durarara ikebukuro

Durarara’s Ikebukuro Anime Locations

I assume you’ve heard of the anime Durarara!! (DRRR!!) if you’re here because Ikebukuro as an area is rarely on the top of anyone’s to-visit list, local or international. And if you haven’t, I would suggest checking this supernatural slice-of-life anime out. This anime location scouting post is part of a side project I started in my last months before moving out of Tokyo. I had a part-time job, so with the remaining time, I wanted to do something that would get me to explore the city more and give me a reason to take photos.

What follows is a map of the sites for the anime that you can preload onto your phone for your own walking tour and juxtaposed screencaps and photos by yours truly. The text is my random commentary about the stories in Ikebukuro that fascinate me.

durarara ikebukuro

Durarara screencap

durarara ikebukuro

Seibu East Exit — Photo by Athena Lam

A first arrival at Ikebukuro Station will probably throw you back to the opening scene of Durarara, where Mikado waits anxiously for Masaomi. The station is the intersection fo the JR trains, the Tokyo Metro’s Marunouchi, Futoshin, and Yurakucho lines, and 3 private rail lines. Ikebukuro’s traffic is second only to Shinjuku Station, carrying 2.71 million people daily.

Unlike Shinjuku Station, it is possible to cross underneath Ikebukuro Station to get between the East to West sides, both of which have landmarks. Ikebukuro’s West side is famous for the TV drama West Gate Park. Most of Durarara’s most iconic scenes are on the East, which is where I head to take the rest of the photos.

durarara ikebukuro

Durarara screencap

durarara ikebukuro

Statues at Ikebukuro’s East Exit — Photo by Athena Lam

Ikebukuro’s East exit has a prominent Seibu department store, which has a nice rooftop beer garden for chilling with friends on a warm evening. In addition to the wall that is Seibu, you can head north towards the BiC Camera electronic department store. Personally, I like shopping at this location more than the ones at Shinuku and Shibuya because it’s usually less busy. Competitor electronic stores are also across the street, so you can do all your electronic shopping with much less of the touristy jostling here.

ikebukuro anime

Durarara screencap

ikebukuro anime location durarara

East Ikebukuro’s main shopping street — Photo by Athena Lam

From the Seibu intersection, one can simply follow the crowd down the main shopping area towards Sunshine City. The area livens up at night and are often so lively the cars know to use other routes.

Durarara screencap

durarara anime location

Ikebukuro Cinema Sunshine (more background at the bottom) — Photo by Athena Lam

When I told a local Japanese friend I wanted to go to Ikebukuro, she asked, “Ikebukuro? What’s there?” She is the Ebisu type. Ikebukuro, especially on the North-East side of the station reveals its rougher edges as an immigrant area.

Ikebukuro was once a village that – as the name suggests – once had multiple ponds. The current Ikebukuro Station actually stands on the area historically called Sugamo (stations and area names tend to shift a few kilometres in modernization). Since the Taishō and Shōwa periods, its relatively low land prices as an outskirt of Tokyo attracted artists and foreign workers. To this day, the area is one of Tokyo’s most international, with over 7% non-Japanese residents. Personally, I would come here for everything from Chinese supermarkets to Middle Eastern restaurants.

durarara tokyu hands sunshine city

Durarara screencap

ikebukuro sunshine city tokyu hands

Sunshine City and Sunshine 60, the area’s landmark — Photo by Athena Lam

For a somewhat underdog area, Ikebukuro boasted the tallest building in Asia between 1978 and 1985. As the name suggests, the Sunshine 60, has 60 floors and held its position as Asia’s tallest building until 1985 when it was surpassed by the equally imaginatively named 63 Building in Seoul. But the Sunshine 60 would remain Tokyo’s tallest building until the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings were completed in 1991 and soon became another anime landmark.

Durarara screencap

ikebukuro anime location durarara

Tokyu Hands underground entrance to Sunshine City — Photo by Athena Lam

Sunshine 60 is part of Ikebukuro’s most famous complex, Sunshine City. Sunshine City occupies the old location for the Sugamo Prison, but now consists of four buildings that make up this city complex. Housed in Tokyo’s largest “city within a city” is a vast shopping mall, an aquarium, an arcade observatory, museum, planetarium, hotel, and office buildings.

