Some people can’t help smirking whenever they talk about ikebukuro. It could be the district’s perceived grittier, sleazier character; or maybe the fact that the area attracts all the people from the uncool prefectures north of tokyo. Whatever the reason, ikebukuro is often overlooked in favor of more fashionable or glamorous places like shinjuku, ginza or shibuya in spite of its efforts to get noticed from two of the country’s biggest department stores (tobu and seibu), the city’s third tallest building (240-meter tall sunshine 60), and a top-notch cultural center that somehow is better known for having the world’s longest escalator.
When it comes to anime and manga, few areas in Tokyo can boast a better pedigree than Toshima Ward, where Ikebukuro is located. Since the early 1950s, this area has been home to many comic artists. “God of manga” Tezuka Osamu, for instance, used to live in the Tokiwa-so apartment building together with a group of talented young disciples who went on to become best-selling manga authors (Fujiko Fujio, Ishinomori Shotaro, Akatsuka Fujio, etc.), while Yokohama Mitsuteru, creator of the manga Tetsujin 28-go, lived and worked most of his life not far from Tezuka.
More recently Ikebukuro has further boosted its otaku credentials, as major companies like Animate, K-Books and Lashinbang have opened multiple stores in the area. Ikebukuro is also the main pole of attraction for otome, or female fans. The reason is that students attending the many women’s colleges in the area find in Ikebukuro a female-friendly environment. The prevalent female presence in the area means that many shops, manga cafes and game centers are geared toward female customers. The otaku cafes are manned by butlers and “high school bishonen (pretty boys)” instead of maids, and many manga and dojinshi on sale belong to the BL (Boys Love) genre that otaku girls love so much.
This district is definitely worth checking out, and now, after the huge success of the 2010 TV anime series Durarara!!, which takes place in Ikebukuro, it may have finally landed on the Cool Tokyo map once and for all.
The JR station splits central Ikebukuro into an East and West side. Luckily for you almost all the otaku places of some interest are concentrated east of the station. For many tourists and first-comers, navigating the neighborhood or even finding your way out of the chaotic station can be a nightmare. Regardless of the line you use, the best thing to do once you get off the train is to remain underground and walk all the way to Exit 35. Once you surface to street level, keep walking in the same direction until you see two streets on your left. Take Sunshine 60 Street—the one with a Lotteria on the left corner and a Sanrio Gift Gate store on the right side. In this street there are two of Ikebukuro’s best game arcades, Game Adores and Sega Ikebukuro GIGO. Apart from the usual features, on the sixth and seventh floors of GIGO you’ll find Studio Sega, an area entirely devoted to purikura (sticker picture booths). You can actually rent a costume for free and use their makeup rooms before taking those memorable photos with your friends. But men (either alone or in groups) are not allowed unless they are with a female companion.
You can continue along this street and go all the way to Otome Road—the epicenter of female otaku fandom—but if you turn left past Game Adores, you can see Animate’s blue and white sign. That’s where we are going first. Since opening this shop in Ikebukuro in 1983, Animate has become Japan’s largest retailer of anime, manga and video games, with branches everywhere in Japan and even abroad. Still, this nine-story building remains its flagship store. Noteworthy floors are the fourth, shared by dojinshi (mostly new titles by popular circles) and BL/shojo >manga, and the eighth, where you can find Animate’s limited-edition versions of new manga and DVDs that come with extra freebies and/or alternative covers. Also, the Animate Hall on the ninth floor often has special events. This is by no means the cheapest place in Ikebukuro, but the range of goods being offered is hard to beat.
This short stretch actually features three more shops. Next to Animate but on the third floor, there’s Lashinbang Female Dojin Goods, whose selection is smaller than K-Books but relatively cheaper (don’t forget the name of your favorite artists and circles so you can ask for help in case you can’t locate them). Across the street, apart from a Yellow Submarine card shop, you find instead the tiny K-Books Character Store and the equally small Lashinbang Store #5. Both sell lots of character goods (toys, accessories, figures, stationery), with K-Books specializing in Kuroko’s Basketball, One Piece, Haikyu!! and other popular manga published in the Jump magazines.
Now turn left at Family Mart. Inside the tall WACCA building across the street, cosplayers will find Yuzawaya. This popular chain of craft shops has no less than 38 outlets in the Tokyo area. Unfortunately most of them are scattered in the suburbs, so this Ikebukuro branch is particularly convenient. While Yuzawaya is not especially geared toward those who love dressing up (most customers are housewives and grannies), they do have fabrics, buttons, and thousands of different decorations and materials you may need to create your costumes.
Continue in the same direction, take the narrow street opposite McDonald’s, cross the main avenue keeping Parco to your left and arrive at P’Parco, the annex that houses the Evangelion Store Tokyo-01. Evangelion’s official store in Tokyo has enough merchandise to drain any fan’s wallet, from toys and figures to designer clothes, accessories, and many other items (badges, key holders, stickers, etc.).