Explore the city below the city
Japan has many dense and vertical cities filled with shops and restaurants, but it’s easy not to notice the thriving cities below, especially around large train stations. Major cities aren’t just built from the ground up, but also can go several levels down with cavernous shopping and entertainment complexes that connect the city while avoiding the elements.
You’ll find underground shopping malls in most large cities, catering primarily to commuters and weekend window shoppers. Despite rain, snow, or humidity they are always climate controlled and with the same lighting, which can be a bit surreal depending on the time of day and what’s happening up at ground level.
It depends on the area, but most underground shopping connects larger department stores and train stations, with a variety of smaller shops in the passages between them. This includes not only fashion, but drugstores, convenience stores, restaurants, and places like shoe repair centers. Pretty much everything you’d have up on the surface, but closer together and easier to find.
Because they’re underground, the entrance to a department store will often be at the supermarket level, and department store supermarkets tend to be on the higher-end. Definitely worth checking out.
"…in Shinjuku it’s possible to walk nearly 3km underground…"
Even if you don’t plan on doing any shopping, underground shopping streets can be perfect for getting between destinations and avoiding pedestrians, traffic, and weather. However, this takes some getting used to as you’ll need to make use of the maps to know exactly where you’re going. For example, in Shinjuku it’s possible to walk nearly 3km underground from one side of the central area to the other, with multiple other underground shopping areas nearby.
Because shopping corridors are so well-connected to train stations, you’ll easily be able to find out where you need to go to catch your next train.
While a pleasant day of window shopping is usually best done at ground level, regardless of the weather, underground malls are a world of their own and are growing yearly. At one point we may just have a full city underneath every major city, ready for a Bladerunner-like future.