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The Red Lights of Kabuki-cho
Tokyo has more than its fair share of red-light districts, but the leader of the pack is unquestionably Kabuki-cho, located just north of Shinjuku Station. The land was once a swamp, although its current name refers to an aborted post-World War II effort to bring culture to the area in the form of a landmark Kabuki theater. Nowadays, most of the entertainment is of the insalubrious kind, with strip clubs, love hotels, host and hostess clubs, and thinly disguised brothels all luridly advertising their presence.
The area's also home to throngs of Japanese and Chinese gangsters, giving rise to its image domestically as a danger zone. But in truth, Kabuki-cho poses little risk even to the solo traveler. The sheer volume of people in the area each night, combined with a prominent security-camera presence, means that crime stays mostly indoors.
Despite its sordid reputation, Kabuki-cho does offer something beyond the red lights. There are eateries galore ranging from chain diners to designer restaurants.
The impressive 16th-century shrine Hanazono Jinja hosts several events throughout the year, but comes alive with two must-see colorful festivals on its grounds. The weekend closest to May 28 brings the Hanazono shrine festival, in which portable shrines are paraded through the streets. The November Tori-no-Ichi festival (the exact days in November vary each year) is held here and at several shrines throughout Tokyo, but Hanazono is the most famous place to buy the festival's kumade: big rakes decorated with money, mock fruit, and other items people would like to "rake in." People buy them for luck, and replace them every year. 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0022. 03/3209-5265. Free. Daily sunrise-sunset. Subway: Marunouchi subway line, Shinjuku-san-chome Station [Exits B2 and B3].
Also here is Golden Gai, probably Tokyo's most atmospheric drinking area.
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