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The beautiful photo of Ikebukuro above is courtesy of Tsutomu Kuriyama from the Panorama Tokyo Review.

Go to the photo gallery for Ikebukuro Station.

Ikebukuro is one of the new hearts of Tokyo these days.  It used to be a small station in the suburbs if you can believe that and was not developed or crowded like it is today.  When it became the link to Saitama prefecture in the north-west it grew rapidly in density and population.  Today it is arguably one of the four busiest stations in Tokyo, handling close to a million passengers a day, or more.  The other three being Shinjuku, Tokyo and Ueno stations.  Shibuya station is also becoming incredibly busy these days.  In fact the busiest stretch of track in Tokyo, is the Yamanote line between Shibuya Station and Ikebukuro Station.  It is not wise to live between these stations because there are always massive crowds of people on that route.  Meaning it is always busy, even during the non-rush hour period.  Ikebukuro is also home to some first class department stores.  According to The Lonely Planet Japan, Seibu and Tobu department stores are the two largest department stores in the world.  They are constantly being added on to.  A few years ago Seibu on the east side of the tracks was the biggest.  Then for competitive purposes, Tobu, on the west side of the tracks, added an extra 8 or 9 floors onto a section of it's store making it the biggest in the world.  The stores are quite massive.  Each one dominates the entire area around the station and the skyline, besides the Sunshine 60 building.  The stores are basically cities in a building.  The goal of each store is to carry the widest assortment of goods possible.  This means you can find literally anything at one of these stores, making them a great place to shop, but sometimes the price is a bit too high class.

Let me take a minute to try to describe the Japanese department store.  You might think, huh?  aren't they the same as a department store where I live, well, yes and no.  They are fundamentally the same, but taken to the extreme.  One thing that might be different from a North American approach is that there are few if any shopping malls in Japan.  They don't fit well into the economics of the country.  This means department stores are huge companies that own everything from the trains you ride, to sports teams, usually baseball.  For example Seibu department store is not only one of the largest in the world they also own the Seibu Lions pro baseball team in Japan and the private Seibu train corporation.  Shopping malls in North America have taken business away from the private business owner and small businesses,  but in Japan small businesses can still thrive, and succeed.  So again the largest retail owners are department stores.  Stores are usually split up into the same general floor plan, which makes it easy to find things.  The basement floors are usually for the food floors (meaning pre-cooked or prepared food) sections and the grocery and produce etc.  The next being just under the main floor will be where the train station is, which is of course run by the store so it goes right into the building.  Convenient.  This may be more than one floor or maybe a store has no station, depending.  On the main floor is usually the jewelry, fragrance, and accessories section.  All floors above the main floor up to the roof are a separate floor for women's and men's clothing, usually books, children's clothes, sports, and everything else you might expect.  All employees are almost always extremely knowledgeable, polite and do everything with extreme speed and precision.  It is to such a degree that it is almost too much.

In case you didn't know this.  When you enter any Japanese store someone will always greet you with "irasshaimase!" which means basically, "welcome to our store".  Sometimes everyone will shout it at you and it can be kind of alarming if you're not prepared.  It's just part of customer service.

Customer service at a Japanese department store could be easily rated as best in the world.  They take it as being the most important part of their business to please the customer and make everything perfect.  This will in turn mean they will have loyal customers that keep coming back.  Anyway the extra parts of many stores might be a floor near the top for nice restaurants, a floor for variety goods, like stationary, souvenirs, etc.  A floor for electronics, appliances, household goods, a floor for top fashions by famous fashion designers, a floor for furniture, travel supplies, or a camera's and photography.  After all this on the roof there is usually a place to buy plants and shrubs, a beer garden, children's play area, or rest area with a view, making the department store experience something to remember here.

Back to Ikebukuro, the station is again like almost every station split into east and west sides.  the division is not as contrasting as most stations though.  Probably because of the two department stores both sides of the station have developed along the same paths.  My personal favorite side was the east side, or the Seibu side.  The Seibu side seemed busier and more active than the Tobu side, but that's just an opinion.  Along with busy streets, bars, restaurants, and many stores, the east side also has the ever looming Sunshine 60 building.  It is really out of place as the only huge skyscraper in the area.  It used to be the tallest building in Tokyo before the Metropolitan Gov. Offices were completed in Shinjuku.  The '60' of 'Sunshine 60' means it has 60 floors.  At the base is another city in a building called Sunshine City.