Ikebukuro in Toshima Ward, is one of Tokyo’s hubs offering an urban landscape of skyscrapers, plenty of shopping, including a mini Chinatown of sorts. However, the purpose of my visit was unfortunately, not stuffing my face with copious Chinese food nor was it going on a shopping spree at the major department stores located within walking distance from the station. Instead, I had the very interesting task of going in search of subculture in Toshima Ward.
Mention subculture and many tend to associate it with anime, manga, costume play (cosplay) as some of the more common ones. The subculture in Ikebukuro is geared more towards females, almost like the sibling of Akihabara. Both are open to visitors from either gender but a cursory glance at the clientele in shops at both places, Akihabara definitely has a higher percentage of male patrons while Ikebukuro has more females.
What makes Ikebukuro more female-friendly compared to Akihabara, one may ask. After all, both sell all things anime, manga and game related. My best guess is Ikebukuro is one of the hotbeds of dojinshi subculture, a kind of Japanese fan fiction which are mostly self published, and of which has many female fans. Dojinshi straddles the divide between girly and testosterone-charged comics, offering readers a alternative view of popular manga characters or original ones. Not all dojinshi are rated R, though many seem so based on their covers.
With that in mind, I set off to see what Ikebukuro has to offer in terms of anime and manga subculture, especially for foreign visitors. Many of the places I visited are in the vicinity of Sunshine City, a short walk from Ikebukuro Station. While I didn’t see any one dressed up in a full on costume (it was a weekday, after all), I saw many girls, and funnily enough, only a handful of men in the shops I visited.
Sega Game Center
I started off with a really fun activity at the Sega Game Center. The game center, or video game arcade, has six floors and offers plenty of choices for everyone. There are UFO catchers (claw crane game machines) with anime and manga goods inside, a boatload of video game machines, as well as casino-type game machines (minus the gambling element).
But my main objective was the print sticker machines (known as purikura, a registered trademark of Sega, derived from «print club») located on the sixth floor.
The main draw for me was the availability of costumes there, allowing one to cosplay and take purikura (together known as cospuri) without having to lug clothes everywhere or spending too much money on clothes. There is a wide selection of outfits to choose from; however, note that many outfits come only in few sizes and those who are bigger than the average Japanese girl may find it hard to fit into the outfits. Males are not allowed to enter the sixth floor without a female companion.
Moving on from the game center, I headed to a number of shops that sold anime and manga as well as their associated goods. Animate carries official anime and manga goods, drawing many customers searching for their favorite products. Lashinbang and Mandarake are some of the other popular shops selling second hand as well as new figures, and it is not uncommon to see patrons sifting through the products looking for their pot of gold. Dojinshi manga was also popular at a number of places, and the number of titles was impressive. I had no idea that the dojinshi market was that big, but it is definitely very popular in Ikebukuro.
Farm to Park
A quick lunch stop at the very attractive Racine: Farm to Park cafe-restaurant at Minami Park was up next to digest all that I’d seen in the morning. It was a good change of scenery sitting in the park after submersing myself in the anime and manga world. I had wanted to visit a butler cafe (the male version of a maid cafe), but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.
From goods, I moved on to cosplay, checking out Acos, a shop which sold wigs, costumes, colored contact lenses and everything you may need for cosplay. The range of outfits available tend to rotate, depending on the latest trends, but there are regulars and staples that players (people who cosplay are known as that) also go for. I learnt that the best way to personalise the wigs are to get them cut, just like you would with real hair. Conveniently located a floor above the Acos shop is HACOSTADIUM: cosset, a cosplay studio. The studio is spread across two floors, offering players different booths and scenarios to take pictures in. I saw a number of cosplayers having photo shoots while we were there, and some looked very professional indeed!
Next, I headed to Sunshine City, which has two amusement parks. The two theme parks are owned by Bandai Namco and offers different attractions. Attractions inside both theme parks cost extra in addition to the entry fee.
First up was Namja Town, an amusement park with 13 indoor attractions. The indoor route starts with the Gyoza Stadium where visitors can sample and compare the different dumplings from across the country. From there, the rest of the park is made up of three different zones, offering visitors an interesting variety of attractions.
Is the world’s first Jump-themed amusement park where visitors can immerse themselves in the world of Jump, a brand of magazines that carries a wide variety of serial manga. Not only are there attractions from the manga and anime Dragonball, One Piece and Naruto, food sold in the amusement park is also inspired by the comic book characters. Definitely something you cannot get elsewhere!
Finally, I paid a quick visit to DiCE, a manga-kissa for those who end up having too much fun in Ikebukuro. Miss their last train, or those who want to have a place to rest for a few hours. For those who have the image that internet cafes are table cubicles without much privacy, this one may impress you (I was impressed).
The cheaper booths are like little rooms, while actual rooms are available for more money. All booths are equipped with a computer, and free amenities include magazines, manga, drinks, and showers (for the first 15 minutes). Definitely the place to go when you are out-anime’d and -manga’d in the city.