{Japan: Explore} Down The Rabbit Hole To Shinjuku’s Underground Passageways

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When I first stayed at the Tokyo Hilton back in 2008, I noticed a narrow staircase inconspicuously tucked away in a corner of the lobby.  Immediately intrigued, I stood at the top of the stairs and peered down below.  As the staircase was curved I was unable to see much of anything.  The only clue as to what I might find if I were to descend was the word “Hiltopia” written in cursive on a small sign.

hiltopia entrance

Of course I felt M and I had to go down and check it out!  I called him over and we made our way down the stairs.  As we emerged into the level below, I was delighted to find out that Hiltopia was, in fact, a small shopping arcade.  There was a hodgepodge of stores selling a variety of things: furniture, dishes, books, coffee, knick-knacks…….  Besides us, there were only a few other shoppers and it was a welcome change from all the crowds we had been experiencing in Tokyo thus far.  I flitted from store to store checking out all their wares.  Unfortunately, everything that caught my eye was much too large to take back home to America with us.  One item in particular that I coveted was a beautiful little rocking horse.  It reminded me very much of one that I had when I was a young girl.

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After exiting the last store, we came upon a set of automatic sliding doors.  A sign above them indicated that this was the beginning to a passageway that would lead us to Nishishinjuku Station and Tochomae Station.  Excited, I figured that one of these passageways would probably take us all the way to Shinjuku Station.  From there, we could catch a train and have lunch in one of the other boroughs.  M was a bit less enthusiastic: why should we walk all the way to the station when our hotel had a nice shuttle that would take us there in half the time and with a lot less effort on our part?  But in the end, his curiosity got the better of him and he decided that he wanted to check out the underground passageways just as much as I did.

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As we left the decked out hallways of Hiltopia behind us, we entered a very long corridor.  I was relieved to see that there were signs hanging from the ceiling indicating how to get to Tochomae Station.  Since Tochomae Station isn’t too far from Shinjuku Station I figured we would walk the pathways to the former then figure out how to get to the latter.  But that actually turned out to be unncessary because we soon came upon a very large map tacked on to the wall of the corridor.  I’m somewhat directionally challenged so M studied the map for a bit and said getting to Shinjuku Station would be easy, phew!

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underground map

As we walked along the passageways, it was very quiet and we encountered very few people.  Although there was really nothing to see or do, we were still having fun.  It almost felt like we were no longer in Tokyo but rather in a strange underground world that had long been abandoned.  And I marveled at how clean it all was.

Then, before we knew it, we could hear a flurry of activity coming from the end of the corridor: we had reached Tochomae Station on the Oedo Line.  In case you’re wondering, we could’ve hopped on to the subway at this point and paid 170 Yen to get to Shinjuku Station.  But, I’m not sure anyone would be silly enough to do such a thing.  For right around the corner from Tochomae Station’s fare gates was a sign pointing out the underpass to Shinjuku Station.  We were almost there!

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oedo line

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Several minutes later, we were getting on an upward bound escalator that deposited us in front of Shinjuku Station’s West Entrance.  After the still and quiet of the underground passageways, all the hustle and bustle seemed almost surreal.  M said the entire journey had taken us 20 minutes or so and we’d walked a little over a mile.   Just enough exercise to get us good and hungry for lunch!  And with that, we joined the throngs of people in Shinjuku Station to catch a train on the Yamanote Line.

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