The Studio Ghibli‘s licensed store the “Donguri Kyowakoku” and the Pokemon Centre are both housed within Sunshine City.

Note that the photo above is the Tokyu Hands entrance to Sunshine City, where many face offs take place in Durarara.

durarara ikebukuro

Durarara screencap

durarara anime location

Celty’s highway entry ramp — Photo by Athena Lam

Perhaps unintentionally, Durarara also immortalized Ikebukuro’s highways and overpasses through one of the series’ most beloved characters: the headless rider, Celty. The overpass is right beside the Tokyu Hands and wraps around Sunshine City, where the motorcycle chase scenes take place. The entrance ramp to the highway is further down (and on my map).


Durarara screencap

durarara ikebukuro anime location

Simon’s Sushi Shop — Photo by Athena Lam

If you are wondering how I concluded this unassuming side street is the location for Simon’s sushi shop, the red flute-like decorations on the wall of the building in the corner gave it away. It took me a bit of circling around before I found it!

Lastly, I want to circle back to the Ikebukuro Cinema Sunshine near the top. Given all the “Sunshine” names in the area, one would have thought it was an Ikebukuro thing. Maybe it is, but Cinema Sunshine is actually a cinema chain that began in Ehime Prefecture, off the main island of Honshu. The company was founded in 1943, and its first building was opened in December of 1978, but the Ikebukuro branch opened only in 1985.

While I could go on about this area that quickly became one of my hang-out staples after moving to Tokyo, I figured I would stop here for now. Rest assured, I’ll share other shots I take of the area that are so familiar to us fans. 🙂

In the meantime, you can check out other mapped & photographed anime locations in Shinjuku!

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500px red bull tokyo photowalk

500px Tokyo Photo Walk: An Experimental Tricking Essay


When one thinks of Tokyo...

When one thinks of Tokyo, endless blocks like these come to mind…

On a whim, I signed up for a 500px x Red Bull photo walk to explore Tokyo’s urban core. This city is a constant spring of inspiration and surprises, whether it’s the familiar urban skyscrapers being lit in an eerie light or a quiet Showa neighbourhood around a corner that catches you unaware.

I’m just one of thousands of fascinated photographers. How do others approach this city? What lenses and frames do they prefer, figuratively and literally? I was curious to find out.

While I took many other subjects throughout the day, this post is just a photo diary to document my first attempt at shooting action with my the Fujifilm X100.


I guess as photographers, we’re quick to get sorted for group photos too!

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

Follow the umbrella. Jason was a well-paced guide who managed to keep us all together.

The theme for the event was “Action and Adventure”, which is second only to night photography for equipment unsuitability. My Fujifilm X100 focuses too slowly and has low-quality continuous shooting renders. That’s not a problem for everything else along the walk: the streets, shops and people I’ll inevitably pass. Technical limitations may preclude me from certain types of shots, but they also challenge me to think through my lense.

imperial palace hotel gardens

First stop: outside the Imperial Palace East Gardens.

For our walk, we had 3 tricking models who obligingly pulled out moves whenever we were at a good spot (thanks to Jason, who arranged the route).

I did sports photography in high school, and I’ve never had the luxury of ideal equipment or conditions. As a result, I’ve learned some strange tricks such as pre-timing shots for slow (or sometimes delayed) shutters. Shooting action with a wide-angle, using single-frame is a fun challenge to really focus on the subject and predict exactly what they’ll do and where they’ll go.

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

Getting off to an early morning start.

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

The muggy heat didn’t deter our 3 models from sticking to long-sleeves.

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

These fountains are at the North-East entrance to the Imperial Palace gardens.

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

It wasn’t long before our crowd was asked to move along.

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Our route took us from Tokyo Station, through to the North-East corner of the Imperial Palace Park, up to Akihabara, and through to Ueno. Our subject options ranged from blue skies and trees, to electronic shops, to quiet back alleys, to crowded markets,  and finally to Ueno Park and Nezu Shrine up at Yanasen.

