Shin-Okubo: Escape to Seoul without leaving Tokyo

Photos by Denisse Rauda
Photos by Denisse Rauda

Shin-Okubo: Escape to Seoul without leaving Tokyo

by Denisse Rauda
Stripes Japan

South Korea and all things Korean have been having their moment for quite a while. It seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing a K-Pop song, seeing some Squid Games references or finding Korean snacks, sweets and instant noodles at the store.

In nicer times, getting to Seoul from Tokyo was a hop and skip via a 2.5-hour flight. Travel these days is a little more difficult, but fortunately for you, getting a taste of Korea is only a train ride or two away to Shin-Okubo Station.

The district is an extension of Shinjuku, and one Yamanote train stop away or even an easy walk from Shinjuku Station. Shin-Okubo is abuzz with countless Korean restaurants, grocery stores, K-Beauty shops and K-Pop idol merchandise sellers.

The neighborhood is usually teeming with teen K-Pop fans, young women shopping for cosmetics and Korean food afficionados on the weekends. Avoid the crowds by going on a weekday if possible. Below are a few fun things to do while you’re visiting Tokyo’s South Korean hotspot.

Coffee and tea shops are extremely trendy in Seoul and other parts of the Peninsula, so it makes sense that this corner of Tokyo would also follow suit. Grab a beautifully poured latte, or picture-perfect dessert at any of the Korean-style cafes you’ll find walking along the main street.

During my visit, I stopped at 2D Café for a trip into what is supposed to look like a black and white comic book (or, if you’re of a certain generation, it will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the music video of 80s hit “Take on Me”).

2D offers a vast menu with interesting lattes, cakes and frappes. I had an iced charcoal latte and a manuru pan, which is a sweet bread filled with cream cheese and topped with a garlicky honey butter and fruits. The manuru pan sounds weirder than it is, I promise.

2D Café is pretty popular due to its funky décor, so plan to queue up to get a seat if you visit during peak hours.

Other cafes worth trying: Seoul Café - offers good drinks and delicious bingsu Korean shaved ice. Factory 45 Cafe+Chicken - a great café menu and what looks like a delicious food menu featuring, you guessed it - Korean-style fried chicken.

2D Café
Factory 45 Cafe+Chicken
Seoul Café

The second you step out of the train station, and round the corner, you’ll be overwhelmed by all of the restaurants featuring amazing Korean food. You’ll notice many shops for Korean BBQ and also many selling fried chicken in metal pots that look like UFOs. The UFO Chicken, as the dish is called, features a fondue cheese melting in the center of the metal pot over a tabletop stove.

For lunch, I went to the Mamonaku Busan Eki (Translation: Next Stop Busan Station) restaurant, which offers a great deal with an all-you-can-eat main dish for the table like bulgogi, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of Korean food favorites like kimbap Korean-style sushi, fried chicken, shrimp and leek chijiimi pancakes and more.

The restaurant overlooks the Yamanote line tracks and is themed to look like a train to Busan, South Korea. Despite the gimmicky feeling, the food is good and you can’t beat the 1,980 yen per person (about $15) price! Make reservations in advance if you want to sit in the “train car” section.

If you’re in Shin-Okubo for dinner, try Korean BBQ or the UFO Chicken. I tried the latter at Tak Café on the main road. At 2,299 yen per person, the UFO Chicken at Tak is a little pricey, but it is delicious and the pricing for this is standard for the area restaurants serving up similar setups.

When you order the UFO, you’re allowed to choose different sauces and one side per person. We chose the classic yangyeom and honey butter garlic sauces for our fried chicken drummettes and a side of seafood chijimi and japchae glass stir-fried noodles. We also opted for the 90-minute all-you-can-drink option for an additional 1,749 yen per person.

The UFO chicken is definitely an experience, and you’ll be grateful for the plastic gloves provided because this is a very saucy meal!

Mamonaku Busan Ekia
Tak Café

If you’re low on time or just feeling a little snackish, you’ll have plenty of options as there are many food stands for a quick bite on the street. Grab a hotteok filled pancake available in sweet and savory flavors. The japchae noodle and the honey hotteok pancakes are two of my favorites.

If you miss the fried cheese dogs from the malls back home, you’ll love the Korean version. Mozzarella cheese is battered and dipped into French fry pieces then fried for a deliciously cheesy and portable treat.

