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Published: February 9th 2006
Shinjuku at Dusk
The view from the pedestrian walkway coming from my house
Shinjuku, Nakano Sakaue & Sakura House
So my previous installments have touched on my living arrangement and the local area, however now being several weeks into my stay in Tokyo, I thought I would provide more insight about what it’s like living in Nakano Sakaue Sakura House. Shinjuku
The first advantage, as I’ve mentioned previously, is the wonderful proximity we have to Shinjuku. I’ve discovered there are two distinct sides to Shinjuku - the western side - known for its office buildings, expensive hotels (including the Hyatt’s ‘Lost in Translation’ bar) and residential suburbs. (This is the side I live on) The eastern side however, is probably more like the Kings Cross of Tokyo! An area called Kabukicho, during the day, is a normal shopping district, but by night the club hustlers are out on the street encouraging people to frequent their establishment. These guys are mostly 6’4” tall African Americans who speak pretty good Japanese. However rest assured, if you’re passing by with a group that includes females, you won’t be bothered by them. Like Kings Cross, its a place where if you don't go looking for trouble, you won't find it. At night random street vendors will also
appear, perching anything from dumplings to used shoes on the corner of a building, hoping to find a customer. A few blocks from Kabukicho is Golden Gai (and Yoda, if you can find him!) and in the other direction is Shinjuku Ni-Chome, which is probably considered the Oxford St (Darlinghurst end) of Tokyo.
Overall, Shinjuku is an extremely vibrant place, that to me, feels like real
Tokyo. Alive, progressive, diverse, strange and overwhelming.
One thing I’ve learnt about Shinjuku, and in particular its station, is that it is extremely easy to get lost. It’s not like Venice where all streets lead to the Rialto Bridge (I’m not convinced they actually do!), but in Shinjuku, all streets lead to another street that looks like the street before, that leads to a department store, that leads to a hotel that is owned by the department store and a train line which is also run by the department store. If you’re lucky you’ve found the station you need ‘cos at one count there are 11 stations that have ‘Shinjuku’ in their name. I don’t think I’ll ever get right ‘West Shinjuku Station Exit’ vs ‘Shinjuku Station West Exit’.
Homes of the homeless with blue tarp
fairly large park in Shinjuku (western side) that apparently is the place to be come Cherry Blossom season. For the time being however, the wintery version of this park (and others around town) are fairly well established as concrete paths and places where homeless people live. It’s very sad how many homeless people there are (more than you’d probably expect). Apparently most are former construction workers who were laid off during the economic collapse of the last decade. Many continue to get work ad-hoc, but because they have no address, they are not recognized by a local government and therefore not recognized by the national government and therefore un-eligible to receive any type of support or status that would allow them to re-apply for work. The only way they could get any kind of help would be to get an address, and the few hours a week they may get back on a construction site would never support the cost of regular rent. Many of the guys I see on the street are young, organized enough to erect a small cardboard home, hang out their washing between trees and have a reasonable amount of personal belongings. Under one bridge I
Nakano Sakaue in the foreground, Shinjuku in the background
even saw an impressive make-shift shrine that a group of men had built to pray at every day. Nakano Sakaue
But on a brighter note I took a stroll last Sunday afternoon to get to know my neighbourhood, Nakano Sakaue, a little better. In the short time I’ve been living here, I’ve already developed quite an affinity for the place and it feels good to pop out from the station for the 5min stroll home. Nakano Sakaue is mostly residential with modest houses and clean, contemporary apartment blocks. There is a small block of local shops just near the station that contains a funky hairdressers, a ‘darts’ bar, a number of small restaurants, and of course, a convenience store. The streets are small, and bicycles and the subway appear to the preferred mode of transport for most residents.
Except for one who owns a Hummer. The largest car I have ever seen in my life.
One quirky feature of note in Nakano Sakaue is the number of ‘Coffee and Snack’ cafes I pass when walking to and from the station. The memory of a certain 'Coffee & Snack' Russian café in the Cross springs to mind and
Sakura House in the Pink!
makes me smile every time I walk home. I’m positive the ones here are ONLY serving Coffee and Snacks though!
Anyway, during my walk, I also discovered what could possibly be the
best supermarket I’ve been to in a long time. Despite being called 'Food Express' it had nothing in common with 'Foodies' on Anzac Parade, Kensignton. It was a good size (not too big), had wide aisles and just soo much exotic fresh produce and Japanese meal inspirations. It took the TESCO concept of pre-prepared meals to another level with choices for dishes like Sukiyaki, Ramen, Shabu Shabu and Gyoza. Everything that is so yummy about Japanese food, but so difficult to prepare yourself at home, is answered for you in this supermarket! I made the fatal mistake of walking in when I was hungry, so you can guess what happened… 10minutes later I was downing vegetable rice paper dumplings with dipping sauce that cost me a grand total of $2. Heaven. And only 7 minutes walk from my house. 😉 Sakura House
And all is still going well living at the Guesthouse itself too! It's really nice to come home to a warm, welcoming house. There
was a period where we were all quite unhappy with the cleaning service provided by the Sakura House management (basically, they hadn't cleaned since the place opened in November), but after applying the Templar Technique (kind, but effective) with a touch of Michael Graham "3 ways to say yes" in an e-mail, they were in the next day and have been back every Wednesday since. Yeah!
Most people are either in full time employment or in full-time study. I am amazed at the study two of the guys are doing in particular, as they're into week 5 of their Japanese introductory course and have learnt the entire alphabet, over 50 kanji and are constructing sentences like I was after 6 years of High School Japanese! Itensive to say the least....Work wise, we actually have a surprising number of creatively orientated people, with a photographer, illustrator, post-production artist, web developer and architect within the group of 6 or so that I’m hanging out with. Over one 9pm dinner peak-hour rush, we got talking about whether I should start my own creative management business and run it straight out of our apartment.
Anyway, there is talk of going out on
In Nakano Sakaue
an all-night Roppongi session this Saturday.. Head out around 11pm and then see what the night unfolds.. Perhaps we'll even make it to the Tsukuji Fish Markets for breakfast. Yum.
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