Koreans are Japan’s largest ethnic minority. There are some 900,000 people with Korean heritage who have lived in Japan since the occupation of Korea from 1910-1945. Therefore Korean cultural identity is seen throughout Japan from Korean restaurants, pop culture, and television dramas, which are very popular all over the country. One street in Tokyo celebrates Korean culture everyday. It is called Shin-Okubo and, like Tsuruhashi in Osaka, it is filled with Korean pop culture shops, delicious restaurants, and grocery stores selling only Korean foods all through the street, which stretches from Shin-Okubo Station to Meiji-dori. Japanese people come to the bustling and exciting Shin-Okubo to connect with their closest neighbor.
Shin-Okubo has many Korean restaurants specializing in the two meals the country is best known for: grilled meat and soup. Here you can stroll down the street until you find the restaurant you think serves the best barbecue. Like a Korean home, the meat is cooked on a hot grill in the center of the table. After that, you can finish the course with a bowl of delicious kori gomtang (oxtail soup) or sundubu-chige (spicy tofu soup). With every meal you will be served the tasty side dishes called banchan, which are meats, vegetables, and pickles on small plates which makes Korean food a tasty and fun experience. Among the banchan you must try, kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage) is the most recommended and noteworthy. It is the national dish and Koreans eat it almost everyday with every meal. Some restaurants will also serve Korean sushi and desserts.
Tokyo Saikabo is one Korean restaurant that shows the love of kimchi as a decorative and memorable museum. Inside this stylish structure the first floor is filled with Korean gifts and handmade artifacts. The walls are lined with short descriptions in English and Japanese of kimchi’s history and how it is made. There is even a café near the descriptions so you can read about the country’s history while enjoying a cup of coffee. The room has several traditional clay pots that the kimchi is pickled in and a small shop that is filled with different flavored varieties of kimchi. Not just cabbage but also radishes, plums, eggplants, and other vegetables you can shop for and bring home. In case you were wondering, it does smell nice inside and has very stylish decor.
Tokyo Saikabo’s second floor also has a gourmet restaurant featuring classic Korean meals to order with retro interior. After learning a great deal about Korean cultural heritage downstairs, you and your friends can order a delicious lunch or dinner upstairs.
The grocery stores are Korean themselves. Seoul Ichiba, is packed with Korean goods as if Japan imported the whole store from Korea. There are many Korean products like liquor and snacks and even imported rice. A whole section of the store has many different kinds of kimchi. You can find almost anything pickled in kimchi and you are free to taste and see which one you like the most. For a quick, hot snack, there are vendors selling popular Korean comfort foods like rice cakes soaked in chili sauce (dukboki) or Korean-style pancakes (hotteok). With a largely Korean staff, this store is definitely feels more like Seoul than Tokyo. Shop here to find any Korean food item or take home ingredients to a Korean recipe you can cook at home.
Great shopping is a key appeal of Tokyo and Korean pop culture, or K-pop, has gained a huge following in Japan. In Shin-Okubo you can see that adoration in the stylish shops lighted with glitz and accompanied by K-pop music. Shops like Idol Park contain artifacts of many of the most popular Korean idols including the trendiest CDs.
Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo Street is a great place to spend the day and see how Korean culture has evolved within Japan. If you are in the mood for great barbecue and kimchi, or want to see two different cultures in the same city, you will want to put this on your list of places to visit. Shin-Okubo is proudly Japan’s Korea town and with such a huge influence on their culture, you can see how two different countries blend.
Access: Shin-Okubo is right next to JR Shin-Okubo Station.