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Tokyo is home to a diverse array of neighborhoods, each one boasting its own distinctive atmosphere. Tourists and shoppers flock to Shinjuku and Shibuya for their endless stores while those looking for more traditional vibes might check out Asakusa to see the iconic Sensoji. Out of these many communities, however, Nakano seems to be one that is regularly overlooked despite its familiar name. Blogs like to call Nakano an alternative to the otaku heaven that is Akihabara, but I think that this label overgeneralizes the quirky charm that makes the ward so special. 

Two major landmarks that define Nakano are the Nakano Sun Mall and Nakano Broadway. Both are shopping centers located at the north exit of Nakano Station, with the former acting as a direct path of sorts to the latter. The Sun Mall is basically a long stretch of shops and restaurants, and it offers everything you could possibly need to buy and more. Its strategic organization of stores makes it the ideal place to stop by when you feel like doing a bit of shopping; not only does it have a wide range of food stalls (cakes, sushi, curry, etc.) but it also houses major brands like Uniqlo and ABC Mart. It might feel overwhelming at times — to be perfectly honest, the combination of the Sun Mall’s relatively narrow walkway with its overall hustle and bustle isn’t a very pleasant one — but it’s a visit I highly recommend making when you have the time.

At the end of the Sun Mall shopping arcade is the famed Nakano Broadway. This multi-story complex, arguably one of Nakano’s top selling points, has countless stores for almost every single hobby you could ever imagine. Trust me when I say that even those with the most niche interests will be able to find something they’ll want to buy here! For example, Mandarake (a series of chain stores that sells pop culture goods) has multiple stores located throughout the Nakano Broadway building, each focusing on a specific subculture. Want to find ultra-rare action figures from the 80s? Go to Mandarake. Need to find an animation cel to complete your collection? Go to Mandarake. Have a burning desire to buy that Tokyo Disneyland-exclusive popcorn bucket you saw online years ago? Go to Mandarake. They might not have that exact product you’re looking for, but you’ll definitely walk out with something just as good. 

Another fun part of Nakano Broadway is Bar Zingaro. This bar/cafe is exclusively decorated with pop artist Takashi Murakami’s work — from pancakes to seat cushions, Murakami’s signature smiling flowers adorn every inch of this cozy space. I tried the iced matcha latte and cherry mousse, both of which were pretty tasty (and very Instagram-friendly). If you feel a bit peckish while looking around, try looking for this exhibition-slash-cafe. It’s located on the second floor of Nakano Broadway, tucked away in a quiet corner. Make sure to keep an eye out for seats inside; they make excellent photo spots! 

Who knows? Maybe I’m just biased because I actually live in Nakano, but I really do believe that this is an area worth visiting. Even if you’re not into Japanese pop culture, the eclectic mix of merchandise that Nakano Sun Mall and Nakano Broadway have will make great souvenirs. If you’re still convinced that these areas won’t be your cup of tea, give the ramen shops at the south exit a try. Nakano isn’t as flashy and boisterous as its neighboring wards, but that’s what makes it the perfect place to hang out at on a lazy weekend day. 

Third culture kid at Waseda who loves disposable cameras, movies, hanami season, and collecting postcards.
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