Walking north to Akihabara

Walking north to Akihabara, one passes through several canal over-passes.

Overpasses in Chuo-ku

Overpasses in Tokyo always have something underneath: canals, parks, parking lots.

By 12:30, we just made it to Ueno Park, but everyone was having a good time. The attendees were a mix of Japanese and foreigners from all backgrounds. The good company quickly became even more distracting than the places we were walking through!

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

BMX bringing a different perspective to Ueno Park

With a wide lense (18mm >> 22mm), I couldn’t get a good close-up of the action without blocking other photographers. As such, I had to do a lot of photo processing to make up, so I had fun playing around. Below is a first go.

500px red bull tokyo photowalk

Tricking in Ueno Park during our mini lunch-break

If anyone has tips and suggestions, please let me know! 
500px red bull tokyo photowalk 500px red bull tokyo photowalk 500px red bull tokyo photowalk 500px red bull tokyo photowalk 500px red bull tokyo photowalk 500px red bull tokyo photowalk

I think of photos like a canvas. As such, my processing might seem inconsistent as I usually run with whatever seems to interest me in that moment. However, I’d appreciate some tips and pointers (bearing in mind I only use wide-angle lenses)!

Also, you can download these photos CC from my Flickr.

Below is the walking route we took, in case you want to try yourself!

500px Red Bull Tokyo Photowalk Facebook

Image courtesy of 500px Red Bull Tokyo Photo Walk Facebook Event

Thanks for checking this out! 

I usually do travel photo essays, so please check out my post on the moss-covered temples in Kunisaki, or the historical mountain town of Gujo Hachiman.

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Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo Koenji

How a Map Changed My Tokyo: A Wheelchair Photo Diary

Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo Koenji

A very abled fellow going through Tokyo’s streets at high noon.

I had the best encounter yesterday morning as I sat on the grass at 8am, writing as usual.

The morning was a prelude to another smothering summer day, but at least it began with a breeze. I sat in the same spot with a bench to use as a table and the leafy weeds as my chair. My bare feet were dug into the dirt; it provides a daily hippie placebo effect. Until about 10am, this spot is shaded by two trees close by.

A man in a wheelchair swung by and asked me if I wasn’t uncomfortable. We chatted for a while. He ventured some English phrases. I replied in broken Japanese. On his phone, he showed me his Google+ timeline of paths he took and flowers he’d seen.

Takano-san has myasthenia gravis. His Google+ profile reads: “I want to live happily every day. I like the photo. I also want to see pictures of everyone. Thank you very much in advance.”

I’d never seen Takano-san before even though I sit at the park every non-rainy morning. He’d come from across town to a class.

I’ve been wanting to meet someone like him for months now.

Wheelchairs have been on my mind ever since I created an Accessibility Map of Tokyo on a whim. I was pissed that none existed. The map took a few days, but all 216 stations on the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and JR Yamanote line are included.

Then, I realised I needed to make my map accessible, too. I went out to take photos to show people what Tokyo had to offer. Without wheelchair-bound friends, I could only guess at what they might care about: lifts, washrooms, accessible gates, step-free sidewalks. I finished the posts and published them. It felt like going on a treasure hunt. I’d notice the bright wheelchair signs.

Even though the posts are done, I’ve never stopped looking.

Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo Metro Lift

Tokyo Metro Station Attendants setting up the lift for a wheelchair guest.

I’ve nearly crashed into morning commuters watching someone in a wheelchair go up the stair-lifts in the Tokyo Metro. It was so cool to see them actually in operation.

Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo-4774

Slurping ramen at Nakano Broadway

I’ve stood at an entrance trying to figure out how a wheelchair person got into a raised ramen restaurant as he slurped his noodles.

Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo Koenji

Going through Tokyo’s Suginami-Ku neighbourhood at high noon.

I’ve also jogged after a wheelchair zooming through the residential streets on a sunny afternoon to snap a photo of someone who’s very able.

