Sunshine City is a huge complex in the heart of the trendy Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. Ikebukuro has all of the upmarket stores of Ginza with the young vibe of Harajuku. The great thing, though, is that it is not as expensive as the former or as horrendously crowded as the latter. It is a great leisurely walk from Ikebukuro Train Station (on the Yamanote line) up a wide, well-shaded, tree-lined boulevard until the huge Sunshine 60 skyscraper comes into view. As you get closer to the Mall, the trees are replaced by the Blade Runner neon, giant television screens and plethora of Japanese characters we have come to love of this Mega-City. Massive stores, most notable of which is the Uniqlo flagship store, line your path towards the Mall.
The Mall was opened in 1978 and is actually a series of buildings, described as a ‘multi-functional urban complex’. This terminology describes the concept of the original Gruen Mall, where you not only shop, but also live, work, exercise and play. It is an all-encompassing complex in which you could live happily without ever seeing the light of day. Sunshine City was, in fact, the first Centre of this nature in Japan.
The boulevard leading up to Sunshine City
The Fountain Plaza
The main Alpa section at the heart of the complex
As you enter the Mall, you go along an underground hallway and enter the main atrium called Alpa, with its beautiful Fountain Plaza, above which is the tallest structure of the complex - Sunshine 60. The first few levels of Sunshine 60 are for tenants only, including a cafeteria, clinics and office space. Open to the public are the very top two stories of the 60-floor building, with restaurants and a magnificent observation deck. The kind guides will let you know how the weather is up there before you pay your money (we were told it was a cloudy day but chose to go anyway) and enter the insanely quick elevator, complete with mini light-show. Next to Sunshine 60 is the Prince Hotel, followed by the World Import Mart building, housing the Alta department store, Namjatown theme park incorporating a great haunted house, exhibition halls, offices and topped by a rooftop aquarium and cutting-edge Konica Minolta planetarium. The final building in the complex, the Bunka Kaikan, houses more exhibition space, a gym and a theatre. You would need way more than a day to see even half of Sunshine City.
The main Shopping Mall is wonderful. It is massive, with a spacious atrium and calming fountain. Around this central plaza is a great selection of stores you will find only in Japan, the better known brands being Sanrio Vivitix, Loft and Pokemon. You will also find a few international stores such as Disney, North Face, Toys R Us and Claire’s. All shopping genres are well catered for, from electronics to books to fashion. There are also multiple beautiful traditional Japanese craft stores, where you can find Kimono, Wagashi and Sake. It is never crazy busy and, even though you won’t see any sky unless you go up 250 feet, the Mall has a light an airy feel.
The elevator leading up to the Pokemon Centre
Murals adorn the Mall all around the Pokemon Centre
One of the many life-sized statues
In terms of food, the only brands you will recognise are the likes of Godiva, Starbucks and a Subway. There are not so many international food brands in the Mall, so this is your perfect opportunity to explore the glorious Japanese food on offer. You can try the yakiniku, okonomiyaki, pork cutlets, plentiful sushi, soba and ramen. Of course if you want a good old hamburger, you will not find a better one than Kua’aina’s. If you are feeling particularly fancy, you can head to the Sunshine City Sky restaurants, where you will find 8 top-notch restaurants covering French, Chinese, Italian, Hawaiian and Japanese cuisines. If you have the money, the food will blow your mind.
If crowds are anything to go by, people come to Sunshine City first for the Pokemon megastore and secondly to get up to the Sunshine 60 observation deck. The Pokemon store is huge, with colourful statues everywhere. On the escalator up to the store, there are themed murals everywhere and even the ceiling has pokeballs all over it. We met many wide-eyed international and local Otaku on solemn pilgrimages. The observation deck is also incredible - not free like the Shinjuku Metropolitan building, but there is so much more to do. You are ushered up by kindly Japanese stewardesses dressed immaculately. Once up there, you can see Tokyo sprawling beyond your line of vision. You can learn a little history about the various views around the deck, as well as pose with various life-sized anime character cut-outs. There is also a new virtual reality attraction, where you can virtually hang onto the edge of the skyscraper, or get shot out of a massive canon and fly over the City. Most definitely worth the price of admission!
A delcious and kawaii mid-mall snack! Oishikatta!
The Sunshine 60 elevator is scarily quick, but a lovely starry light-show helps calm the nerves!
A view from the observation deck on the 60th floor
Namco, a famous video game company founded in 1955 by Nakamura Masaya, owns and runs two separate theme parks in the Mall. First is Namji Town, filled with small carnival-style rides and attractions for all ages. Given the fact that Namco are primarily a video game company, there are arcade games but it is by no means the focus of the theme park. The second park is J-World Tokyo, where the theme is characters from famous Manga and Anime such as Dragonball, One Piece and Naruto. Much like Namja Town, there are various carnival rides. Both attractions have small eateries within them, where you can snack on some delicious gyoza or try a delicious dessert - from ice-cream to crepes to yummy kaki goori shaved ices. These attractions are so colourful and over-the-top, the official Namco pamphlet alone is enough to induce a seizure - it is wonderful!
There are very few occasions where we have felt that an entire day in a Mall, from opening to closing, was just not enough. Luckily there is a hotel nestled into all of that Mall goodness, and for a hotel right in the action-end of Tokyo, the price is really not half bad. We definitely needed two days at the very least to get even a remote hang on this magnificent Centre, and if for some incredible reason you have seen all there is to see in Sunshine City, the surrounding Ikebukuro district is full of things to do, see and buy, from high-end fashion, to electronics, to multiple J-culture stores such as the now World-famous Mandarake, to our favourite Japanese department store - Tokyu Hands - which is close enough to be considered a part of the Mall. Just one note of warning - we did go, as we always do, during the week. We have heard that it can get a little crazy on the weekends, so just be aware. Otherwise, we cannot rate this Shopping Centre highly enough; it is like a tiny version of Tokyo itself - culture, art, shopping, incomparable food, skyscrapers, neon and noise. If it’s your last day in Tokyo, you would not be faulted for spending the day in Sunshine City to get one last all-inclusive taste of Tokyo before you head off to Haneda or Narita. Gold, gold, gold!
Address: 〒170-0013 Tokyo, Toshima, Higashiikebukuro, ３丁目１番
Contact: 03 3989 3331
Number of Stores: Over 250
Number of Levels: 5
Opening Times: Times vary by attraction, but generally Monday - Sunday 10h00 to 20h00