Other treats you can grab on the go are cute macarons, fried potato spirals, tteokbokki rice cake sticks and more.

Over Macaron
Seoul Ichiba grocery store snack bar

Looking for a new face cleanser or new eyeshadow palette? Shin-Okubo has you covered with dozens of shops dedicated to Korean beauty products, also referred to as K-Beauty. They have something for everyone, including the gents!

Popular K-Beauty must-haves include aloe vera gel, Jeju Island clay masks, anti-aging serums, and makeup. You’ve got to try the ampoule hydrating masks, which use a variety of ingredients including snail oil, rose oil, snake oil, pearl essence, gold and more. Korean lip tints and lipsticks are also very popular.

For men, some stores have sections with skincare and makeup compacts to even skin tone and mattify oily skin. In Korea, freshening up with makeup is not taboo for men, so don’t be afraid to give it a try. Many of the products feature famous K-Pop singers since their skin always must be camera-ready.

Starbox cosmetics store

Though you may get the impression that you can only get K-Beauty or go to a restaurant at Shin-Okubo, you can get your hands on other cool Korean goods here, too.

K-Pop fans have plenty of shops dedicated to their favorite groups and idols’ merchandise. Want a BTS tote bag or a hand fan with your favorite BIGBANG member? You’ll find that and plenty more at the many shops dedicated solely to the music genre.

Not a K-Pop fan? Shop for some cool threads at the smaller stores in the district or check out the trendy phone cases, Squid Game merchandise, cute accessories and fun socks many stores have for sale. You’ll also find some fashionable K-95 masks so you can dodge COVID-19 in style.

If you want to recreate some Korean dishes at home, there are grocery stores dedicated to ingredients and food items from the Peninsula. My favorite items to buy when I’m in Shin-Okubo include Korean chips, snacks and instant ramen used to recreate the ramdon from the Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”

For a taste of traditional Korean sweets that also make great omiyage, stop by Kkultarae, a stand offering sweets by the same name. Kkul-tarae translates to court cake and resembles a bundle or pillow. This sweet treat is made of spun almond, matcha or chocolate-flavored sugar wrapped around a nutty center with a taste similar to marzipan.

Commemorate your visit with a stop at one of the Korean-style purikura photo booths. Rent a funny hat with your friends and take some fun photos for your scrapbook.

Kkultarae sweets stand
Jinsei 4cut purikara photos
Seoul Ichiba grocery store

Beyond all the BTS and other K-Pop-related merch you’ll see in Shin-Okubo, you can also catch live K-Pop performances here. Showbox, on the backside of Shin-Okubo, has a rolling calendar of visiting up-and-coming bands from all over Korea.

If you’re lucky, the visiting bands will sometimes walk around the district inviting people to their shows and offer free tickets. The venue has a small stage, about 50 seats and strong air-conditioning, making it a great spot to get a break from the summer heat, enjoy the cheesy antics of the band and the excited fans fawning over their favorite member.

There are shows nearly every day and at different times, so make sure to check their website to see who’s performing when you’re visiting. After the show, follow the crowd out and up the side stairs for a chance to purchase merchandise and take polaroids with the band for a whopping 1,000 yen. This side of Shin-Okubo, while not for me, was fun to see once.


Many people think Shin-Okubo is a spot for young women thanks to the cosmetics and K-Pop shops concentrated in this area. However, this is a great neighborhood to enjoy the food and the atmosphere of Korea without having to hop on a plane.

Shin-Okubo is the perfect mix of seedy and stylish with a heavy serving of delicious treats easily accessible from Shinjuku Station. It is the perfect spot for a full day, so make plans to visit soon!

Origins and popularity of Tokyo’s Koreatown
Korean exchange students first moved into what today is known as Shin-Okubo back in 1983, according to Japan Today. What started as an inexpensive place to live, soon was developed into a thriving area thanks to the arrival of more South Korean immigrants throughout the past nearly-four decades.

The waves of popularity of Korean dramas, pop and food in recent years has helped the area’s business grow and Shin-Okubo is teeming with crowds of people even on weekdays.

Get to Shin-Okubo:
Nearest station: Shin-Okubo Station – 1 min. by foot. Shinjuku Station – around 15 minutes by foot.

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