I’ve noticed more people going around in wheelchairs in Tokyo than other cities. On the step-free bus, I watched the ramp being put down. There are wheelchair users who brave rush hour.


Enter a captionI love the colourful and visual signs for toilets in Tokyo.

I’ve become toilet-fascinated and compared multiple stations in big cities and small towns.

What I meant to say was, I started something on impulse. I never imagined how much it would impact the things I noticed. It’s also made me aware of the people I’ve yet to meet, and the perspectives I’ve still never encountered. Even though I thought about how to ‘seek out’ this demographic, it felt tokenising to want to get to know someone because of one characteristic.

Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo Metro

Met this French couple on the train to Asakusa! – Photo by Athena Lam

So, this is all to say, I’m so grateful that life just delivered this opportunity right to my door.

Ironically, today’s the only day I didn’t bring my cell phone … so I just e-mailed Takano-san the map. Next time, I’d like to demo it on my phone, although he clearly gets by fine anyway!

I would love to go on a walk with him one day and see the world in a different way through his perspective. I’ll wait at my spot typing away in the mornings until he comes again. Next time, I’ll take a photo with him and his beaming smile.

Park in Koto-Ku Eastern Tokyo

The ever-changing morning view at my writing corner.

PS: This is my Accessible Tokyo Guide and this is a tutorial on how to use my map on your phone.

tokyo travel

10 Most Original Souvenirs from Tokyo: Authentic, Useful, and Affordable

The best of Japan, never leaves Japan. Japan has a wealth of unique cultural items to choose from, both traditional and contemporary.

As a traveller, I treasure hunt for truly unique and priceless things during my travels for friends. My general rule is that priceless is what money can’t buy in the place my friend lives in.

Below are my favourite items to give, where to find them, and a shopping map.

1. Miso 味噌 Konbu 昆布 and Katsuobushi 鰹節

Dashi, Japanese soup stock, is the foundation of Japanese cuisine, and it begins with a type of kelp (konbu) and bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Konbu seaweed is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. While konbu is available in budget supermarkets and high-end specialty stores alike in-country, the options dwindle outside Japan. As dried goods, these lightweight items make great souvenirs and gifts for foodie friends back home (both Japanese and non-Japanese).

Good bonito flakes (katsuobushi) come from areas like Tosa (土佐 modern Kochi Prefecture), and the ones you can get in Japan come packed with nuanced and smoky flavours that the exported ones lack. The ones you get in supermarkets and department stores are usually sealed while the high-end stores often have them open-air in bins (make sure you request vacuum-sealed for travel).

Miso is also a travel-friendly item, as it does not need to be refrigerated until opened. You have your choice of white (shiro), yellow (shinshu) and red (aka) miso, which come in both pre-packaged boxes or open-air tubs purchased by weight. White miso comes from the south, and is typically sweeter. Red miso comes from the north, and has a very aggressive flavour. The typical stock miso is yellow miso from Shinshu 信州, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Nagano Prefecture, which has a hearty, robust flavour.

Find At:

  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, Gourmet City, and Isetan)
  • Department store food halls
  • Specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi


2. O-cha, Genmaicha and other teas

The reason green tea tastes better in Japan is because it is fresh. The delicate flavours of Chinese and Japanese green teas (Matcha, genmaicha, Oolong, Jasmine, etc.) are meant to be enjoyed within the first few months after harvest, no matter what the packaging says.

While everyone associates Japan with matcha and the tea ceremony, I prefer to give o-cha, green tea and genmaicha, green tea with roasted barley. Genmaicha has matcha powder mixed in and is what many Japanese drink at home, and is more flexible in brewing arrangements (i.e. you can use your own teapot).

Matcha, in contrast, is a ceremonial drink demanding specific tools and techniques to fully realise a high-quality powder’s potential. Quality tea can cost an arm and a leg, especially because East Asians fully appreciate it. If you are set on getting some quality matcha, you are best visiting in the spring, when the leaves are harvested. It’s best to go to a traditional specialty shop, but otherwise head into a department store basement.

