Japanese have been known to have relations for more than a thousand years. Combine Koreans who travel to Japan for their own reasons, and Japanese who love consuming Korean products, and a market for consuming Korean products is born.
The History of Shin Okubo
So why choose Shin-Okubo, if there are so many other parts of Japan with the potential to hold Korea town? In the early 80’s, when it was a trend for South Koreans to look for jobs elsewhere, South Koreans flocked to Tokyo but decided to stay in Shin-Okubo for its relatively lower cost of living (compared to places in Shibuya), yet still being near the center of business. This was mentioned by the director of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan; whose name is Shin Sang-yoon.
Sadly, ethnocentrism is a hard habit to bust for many, even in this current day and age. This is especially so with a country that has only opened its doors to the world only a century and a half ago, compared to other countries that had been constantly in-flux with their transnational trades. This has led to many anti-Korean protests lead by extreme Japanese nationalists because of their presence in Shin-Okubo, with the earliest protest being in 2013.
Live and Let Live - Shin Okubo Is still Loved
Despite the friction that some Japanese residents have with South Korean nationals living in Shin-Okubo, the location is still a hit with both tourists and locals. In fact, it is hailed as being 16th out of the 371 things to do while you’re in Shinjuku, with a 4 out of 5-star rating by 815 reviewers on TripAdvisor.
Here are a quick guide and list of suggestions for what you should do while visiting Shin-Okubo.
Go to A K-Pop Café
Diehard K-pop fans, rejoice! This area is full of different K-Pop cafes like no other place in Japan. Here, you can meet other people who share the same interests as you, and be served coffee with the initials of your favorite group, or the name of your favorite band member. They’ll be playing music and showing videos of these K-pop stars, and at the same time have posters of K-pop groups are hung all over the walls. The best part is, if you’re in the right store, you can see if they’re selling a copy of that poster too in their merchandise corner.
Try Great Restaurants While You're in Shin Okubo
Johno Shin-Okubo – not only is the staff friendly in assisting you with your food, but the food itself is also great, especially their dishes that have cheese and kimchi. Their food is affordable, and are also served in heaping amounts, which is great for anyone who’s really hungry. It’s also very close to Shin-Okubo station; it’ll only take you a 30 second or so walk.
Matusya – you get your bang for your buck with Matsuya. Their service is quick, food is delicious and affordable. Try the bibimbap, scallion pancakes, and pork dishes, and you won’t be sorry. It’s one of the best fast food restaurants you’ll find around the block.
Find Great Korean BBQ at Around Shin Okubo
- Tonchang Takadanobaba – rated 4 stars out of 5 by 17 reviewers on TripAdvisor, you’d surely satisfy your craving for Korean BBQ here. The ambiance and music cater to a younger crowd, but even if that’s not your thing entirely, their rendition of kimchi fried rice and samgyeopsal makes it worth dining in this restaurant.
- Tonchang Shinokubo Annex - may be a little crowded when you enter, but that’s because the food is so good. Their meat dishes are especially delicious, and it’s easily accessible from the Shin-Okubo Station. Prices are reasonable, and you’ll have a wonderful platter of samgyeopsal that you won’t be sorry for eating.
If you’d rather cook your own meals than go out to buy them, fret not – Shin-Okubo is full of Korean ingredients that you can purchase and bring home to make a great meal for yourself.
Stay A Night in Shinokubo City Hotel
If you want to stay the night in the heart of Tokyo’s Korea town, try booking a room at Shinokubo City Hotel. So far, it has 24 reviews giving it a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. The hotel is quaint and small, but its interiors are clean and new. Location-wise, it is near many Korean establishments, a 7-11 outlet, plus the JR Yamanote Line of Shin-Okubo Station. To get to the station, it only takes a 5-minute walk.
The reception and staff are accommodating and warm. They are more than willing to help you out with any of your concerns or needs, even during odd hours. They are proficient in English and know Tokyo well enough to suggest activities for you to do. As for the rooms themselves, they are reportedly bigger than most hotels in Tokyo for the price they come in. It costs around 9,000 to 10,000 yen per night here and is located at 1-4-9 Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku 169-0073, Tokyo Prefecture (Shinjuku).
Other International Hotel Options Near Shin Okubo
If you’re thinking of staying in other hotels near Shin-Okubo, here are some suggestions.
- Shin Okubo International Hotel – a mere .3 kilometers away from Shin-Okubo, this place gives you a great deal for 7,217 yen a night. You get free wifi, a clean and simple room. Though it may be simple – a little too simple for some people’s tastes, its convenience and price make the stay worth it. Its address is 1-1-10 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku 169-0073, Tokyo Prefecture.
