Our resident otaku reporter’s Ikebukuro homecoming is bittersweet.

There was a period of his life when our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa was in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood all the time. Not only did he spend six years living in that part of the city, even after he moved to a new apartment Ikebukuro remained his go-to destination on his days off. After all, the place has tons of affordable restaurants, casual clothing stores, movie theaters, and anime and video game specialty shops – pretty much everything he needs to enjoy himself.

So when Seiji stopped by the Ikebukuro branch of beef bowl chain Sukiya to check out their Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba decorations, it wasn’t his first time in the neighborhood. It was his first time there in quite a while, though, and he was shocked, and a little sad, at how Ikebukuro has changed since his last visit.

As he walked from Ikebukuro Station to the restaurant, Seiji realized it had been two years since he’d been in Ikebukuro. From his new apartment, he doesn’t pass though the district on his work commute, and since the pandemic started he’s been trying to stay closer to home on his days off. He knew that during that time Sega’s landmark Ikebukuro arcade had closed down, but seeing the entire storefront covered up by tarps and scaffolding, as shown in the photo above, was still a gut punch for someone whose youth coincided with the height of Japanese arcades’ glory days.

Likewise, the Ikebukuro branch of Tokyu Hands, a multistory home furnishings, lifestyle, and DIY store at the end of Sunshine-dori Street, is also out of business, and the outdoor plaza in front of its ground-floor entrance, which usually hosted special events and promotions for new or quirky items, was empty.

But the biggest surprise wasn’t the empty buildings, but the buildings that are just straight-up gone, like the one across from the Adore’s arcade, which used to have a suit shop as its biggest tenant, if Seiji’s memory serves,

▼ The building itself is now just a memory, in any case.

▼ Another newly created gap in the urban landscape

Ikebukuro may not have quite the world-famous pop culture and fashion cachets of Tokyo neighborhoods like Akihabara or Harajuku, but its location at the northwest edge of downtown made it a major draw for people coming on day trips from farther out in the suburbs and even the southern parts of Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the north. But with so many people staying near home during the pandemic, Ikebukuro’s visitor numbers are way down, as the small number of pedestrians on Sunshine-dori attests to.

Granted, the pandemic can’t be blamed for each and every business closure in the neighborhood. The arcade business has been in a steady decline for years, for example, so it was probably inevitable that a large-scale facility like Sega’s wasn’t going to last much longer. Still, the Ikebukuro Seiji knows is one of streets crowded by happy people walking in the shade of skyscrapers on all sides, and that’s the Ikebukuro he hopes to see again someday.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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