Find At:

  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, and Isetan)
  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi

3. Okashi, mochi & other Japanese sweets お菓子

Another one of my favourite gifts is to bring Japanese desserts okashi お菓子, and especially seasonal products.

Japanese desserts are an art form, whether traditional Japanese or Western cakes and pastries. They have also perfected the art of packaging for travel, down to perfect temperature control.

My personal favourites to bring are fuu, a Japanese sweet hailing from Kyoto that is more delicate than its mochi cousin. Crafted traditional Japanese sweets are also a winner because of their stunning visual. However, don’t be fooled by just the looks – oftentimes the most domestically prized products are the most unassuming, such as youkan from the shop Toraya.

If you prefer Western desserts, Tokyo has just as many options as Paris. Take your pick from the department store cake shops, which won’t let you down. They are often lighter in texture and flavour than their European counterparts.

*A note of caution: These items should be consumed within a few days of arriving home. The ‘best before’ date is clearly stated, and staff will ask (usually in Japanese) if you are okay with a specific date.

Find At:

  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Neighbourhood sweet shops (the smaller and older, usually the better)
  • Established and famous old sweet shops
  • Airport Duty-Free (Especially the Royce Chocolates)


4. Regional food & seasonings

As a food-lover, cooking ingredients is my favourite thing to bring to my food-loving friends abroad.

I take advantage of Japan’s domestic appreciation of regional products and bring back the best in the country – at mindbogglingly reasonable prices because they are ‘just’ food products rather than souvenirs or packaged omiyage. Food in Japan is usually labelled with their place of origin; in other words, soba and udon from specific areas are better than others. This is your opportunity to delve deeper into local traditions and share them through stories and meals with your friends back home.

My personal favourites are:

  • Soba 蕎麦/そば: Shinshu (Azumino) 信州、安曇野
  • Udon うどん:  Sanuki (香川県/讃岐) – and get the udon soy sauce too udon tsuyu うどんつゆ.  The other best contender is Osaka udon, which is generally softer and is usually served in soup.
  • Okonomiyaki お好み焼き(you can get the batter mix & sauce): Hiroshima & Osaka
  • Shrimp Crackers: Hiroshima (広島)
  • Wakashi お菓子: Japanese sweets, Kyoto (京都)
  • Rice: Various places, such as Akita (秋田県) and Niigata (新潟県)
  • Bonito flakes: Kochi/Tosa (高知県/土佐)
  • Yuzu: Kochi Prefecture (高知県/土佐)
  • Curry Sauces: Hokkaido (北海道)
  • Cream and milk products: Hokkaido (北海道)

Find At:

  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Antenna Shops in Tokyo (see map at the bottom of the page)

5. Eating Utensils:

A good pair of chopsticks makes a light-weight and unique gift. Since chopsticks are the eating utensil in Japan, it’s no surprise they have a host of designs to suit every taste. Personally, my favourites are wooden styles, and if you want to get a nice pair, the department stores and old shops specify exactly which type of wood is used. Otherwise, head to the supermarket, home stores, and 100-yen stores. If you have friends that are fans of specific brands, bands, or icons, head to those fan store; they will usually have chopstick and bentos on sale.

Other great options are:

  • chopsticks
  • chopstick holders
  • Bento Boxes
  • Miso bowls (wooden)
  • Teapots
  • Teacups
  • Rice ball shaper

Find At:

  • Store with your favourite collectibles (i.e. Pokemon Centre, Donguri Kyowakoku (Studio Ghibli Store), etc.)
  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, and Isetan)
  • Department store lifestyle sections (usually upper floors)
  • Old specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi

6. Charms & Keychains

If you are heading to a shrine like Meiji Jingu, why not pray for a friend and buy them a lucky charm? Charms typically cost (usually 300-500 JPY)

Japanese will hang charms and keychains on bags, cellphones, rear-view mirrors in cars, and in houses. You have your option of traditional, to small anime characters and fake food! It’s a lightweight, cultural, and thoughtful gift.

