It was anime that finally sold me on Shinjuku, a place I avoided like the plague for nearly a year after moving to Tokyo. The raindrops in Garden of Words got me to take the train across town to explore the area, and once I started, I began to see all the anime inspiration locations for 5 Centimeters per Second, Darker than Black, Terror in Resonance and Tokyo Godfathers. Shinjuku wasn’t just Tokyo’s busiest station, a tourist trap, shopping area, or a nostalgic set of romanticizations. As I spent more and more time at Shinjuku Gyoen, then taking friends around to the tourist attractions, then at a bouldering gym, I often stopped to marvel at how a new place seemed so familiar – because I had seen exactly the same frame on the screen.
Below are some of the places I managed to take with my fixed 35mm lense camera. Enjoy!
Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa)
Japan’s 2016 hit movie doesn’t need further elaboration. Instead, what I noted while taking a photo of this intersection that evening was the type of cameras they must have used to scout locations. The shot they must have taken was not only done with a wide-angle lense, but probably from a car. Trying to follow in their footsteps as a pedestrian trying not get run over (or, in Japan, more likely just glared at) in the middle of the road, I began to appreciate how the animated frames generally distilled the quintessential parts that created the characters of places they captured only for brief seconds.
Garden of Words (Koto no ha no Niwa)
I hated the ending. I’ll just put it out there. But Garden of Words (Kotono ha no Niwa) blew me away with its rendition of tsuyu, rainy season. Makoto Shinkai‘s animation style appeals because it often conveys the romanticism that one can view otherwise cold or dreary settings. He gets the details down right to the swish of cars rushing over puddles.
Garden of Words is set mostly between Shinjuku Station, Shinjuku Gyoen, the Takashimaya Department Store and the school in between (just where the overpass is). If you liked the movie enough, then consider visiting Shinjuku Gyoen during a rainy day when there are fewer visitors. Just note that it has a small admission fee (which I think is entirely worth it for the upkeep) and that it closes usually around evening or sunset (time varies between winter and summer).
Shinjuku Gyoen was originally the residence of the Naito family, feudal lords of Edo Japan. The grounds later came under the ownership of the Imperial Family and were mostly destroyed during the Tokyo Fire Raids during World War II. After the war ended, the gardens were reconstructed and opened to the public in 1949.
5 Centimeters per Second
5 Centimeters per Second is probably Makoto Shinkai’s first feature film that caught international attention. Takaki Tono, the boy in the movie, grows up and works in Tokyo. Shinkai uses the gigantic commercial hub of Shinjuku to accentuate the loneliness and isolation many urbanites now relate to.
Shinjuku Station is Tokyo’s busiest station and has an average of 3.6 million people transiting every day. The station has over 200 exits and 51 platforms. I never found it that confusing to navigate, but local Tokyo (expat?) wisdom seems to conclude that you never, never arrange to meet there. If you do, I suggest you specify exactly which subway line to take and which exit based on that line. An alternative is to just go to Shinjuku Sanchome on the Marunouchi Line, which is close to Shinjuku Gyoen.
If you do exit in Shinjuku Station, make sure you get out on the correct side (East or West) as the two are not connected and you will have to walk all the way around if you’re not careful. The scenes from above are on the West exit, as Takaki is wandering towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building area.
On a side note, Shinjuku has three interesting coffee shops. Verve Coffee is from the US and conveniently on top of the new coach bus terminal. 4/4 Seasons Cafe is in a quieter corner closer to Shinjuku Gyoen. My personal favourite for the ambience is Teijimaya Coffee Honten right at Omoiydeyokocho (Yakitori Alley).
Tokyo Godfathers is the brainchild of two anime legends: Satoshi Kon (director and writer of Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Paranoia Agent) and Keiko Nobumoto (creator of the Wolf’s Rain series and head scriptwriter for Cowboy Bebop). I didn’t know about them before I watched it, or what the movie was about. It just seemed to satisfy my craving at the time for Tokyo rendered in anime.
The feature film follows three homeless people as they try to take care of and return an abandoned baby during the Christmas holidays. Gin, Hana, and Miyuki make Shinjuku Chuo Park their squat and roam the chilly, neon-lit streets of Shinjuku and other districts, giving a glimpse into other communities that make Tokyo their home. Below is a view of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, an essential part of Shinjuku’s distinct skyline cluster.
I appreciate the film’s unflinching depiction of those living on the fringes — those in poverty, the elderly, the immigrants, and of course the thugs and gangs. As someone who irrationally seeks out ghettos and low-income areas when travelling, this film’s glimpse into the dark backstreets as both purgatory and havens was an insight into not only how another side of Japan lives, but how others view this underside.
Darker than Black
Darker than Black is a two-volume manga and two-season anime series awarded Best Original Anime of The Year by GoGoplex. The series is an alternate reality where the stars have disappeared from modern-day Tokyo due to a mysterious “Hell’s Gate” event that also gave rise to “Contractors” with special powers. Shinjuku and Nakano are the focus of many face-offs and Hei, seems to live somewhere betwene the two. Even though many Nakano areas seemed familiar, I didn’t quite find the rooftops from which you can see the Shinjuku offices.
The white building on the right called the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Headquarters Building is one of the many iconic buildings one notices when going out the Shinjuku Station West Exit.
Terror in Resonance
Right across the north-end Shinjuku Station train tracks, viewers will find the Yunika Vision LED screen that popped up in Terror in Resonance (Zankyō no Terror), an anime mini-series about two young terrorists out to expose a state cover-up of an experimental project.
Trains are integral to the Japanese experience as every otaku would knows. Trains are the pulsing veins of the Tokyo landscape. Standing at an intersection on the northwest end of Shinjuku Station, one can look out for the JR Yamanote Line train that races by in a silver blur accented with green bands.
It took me 3 visits and about 20 back-and-forths during the green signal to get a frame I liked. It would have been much easier in a car, and it makes me wonder sometimes how the anime location scouts accessed some of the corners they did.
In addition to being known for its department stores and clothes shopping, Shinjuku also has large electronics department stores such as BIC Camera and LAOX, which is where visitors can get the Tokyo subway pass.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is the site of an extended scene in the first episode of Terror in Resonance. I looped the entire complex looking for the exact spots the explosions took place, but I’ve just kept the more impressive interior shots to give you an idea of what you would see if you went up.
Visitors can go to both the North and South towers, which have gift shops and a cafe in the top floor (access is free). The top floor observation deck offers a great view of the cityscape below, sunsets, and maybe even Mount Fuji on a clear day.
For otaku on an anime pilgrimage, I recommend giving yourself a full day to enjoy all the different parts of Shinjuku. If pressed for time, you can try to absorb the throbbing, frantic, nostalgic, and even romantic moments captured at these anime locations within an afternoon.
Thanks for checking this out! If you want to buy collectibles, check out my photo essay of Mandarake at Broadway Nakano!