. Govt & Education
A grittier, but in many ways more charming, experience lies at the end of the Maranouchi subway line in Ikebukuro -- a district widely sneered at by Tokyo's foreign community, so you know it has to be good. Ikebukuro's main claim to international fame is as the site of the world's two largest department stores, the main branches of Seibu and Tobu (two of several gigantic Japanese chains that make Macy's look like Circle K). Both are built as appendages to Ikebukuro station. Or maybe it's the other way around. To the west of the station is the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, home to Ikebukuro's other big tourist attraction, the world's tallest escalator.
Needless to say, you don't go to Ikebukuro for the sightseeing. You go there for the Chinese restaurants (just because white folks aren't keen on it doesn't mean other foreigners don't like the place; Ikebukuro has a high concentration of immigrants from other Asian countries), numerous izakaya (traditional eating-and-drinking joints) and more McDonald's in one place than you can even count.
Okay, don't go there for the fecund array of McDonald's. But it is a remarkable testament to Japanese consumerism to see so many Big Mac palaces within a 10 minute walk of one another.
At night Ikebukuro gets very colorful, in its own special way, as young women in cocktail dresses and youths in flashy suits stand on the sidewalks handing out flyers for the nightly special deals at the yakuza-run sex clubs.
And while the wealthy tourists shop for overpriced fashions and slurp $10 cups of coffee in Ginza, the truly funky make their way to Kanda, Tokyo's bargain basement neighborhood situated oddly enough adjacent to Otemachi, the rather sterile financial district -- also site of the Imperial Palace.