A Visit to Subnade: Tokyo’s Surviving Underground Mall

Tokyo’s Shinjuku district is right in the heart of one of the busiest and most populated cities in the world, and as soon as you step out onto the streets, you’ll find yourself surrounded by skyscrapers. But as you peer down block after block at the foliage of concrete jungle skyscrapers, there’s also a network of tunnels right below your feet.

We are also not talking about the multiple subway lines that meet at Shinjuku station. Walk around Shinjuku at surface level and you’ll soon spot one of the many stairways with a sign for Subnade. Go down the stairs.

You will reach a huge underground shopping and food center that spans several blocks.

Subnade connects to the east underground exit of JR Shinjuku Station, and it’s kind of a time capsule. Since Subnade opened in 1973, aboveground Shinjuku has gone through several waves of redevelopment, with shiny new buildings taking the place of demolished old ones. Subnade, however, still has an old-school feel and offers alternatives to the chain stores and restaurants that occupy the more expensive street-level high-rise entertainment complexes.

▼ Bambi, for example, is a small local chain specializing in burgers whose Subnade branch has been located here for decades.

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Shinjuku is also where many large Japanese companies have their offices, and many Subnade clothing stores are geared towards working women in the neighborhood. Women’s business attire is a unique part of the Japanese fashion world. Full suits are usually not necessary, but there is always a certain dress code that must be maintained, resulting in a sort of semi-casual affair of understated elegance.

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Compared to the high prices of neighborhood department stores, Subnade’s stores are full of much more reasonably priced options that don’t give up anything in terms of fashion or workplace friendliness.

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However, as you dig deeper into Subnade, you may notice a change in some of the modes on display.

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Subnade extends east and north of Shinjuku Station and also connects to Kabukicho, Tokyo’s largest bar district. For this reason, Subnade has a handful of boutiques focused on the professional attire of the hostess bar industry: glamorous dresses in bright colors and bold designs.

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Again, they are quite affordable by Japanese standards, with the dresses on this rack costing just 4,290 yen.

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Coming back to food, Subnade is also where you’ll find one of the remaining branches of the local Cafe Haiti chain.

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This is one of our Japanese journalist Mariko Hanabatake’s favorite places to have lunch, as they do a great plate of dry curry rice.

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They also serve Haitian coffee with a little side of rum.

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Subnade also has major chains, Starbucks, Doutor and Caffe Veolce all having cafes in their lobbies.

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But it’s the lesser-known tenants that really make it an interesting place to explore, like its award-winning aquarium supply and tropical fish shop.

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And if you’re tired from all that walking, there’s a row of half a dozen massage places to help you rejuvenate…

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…and a herbal remedy shop too.

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Like many places, however, times have been tough for Subnade during the pandemic. A number of its stores closed, and Shinjuku Metro Restaurant Town and Kinokuniya Underground Center, two of its neighbors, closed completely.

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For now, however, Subnade still holds up, and it’s still worth seeing for yourself the next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Photos ©SoraNews24

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