If you’re fond of live music, great food, dancing, coffee, and the chance to try out a love hotel make sure to put visiting Shibuya at the top of your ‘to-do’ list.
To me Shibuya felt to ‘twenty-somethings’ what Harajuku felt to teens – a thriving fashion, entertainment, and nightlife hub brimming with variety and the unexpected.
Central Shibuya – prosperous since 1885
Following the opening of the Yamanote line in 1885 the area surrounding the train station emerged as a popular commercial and entertainment district due to Shibuya’s status as a major terminal for south-western Tokyo.
Today the station is one of Tokyo’s busiest and is famous for the hectic ‘scramble crossing’ near the Hachiko exit.
The iconic crossing is an ubiquitous image of Tokyo and is featured in movies such as
- Lost in Translation
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and;
- Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution
to name a few. And the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing is one of the busiest in the world.
Shibuya is regarded as a premiere fashion, entertainment, and nightlife hub. Some of it’s famous streets and districts include:
- Centre Gai – a busy pedestrian zone at the heart of Shibuya and the birthplace of many Tokyo fashion trends
- Koen Dori – ‘Park Street’ is a popular shopping district that runs from Marui shopping centre to Yoyogi Park
- Spain Slope – a narrow 100 metre pedestrian street lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants just near the Parco department store
- Love-Hotel Hill – a district with a high concentration of Love Hotels that offer private rooms for couples to ‘rest.’ 5,000 JPY for two to three hours or 10,000 to stay overnight ($50-100).
Shibuya is also a hub for I.T. businesses and is sometimes known as ‘Bit Valley’ in English – a pun on ‘Bitter Valley’ (the literal translation of ‘Shibuya’) and computer terminology for binary digits.
Of course when it comes to shopping in Shibuya there’s no building more iconic that the Shibuya 109 building.
A shopping paradise for teen girls and home of the Kogal subculture, the 109 building is called ‘Ichi-Maru-kyu’ in Japanese. In English this translates as 1-0-9 and is a numerical pun of the name ‘Tokyu’ – the corporation who owns 109.
This numerical substitution is actually a form of Goroawase wordplay.
Goroawase is a form of wordplay where words that are homophones are associated with a series of letters, numbers, or symbols to create a new meaning for the word. This technique is most often used to create mnemonic devices for memorisation.
A great demonstration of Goroawase is the number 1492 – the year Colombus arrived in America.
In Japanese this number can be memorised as ‘iyo! kuni ga mieta!’ This is derived as: i (1) yo (4) ku (9) ni (2) (ga mieta!) meaning ‘Wow! I can see land!’ Or – as simply Iyo kuni! – ‘it’s a good country.’
Our day in Shibuya
Our second last day in Japan was spent soaking up Shibuya’s buzz and searching for a couple of last minute gifts. When we arrived at the station we headed directly for the Hachiko exit and took some photos of the famous loyal dog.
Almost directly next to Hachiko’s statue was the famed scramble crossing. It was monumental in both size and traffic.We did visit 109 to see what it was like. We left shortly recognising we were unlikely to find gifts for Dads and boyfriends in a teen girl’s shopping haven. We’re so smart. We exited 109 and went on a long walk around the streets behind the building.
This was when I realised that we should’ve come to Shibuya earlier.
The backstreets were lined with izakaya and small music venues accented by cafes, restaurants, and interesting boutiques. People flooded past us carrying instruments and the walls were peppered with colourful rough graffiti and stickers.
It was clear that the creative nightlife was alive and well In Shibuya and I wish, now, that we’d bothered to visit earlier.
We visited Tower Records and Shibuya Men’s and found some interesting gifts. The funniest of which were some extremely colorful and stylised boxer shorts that, for some reason, came in a VCR box. The boxers are created by a company called LateShow and come in some absurdly playful colours and patterns.
Monique and I spent a good ten minutes giggling at the boxers as we chose some for our respective partners. As we browsed, the impossibly cool server glanced over at us, wearing an expression that undoubtedly translated as ‘stupid westerners.’ I think it was a fair assessment!
Here’s the pair I chose for Jarryd:
Friday night baby! Just to be clear – my boyfriend doesn’t keep his boxers on tiny hangers – I did that for the sake of the picture. Suuuure ya did. It’s funny. It’s been almost six months since our holiday came to an end and I haven’t seen him sport these bad boys yet! That’s kind of a shame – they’re actually really good quality underwear.
Shibuya was a vibrant and interesting place. If you’re visiting Tokyo any time soon, take my advice and put Shibuya at the top of your ‘to-visit’ list! There’s a lot to do in Shibuya so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Next post: Hachiko the loyal Akita Dog
Until next time,
Kally and Mon.
Getting to Shibuya
There are a mind-boggling amount of train lines that all converge into Shibuya Station so there’s many ways to visit. The train lines you can access Shibuya on include:
Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation
The Royal Platform
- This is used exceptionally rarely (and obviously, not by you!) but there is actually a special platform for the Japanese Royal Family.
On all of these lines I suspect Shibuya will be a major stop and probably featured on the platform displays. So it should be easy for you to reach Shibuya no matter where you’re coming from.
[Feature Image Credit: Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (1): Wikipedia]
[Image Credit (2): Duex ex Machina]
[Image Credit (3-6): Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (7,8): Japan Guide]
Did you visit a love-hotel when you were in Shibuya? Do you want to visit one?