Travel Afar without Ever Departing Tokyo

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Customers dine under lanterns at Sanagi Shinjuku in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 30.

What if you could see the colorful stone buildings that line the canals of Venice or walk past bustling food stalls and smell delicious Asian dishes all without having to leave the country?

If you’re in Tokyo, it’s definitely possible. Even though the coronavirus has caused many people to put their travel plans on hold, I recently toured these areas because I wanted to feel like I was traveling abroad.

The well-known cityscape of Venice can be found in La Vita, a commercial facility in the Jiyugaoka district in Meguro Ward. A bridge resembling the famous Rialto Bridge is built over a canal and a gondola — imported from Venice — can pass underneath.

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Visitors take a selfie at La Vita, which is modeled to look like Venice, in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 22.

The idea for the area was conceived by a man who ran a cake shop in the ward. He went to Europe 90 years ago for training and became drawn to the streets of Italy. He wanted to build something similar in Japan, so the shop’s successor, who took up the torch, made it a reality in 1990.

A 28-year-old company employee from Machida, Tokyo, was enjoying walking around the area with his wife.

“I visited Venice when I was a student, and this place reminds me of that city,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t traveled in a while, so today, I enjoy feeling like a tourist.”

Seeing the food stalls selling Asian dishes and several hundred lanterns in Sanagi Shinjuku in Shinjuku Ward makes you feel as if you have been transported to another country. The food court opened in 2016 to entertain a wide range of customers with its unique decorations.

Sanagi Shinjuku had seen very few customers due to the pandemic. However, it has regained its lively atmosphere and now seats about 80% of its capacity, even on weekdays.

“I really like both the food and the atmosphere,” said a 21-year-old university student from Nakano Ward. “It makes me want to travel overseas soon.”

Shinjuku’s Shin-Okubo area is famous for its Korean restaurants, but off the main road, you can find a street lined with Indian and Nepalese restaurants and shops. You can enjoy the culturally rich atmosphere as you walk down the street following the scent of spices wafting in the air.

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Bangladeshi women eat kebabs in Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 4.