The Dark Side of Shin-Okubo

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Shin-Okubo became a bustling and glittering Korean town just recently, though this area used to be a dubious and gloomy town where day laborers and streetwalkers would hang out. Nowadays, Shin-Okubo still has a darkness. Let’s explore the dark side of Shin-Okubo!

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Shin-Okubo is a unique town and doesn’t feel like Japan. It is said to be like Korea in Japan. There are Korean restaurants, Korean grocery stores, and Korean idol goods shops. The main part of Korean town is southeast area of Shin-Okubo Station on the JR Yamanote Line, between Okubo-dori and Shokuan-dori. This area is in Okubo 1-chome and east side of Hyakunincho 1-chome. On the street called Ikemen-dori, between Okubo-dori and Shokuan-dori, there are many Korean cosmetic shops and street stalls that are full of girls.

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Shin-Okubo is bustling now, but it has a dark history. Shin-Okubo was an upper-class residential area and was also an area for musical instruments before WWII. There are still some musical instrument shops near Shin-Okubo Station.During WWII, it was burnt to ruins. Squatters, day laborers and zainichi Koreans (在日韓国人, permanent ethnic Korean residents of Japan) gathered there, and a slummy flophouse area was formed. When Kyuk-ho Shin, a zainichi Korean, started operation of the Lotte Shinjuku factory in 1950, zainichi Koreans gathered in Shin-Okubo. Some Koreans who escaped the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre and the Korean War came to Shin-Okubo, and Koreans there increased. Then Shin-Okubo became a Korean town. In addition, there were many love hotels for G.I.s during the Korean War.

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Since the late 1980s, Koreans called “newcomers” increased. Most of them came to Japan to work or study. Old and cheap hotels turned into hotels for Koreans or love hotels. During the Korean boom in Japan following the blockbuster drama “Winter Sonata” in 2003, Korean cosmetics shops, Korean street stalls, and Korean fortune-telling shops opened one after another, and migrant workers from Korea increased rapidly. In 2010, at the peak of the Korean boom, it was hard to walk Ikemen-dori because it was full of female fans. However, the Korean boom suddenly shrunk 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 now there are fewer visitors in Ikemen-dori.

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You can know the dark history about Shin-Okubo, and explore the remaining dark side of Shin-Okubo now. The Lotte factory moved to Sayama city, Saitama, in 2013, but the factory site still remains. It is the gray factory near the north side of Shin-Okubo Station. Large neon signs of Lotte chocolate were seen from trains before. The Lotte company is a successful postwar zainichi Korean company in Japan. Kyuk-ho Shin, Takeo Shigemitsu in Japanese, is a zainichi Korean from Ulsan, Korea. He came to Japan in 1942 when he was 20 years old and began chewing gum production in 1947. He established the Lotte company in 1948 and grew big in the confectionery industry with products like gum or chocolates. Then he started the Lotte group in Korea and succeeded as a conglomerate with department stores, hotels, and amusement parks in Korea. The Lotte Shinjuku factory was closed, but the factory site still remains, and there is a Lotteria in front of Shin-Okubo Station.

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There were many flophouses when Shin-Okubo was a town of day laborers. In addition, it is said that these were used as love hotels for G.I.s during the Korean War. Those cheap houses turned into hotels for Koreans or love hotels now.

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When you go east of Shin-Okubo Station and turn right after Kanryu Hyakkaten, there is an alley. There are some old-fashioned love hotels.

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In addition, there are hotels for Koreans, like Best Hotel or Hikari Hotel, when you go south toward Shokuan-dori.

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Okubo Station on the JR Sobu Line is west of Shin-Okubo Station. Near Okubo Station, it is also chaotic. The multi-tenant buildings in front of the station have suspicious shops.

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There is Masuda Clinic with venereology, gynecology, and urology. This seems a sign of the character of this area because there have been many hookers and hostesses around Shin-Okubo.

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Shin-Okubo changed rapidly during the Korean boom. It was a gloomy town in the old days, but now is full of girls and young Koreans. How will Shin-Okubo change in future? It’s interesting to watch this town change.

zainichi Koreans, zainichi for short (在日韓国人/在日朝鮮人、在日) : permanent ethnic Korean residents of Japan. Most of them have South Korean passports. Some have North Korean passports, and some are naturalized Japanese citizens. They are divided into oldcomers and newcomers. They often do business as yakiniku (BBQ) restaurants, pachinko parlors, TV entertainers, health spas, industrial waste disposal contractors, and junk dealers. Famous zainichi are singer Akiko Wada, the president of mobile company SoftBank Masayoshi Son, the president of pachinko Maruhan Chang-WooHan, the chairman Lotte company Kyuk-ho Shin, actor Yusaku Matsuda, and wrestler Rikidozan.

oldcomers (オールドカマー) : zainichi Koreans who came to Japan before in the 1980s. Some came as laborers before WWII and some Koreans who escaped by the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre and the Korean War.

newcomers (ニューカマー) : zainichi Koreans who have come to Japan since the late 1980s. Most of them came to Japan to work or study.

[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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