Find At:

  • Local Temples (almost all temples with an office will have it)
  • Senso-ji
  • Tomioka Hachimangu
  • Fukagawa Fudo-Do
  • Stores & Stalls close to main attractions


7. Figures & Models: traditional figures, and fake food

If you are an anime fan, you will already have your earmarked collectible stores marked out. However, even if you are not, keep an eye out for small figurines or cute fake food display items. It’s likely at least one will take your heart away. If one reminds you of a friend, make that your souvenir! It’s a much more personal gift than the usual Eiffel Tower!

Find At:


8. Anime collectibles and action items

If you’re looking for specific Gundam models, your best bet is Akihabara, where you’ll find the multi-story anime-everything Mandarake, Radio Kaikan, and Liberty Store #13. Ikebukuro comes as a good second option as it has the largest Pokemon Centre in Tokyo, the official Studio Ghibli store, an arcade section, and some specialty shops.

Find At:

    • Akihabara
    • Ikebukuro
    • Studio Ghibli Store at Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City and other locations
    • Pokemon Centre in Tokyo station and Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City

9. Stationary and Lifestyle Items

Japanese home items and stationery exemplify off design and functionality. They make pretty and practical gifts.Whether you like minimalist and modern, cute, or neon-coloured, anime-themed, there are items for you.

Perhaps it’s a nice Uniball ink pen, a letter pad, a small memo book (because they have them in every practical size you’d want), or agenda, it’s a great keepsake to remind you of your trip. Head to a Muji or Loft store in Shibuya or Yurakucho for lifestyle options. Ideas are:

  • Pens (Gel, Ink, etc.)
  • Paper (letter)
  • Origami Paper
  • Notebooks (espeically thin, travel-sized ones)
  • Pencil Cases
  • Pen & Pencil Stands
  • Compartment containers in various sizes (usually stackable, modular, and perfectly fitted for paper, small items, etc.)
  • Collapsable containers

Find At:

  • Muji
  • LoFT
  • Daiso
  • Department Store
  • Your Favourite Anime / Collectible Store

10. Knives and cookware

In general, knives are a great start because of the incredible craftsmanship from Japanese folding techniques to create tempered steel. The most practical knife to get is the santoku, the Japanese smaller equivalent to a chef’s knife, which is excellent for cutting vegetables and meat for stir-frying.

If you are particular about cooking processes and want to recreate your favourite dishes, then you can get specialised cooking equipment for specific dishes. For example, you can get a noodle strainer that you see in the ramen shops, the small round pan for rice bowl toppings, a square pan for tamagoyaki, and a grill for takoyaki.

Find At:



tokyo travel

Tokyo Cafes: Yanaka Coffee

Yanaka Coffee is one of those little stalls you’d usually miss. It’s the one or two people sitting on a bench that catches your eye. The languid, contented people-watcher is a permanent fixture for this coffee stall.



This roaster has over 15 options in its shelves. Most of them are light roasts, and sourced from at least three continents.

If you want a cup of coffee, their menu is refreshingly simple. They have a hot coffee for 240 JPY, Cafe au Lait for 290 JPY, iced coffee. Their coffee is their daily roast, which they select for you.

Even if you like milk, I suggest you get a black hot coffee and add your own cream and sugar. The pour over black has subtle berry flavours that are lost in the cafe au lait.

Even though the stall, which has been around for over a decade and attracts a steady stream of visitors, the lineup remains at a neighbourhood scale.

They have 2-3 seats inside the stall facing the wall. On a cold day, it’s a warm corner to sip your coffee before heading back out. If you want to people watch, take the small bench just at the entrance. They have two small blankets for you to keep your legs warm. As you watch the people go by, sipping your coffee, you’ll become that contented fixture that attracts the next customer in.

The street has a lively weekend buzz, without ever becoming too crowded.


Good For:

  • Drip (black)
  • Fresh beans
  • People watching (from the bench)
Address: Yanaka 3-8-6, Taito-Ku, Tokyo
Closed: 3rd Thursday of the month
Every Day 10:00-20:00
每日 10:00~20:00
Coffee / Cafes Japan Tokyo tokyo travel