Shinjuku's Ever-Buzzing Kabukicho: A Symbol of Tokyo's Continuous Evolution

Ito Yoichi, Economic Commentator

[CONTRIBUTED ARTICLE] Walking the streets of Tokyo has become a daily routine for me, and with numerous opportunities to cover the city, I feel the rapid changes occurring here and there every day. Particularly noteworthy is the Shinjuku area, including Kabukicho, which has undergone major transformations. Starting with this neighborhood, we consider the future of Tokyo as it continues to evolve.

The approximately 225-meter-tall Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, designed by architect  Nagayama Yuko, captures people's attention with its innovative and elegant design, inspired by the image of a fountain.

The Evolving Depth of Shinjuku's Cityscape

The Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, which opened near Seibu Shinjuku Station in April 2023, serves as a symbol of Shinjuku's constant transformation. Kabukicho had long been a focal point for negative attention, plagued by issues like aggressive touting and deteriorating public safety. However, the emergence of this tower suggests that the area may be undergoing significant change. The adjacent Kabukicho Cinecity Square, which spans over 800 square meters, is being utilized for a variety of events such as music concerts, talk shows, and public viewings. The atmosphere of the entire neighborhood seems to have become more inviting as a result.

The "Godzilla Head" located on the 8th floor of the Shinjuku Toho Building, which houses TOHO Cinemas Shinjuku, has also become a tourist attraction.

Moreover, the view from the upper floors of the tower is stunning. The giant Godzilla that appeared in the Shinjuku Toho Building in the spring of 2015 is fully visible from its back, even from such a height. I actually stayed and conducted research at both hotels in the tower. From there, you can look down upon the sprawling Shinjuku Gyoen National Park and Yoyogi Park in Shibuya, extending to the Japan National Stadium, the main venue for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in the distance. It's a reaffirmation that Tokyo is indeed a city abundant with greenery. The grand vista also includes Tokyo's landmark, TOKYO SKYTREE®—within the same line of sight. It makes you fall in love with "Tokyo" all over again. Additionally, whether you look towards Shibuya or towards Ikebukuro, the view along Meiji-dori Street is superb, often sparkling with life.

This area is also fascinating as a city. Just a short walk north from the tower, you will find a concentration of shops specializing in Korean cuisine, cosmetics, and K-pop idols, drawing crowds of young people. This is the Korean Town that stretches from Shokuan-dori Street through Okubo to Shin-Okubo. When you take it all in, you get the impression that the city of Shinjuku has gained even more depth and diversity.

The Shin-Okubo area, where Korean Town is expanding, sees a high volume of foot traffic throughout the day.

Tokyo Becomes a 24/7 Destination for Global Tourists

For foreign tourists flocking to Tokyo, Shinjuku has always been an enticing destination. The entire area is a gigantic commercial zone. In addition to major department stores like Isetan, Odakyu, and Keio, rows of electronics retailers line the streets. Then there is the transforming Kabukicho and Korean Town. When considered in conjunction with the skyscraper-laden Nishi-Shinjuku area, it covers a considerably vast expanse, multiple times the size of Ginza.

Foreign tourists who come to Japan often voice a common complaint: "Japan is wonderful for its scenery and delicious food, but it offers few options for spending time in the evening." Unlike the Japanese, who may enjoy a quiet evening at a traditional inn, these visitors are inclined to hit bars, clubs, and dance floors. Indeed, one encounters a large and diverse number of foreign tourists roaming the streets at night. Could Shinjuku meet this demand? The area has certainly expanded its offerings, providing even more choices for how to spend an evening.

GettyImages-1058360160 (1).jpg
The neon-lit streets of Kabukicho, located on the east side of Shinjuku Station. Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

Not just Shinjuku, but Tokyo as a whole is a city in perpetual change, never standing still. The new Tokyo Metro Toranomon Hills Station has been built, and commercial buildings continue to rise, including the opening of the Toranomon Hills Station Tower in October 2023. Kamiyacho and Roppongi, adjacent to the Toranomon area, are also being revitalized as new urban areas. Around Tokyo Station, Tokyo Midtown Yaesu debuted in March 2023, and construction on Japan's tallest skyscraper, Tokyo Torch, is progressing towards its completion in 2027 at the Nihonbashi Exit. The more attractions a city has, the better. I often visit Toyosu, and I can feel that it is frequented by both Japanese and foreign tourists alike. There, a hot spring facility by Manyo Club, offering transported water from Hakone and Yugawara hot springs near Tokyo, is set to be completed in the spring of 2024. It's sure to become an interesting area.

There's no other city in the world that has as many "centers" as Tokyo, yet its allure continues to multiply. What will Shinjuku look like a decade from now? Chances are, it will have changed in surprising ways. Tokyo is always in a state of evolution.

Ito Yoichi

portrait (2).jpg
Economic commentator and Chief Researcher at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Research Institute. Specializes in financial markets and macroeconomics, with a particular focus on the digital economy. Regularly contributes to publications like Tokyo Shimbun, Kyodo News, and Nikkei Business. In addition to hosting the weekly podcast Round Up World Now!produced by Radio NIKKEI, frequently appears as a commentator on television and radio programs.
Photo by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Ando Tomohiko