- Hotel Villa Fontaine Tokyo-Shinjuku – for a mixture of both luxury and simplicity, Hotel Villa Fontaine Tokyo-Shinjuku hits the spot. It’s rated 4 out of 5 stars by 156 reviews and costs a little over 10,000 yen a night. It is a non-smoking hotel, and is only 0.5 kilometers away from Shin-Okubo, in a quieter part of Shinjuku. Its address is 2-40-9 Kabukicho, Shinjuku 160-0021, Tokyo Prefecture.
- Toyoko Inn Shinjuku Kabukicho – the average rating of 295 reviewers is 4 out of 5 stars for this restaurant that costs 10,300 yen a night. It has free breakfast and wifi included when you book a room, and the room is decent. It is a little way’s worth from the nearest station, and if you don’t like smoke, you’d best be asked to be placed in a non-smoking room. Otherwise, it’s a great all-around hotel that has no frills but delivers when it comes to your expectations. Its address is 2-20-15 Kabukicho, Shinjuku 160-0021, Tokyo Prefecture.
Great Kpop Store Collections in Shin Okubo
Shin-Okubo is the mecca of Korean products in Japan, and that counts for every aspect, especially stores that sell Kpop merchandise. You can head to stores like IDOLPark, which sells everything from postcards to K-pop charms that you can bring home as a peculiar souvenir. For more serious shopping, check out Star Shop, which has a wide array of merchandise dealing with K-Pop stars and actors. You can buy posters, mugs, calendars, and clocks with their faces on it to add to your collection.
K*Star Plus has a building that has three entire floors to itself, which is heaven to any fan of Kpop products. Here, you can buy physical copies of movies and music via DVD and CD and is almost complete with their list of available Korean bands, movies, and television shows. They also sell a brand of jewelry that is said to be worn by many k-pop stars and is reportedly very hard to find elsewhere.
Where Can You Buy Korean Cosmetics ?
Koreans are known for their routines, products, and techniques when it comes to skincare and cosmetics. Even if Japan is also known world-wide for their excellent quality of cosmetic products that are sold in drug stores, Korean cosmetics is a tough competitor… Which is why, even in Tokyo, their shops are packed with people. One of these stores is Myung Dong Cosme Shop, which doesn’t hold back in stocking up its goods.
Cosmetic brands to watch out for are Nature Republic, Tony Moly, Holika Holika, Too Cool For School, and The Face Shop. Note, however, that although Shin-Okubo used to have a lot of smaller outlets for Korean cosmetics, they’ve been taken over by stores that sell K-pop merchandise to date.
How to Get to Shinjuku Station From Shin Okubo Station
As the entire neighborhood was strategically built to be in close proximity to Shin-Okubo station, traveling to Shin Okubo from most parts of Tokyo is relatively easy, as long as you can connect to the Yamanote Line. The signs around the area are also written in three different languages, usually. Those languages are Japanese, English, and Korean - so it's perfect for travelers and isn't at all intimidating to explore.
Shin-Okubo station is already located in Shinjuku itself, so a trip between both stations of Shin-Okubo and Shinjuku won't take too long. Getting to Shinjuku Station from Shin-Okubo Station takes at least 2 minutes if you use the railway from this station, combined with the direct line - the Yamanote Line. The Yamanote line is headed in clockwise formation towards Ueno and Ikebukuro, departing from the Shin-Okubo station. The trip costs 140 yen each way. Of course, you may also choose to use the Okubo station to get to Shinjuku station, which is a four-minute walk away from Shin-Okubo station. You may also opt to use the Chuo-Sobu Line, which takes 13 minutes, and an extra 7-minute walk.
Stop By Korea Town
Because of the exclusivity of this town, it is rarer that tourists (unless they're Korean) drop by here, as it would be supposedly counter-intuitive to eat in a Korean restaurant if you're visiting Japan. However, that is not always the case. Here, a rare face of Japan is seen; an intermixing and fusion of two cultures to form dishes, products, and concepts that are hard to find anywhere else. Plus, it makes for a perfect place to get hard-to-find Korean ingredients and items that you may need for a dish, or to add to your makeup set.
Shin Okubo is a timeless neighborhood, and there is no best specific time to visit, because it's always a good idea to visit - no matter the weather - even in the cold of January, the comfort of April in spring, warmth of August, or crispness of November, visiting Korea town should be on your list of what to do in Tokyo.