Shin-Okubo (新大久保) is Tokyo’s Koreatown. Many people come here to eat at one of the Korean barbecue restaurants that line the backstreets, and if you are planning on spending a night out in nearby Shinjuku then it’s an excellent place to start your evening. Partly because of its proximity to nearby Kabukicho, Shin-Okubo has a bit of a run-down feel, but in fact the area was once an upmarket district known for music.
Although synonymous with Koreatown, Shin-Okubo is actually the station name and the area which encompasses both this station and the lesser known Okubo Station is called Hyakunincho (“town of one-hundred people”). The name comes from the army of one-hundred musketeers who protected the shogun. Particular about the layout of their abode, they chose to live in the area because the dwellings erected were long with small street-facing fronts (and thus it was easier to defend against intruders). Later the same quirkiness of the houses attracted more artistic types: writers, teachers, and, in particular, musicians, whose skills were increasingly sought by an entertainment-starved populace in the post-war era. The large number of music shops in the Hyakunincho area today is testimony to its past.
So why did Shin-Okubo become Koreatown? In the early 1980s South Korea lifted restrictions on foreign travel and many South Koreans came to a then-booming Tokyo in search of employment. Night work in the nearby entertainment district of Kabukicho was one draw; another was the Shinjuku factory of the confectionery company Lotte, which was in need of manual laborers and saw the influx of South Koreans into the country as an opportunity to bolster its workforce.
Nowadays, the popularity of Tokyo’s Koreatown partly ebbs and flows in sway with the love-hate relationship Japan has with its neighbor. But whatever its current standing, Shin-Okubo definitely adds diversity to the city and is deserving of at least one soju-filled night out.