Shin-Okubo : Explore the Largest Korean Town of Japan

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Shin-Okubo is the largest Korean town in Japan. This area does’t feel like it’s in Japan, though it is. Shin-Okubo is called “Little Korea” or “Myeong-dong in Japan”. Yes, you can experience Korea without a passport.

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While Shin-Okubo is the neighboring town of Shinjuku, the largest entertainment district, Shin-Okubo is a place where all people passing by are Korean, and the only language you hear is Korean. You can see signs in the Hangul alphabet everywhere, when you exit Shin-Okubo Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

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The main part of Korean town is southeast of Shin-Okubo Station, between Okubo-dori and Shokuan-dori. This area is in Okubo 1-chome and east side of Hyakunincho 1-chome. There are many Korean restaurants, Korean grocery stores, Korean idol goods shops, real estate agents for Koreans, hotels for Koreans, apartments for Koreans, hair salons for Koreans, and churches for Koreans.

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When you get out of Shin-Okubo Station, Okubo-dori runs east to west. Along Okubo-dori, there are some Korean idol goods shops like Kanryu Hyakkaten or Idol Park.

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These shops sell calendars and other goods of K-pop idols or Korean actors, and are full of female fans.

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There are also samgyeopsal (Korean pork berry meat BBQ) restaurants, hotteok (sweet Korean pancake) street stalls, Korean fried chicken shops, and gimpab (Korean sushi roll) restaurants.

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The restaurant Tonchan was the first restaurant specializing in samgyeopsal in Japan and is very popular.

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Shokuan-dori is near Seibu Shinjuku Station, on the border of Kabukicho and Korean Town. Along Shokuan-dori street, there are supermarkets for Korean ingredients, like Namdaemun Market or Kankoku Hiroba. There are also live houses where K-pop artists appear, like SHOW BOX or K-Stage.

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There is a Korean famous BBQ chain restaurant, called Semauru Shokudo.

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Don Quixote, a discount market, is located on the corner of Shokuan-dori and Ikemen-dori, and sells cheap Korean cosmetics and ingredients with K-pop music playing in the background.

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The alleys between Okubo-dori and Shokuan-dori are crowded with Korea-related shops. The most famous and popular is an alley called Ikemen-dori. It is located between the convenience store Three F on Okubo-dori and the discount store Don Quixote on Shokuan-dori. This alley is called Ikemen-dori (good-looking man street in Japanese) because there are many good-looking Korean men who tout Korean restaurants in this alley.

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This alley used be dingy and gloomy, and had old Korean eateries, karaoke bars, and hotels, but it became popular and crowed with girls after a Korean boom in Japan from a blockbuster drama called “Winter Sonata” in 2003. Korean cosmetics shops, street stalls, and fortune-telling shops opened in this alley, one after another.

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The Kim Yakkyoku drugstore used to be a regular old drugstore, but then it changed to sell Korean cosmetics. Along Ikemen-dori, many Korean cosmetic shops sell cheap face masks which contain ingredients from snails or poisonous snakes.

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The Korean restaurant called Kanton No Omoide is crowded with customers. The cafe called Coffee Prince Ichigo-ten is famous for good-looking waiters like the Korean drama, “The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince”.

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There is also a street stall selling poop-shaped cakes that are popular in Insadong, Seoul. In 2010, at the peak of the Korean boom, it was hard to walk Ikemen-dori street because it is fulled with female fans.

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On the other hand, the residents are annoyed with Korean people and shops.

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Some troubles with garbage or noise, happen between Korean people and Japanese residents. There are warning signs written in the Hangul alphabet.

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However, the Korean boom suddenly shrank because of the change for the worse between Japan and Korea, which was caused when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited Takeshima/Dokdo island in 2012. Some Korean shops closed and there are fewer visitors to Ikemen-dori.

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By the way, in Shin-Okubo Station, there is a monument for the victims of a railroad accident that occurred in 2001. A Japanese photographer and a Korean student fell onto the tracks trying to save a drunk who had fallen, and all three people were hit by a train and died. It became a popular topic as a beautiful story in those days, and the movie “26 Years Diary” was filmed.

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How will Shin-Okubo change in the future? During 2012-2015, the relations between Japan and Korea has become worse because of the Takeshima/Dokdo island issue, Yasukuni Shrine issue, and the military comfort women issue. However, Japan and Korea reached an agreement on the comfort women issue at the end of 2015. Shin-Okubo will change through the influence of Japan – Korea relations.

[How to go]  Near Shin-Okubo Station (新大久保駅) on the JR Sobu Line (総武線) or Okubo Station (大久保駅) on the JR Yamanote Line (山手線)

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