Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis with several city centers (and a handful of urban subcenters to alleviate congestion and crowding). Among these commercial and business districts, Shinjuku is arguably the most important. It’s both the seat of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, home to the busiest train station in the world, and the largest entertainment/shopping area in Japan.

Despite the seemingly endless sea of skyscrapers and shopping centers, the area has very modest beginnings. In the Edo Period, this was the very outer limits of city. The shogun granted land to the Naito clan for a palace to defend the stretch of the Koshu Kaido (highway) leading into the capital. Next to this residence a new post town was created, which is exactly what “Shin-juku” means.

The beautiful, must see Shinjuku Gyoen is a large park built on the remains of the Naito estate and even preserves parts of the original gardens and some 400 year old trees. While stunning all year round, the park is especially famous for its 1,500 blossoming cherry trees which attract revelers every spring.

But for locals and tourists alike, Shinjuku usually means shopping and partying. On the west side of the station you can find great shopping centers like Lumine and Odakyu, as well as consumer electronics giants Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera. The west side leads to Omoide Yokocho, a crowded alley of tiny open-air restaurants that are like stepping back in time 40 years. It’s a great place to eat and drink casually with locals who cherish the area for its nostalgic vibe. For those who take things to the extreme, there’s Kabukicho, Japan’s largest and most notorious red light district, comprised of block after block of restaurants, bars, and all manner of nightlife.

Also found in Shinjuku is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, an iconic twin towered skyscraper completed in 1990 and designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Kenzo Tange. The building takes up two whole city blocks and features observation decks on the 45th floors that are free to the public and feature cafes and gift shops. From this vantage point you get an amazing view of the city, including Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and on clear days, Mt. Fuji.

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