Thursday, March 8, 2012

Evening in Shibuya - Lit By People Power

17th August, 2010 - whilst the focus of Shibuya may well be Hachikō and the nearby massive intersection, you should be prepared to take a little bit of a stroll around (even if you've just got a short time in Tokyo), and enjoy the multitude of shops that surround the district. Now, I can't honestly say that I'm an expert at what to do in Shibuya... we spent only a few hours walking in and out of shops and grabbing a bite to eat. However here are a few of the things that you might want to try:

  1. Visit Hachikō / The Shibuya Crossing
  2. Centre Gai (see below)
  3. Shopping, shopping, shopping (credit cards may need resuscitation after visiting here)
  4. Music shopping at Tower Records and HMV are both great shops
  5. The TEPCO Museum used to be here - yes that TEPCO - but all of the museums have been closed since the March 11 earthquake.  They used to contain large models of nuclear power plants, and video docos about how safe they were. Closing them down was perhaps a wise move.
  6. Walk-through (or other) Dogenzaka... Love Hotel Hill... interesting adult-oriented entertainment just looking at the photos of the rooms. 
  7. The night-life... it's always moving here, and there's plenty of clubs and bars here
  8. And of course, Shibuya is a natural launch pad into Yoyogi Kouen and Harajuku!
Right across from Shibuya's famous crossing you'll find Center Gai, a great little street with an explosion of interesting little shops. And it's somewhat admiral to see the Japanese  having exactly that - fun - despite the incredibly stifling conditions... Though as the afternoon wore on, and the sun began to sink, there was at least some relief (small as it was) from the heat. But Tokyo is a city full of the heat of life, whatever the season.
Center Gai Entrance

Speaking of heat.... now a quick word on Love Hotels...  these establishments are found all over Japan, but the Dogenzaka (or Love Hotel Hill as it's otherwise known) is famous for them. The name Love Hotel was (according to Wikipedia at least) originated in 1962 in Osaka... from an establishment strangely enough named, "Hotel Love". However the concept has been in Japan for many centuries prior. For a generally conservative culture (no, Japan is not the sex-capital of the world that the internet makes out), Love Hotels form an important aspect of society where relationships are often hidden away (e.g. through lack of privacy or company rules), time-poor... or just, well, seedy. Generally the word Hotel on a gaudy street sign can be read 'Love Hotel'; especially if it resembles a renaissance villa - or a windowless bunker - more than it does a normal hotel).

Hotel Moti sits comfortably alongside Chiyoda Inari Shrine Image from Google StreetView
I'd definitely recommend a walk around Dogenzaka for the experience - or you could always try out some rooms... you'll find a short-term 'rest' (4 - 7,000 yen for 2-3 hours) about half the price of an all-night 'stay' (8 - 12,000 yen). Not that I'm an expert... at all! For the adventurous, these also make for very reasonable accommodation options for couples (obviously not families), being relatively cheap, well "featured" and often in convenient areas. Indeed the rooms are generally much more comfortable than their business hotel counterparts for the same price... and the in-room entertainment options tend to be a little more varied shall we say. The only problem is that they are not bookable, and you can only order a stay after say 10 - 11pm. Best suited if you're travelling light, or if you've stowed suitcases/bags in a locker... or if you just want a very different sort of accommodation story.

And, no, we did not visit any Love Hotels on this trip to Shibuya, but there was still plenty of other things to do.  Healthy activities... like walking...

The lonely salaryman, finished office-work for the day then has to start his other work... drinking and socialising in bars and clubs. Whether it's with the office workers (building team spirit) or it's entertaining clients. It's not all fun and games by any means (even when it appears to be fun and games), but instead can be just as demanding as their day jobs. However, this is a trend that is perhaps on the decline... with life outside work being considered less and less company time. At least that's the ideal.

Salarymen and visitors alike take temporary refuge in the many food establishments that you find in any busy district. As night approaches the sights, sounds and smells of Shibuya change to reflect a different Japan yet again. These are not normal places for a tourist to seek nourishment, though I'm sure if you're game you will find a rewarding experience.

As the sun goes down, the city slowly transitions to the more social hub that Shibuya also is. Even with Dogenzaka a drunken stroll away, it doesn't feel at all sleezy... not compared to say Kabukichō just off Shinjuku. Instead it feels like a comfortable place for young people to go out and have some fun.

There are times when you come across something that makes you do a double take... for example an "Outback Steakhouse" - playing on the Australian outback of course - right in the middle of Shibuya. I'm not entirely sure, but looking at the menu doesn't really lead me to believe that there's a whole heap of anything Australian about the restaurant other than some of the names of foods (such as Alice Springs Quesadilla's... huh? Since when were Mexican's in the outback???)

And speaking of Aussie influences, the photo below shows another characteristic influence of Australia that you see regularly. Of course, what I am talking about is the use of the kangaroo symbol on the Seino Unyu (forwarder) trucks. Not sure what kangaroos have to do with freight transport, but I'd kinda think anything that bounces around - or for that matter sleeps - as much as kangaroos wouldn't be the best symbol for a freight company. In Japan, these symbols make sense however. 

 Now I have to admit that Shibuya's not the place I'd ideally choose to explore with our 4 yo son in tow... there's a lot to do here, but not much which is designed for children that young. And during this trip, shopping was about as fun for him as a massive case of diarrhoea. T-chan did very well, especially in the Tokyo heat.... which I have to say only becomes marginally more bearable when the sun has set (during the height of summer). In fact, of all the places you might want to avoid in such weather, a busy shopping district overflowing with body-heat might be one such place.

Indeed, the people swarm into the district, like moths to the campfire. And I've always wondered how many of these people are Tokyoites as compared to visitors from elsewhere (including abroad). It is a nano-cosm within a microcosm within a sea of humanity. It may not be as bustling now as it once was, but it still remains a centre-piece in Tokyo's crown. 

Shibuya is a hub of modern Tokyo - it represents the excitement, the commercialism, and the youth of the modern megatropolis. In the Tokyo's stifling summer heat, it also represents the Japanese willingness to persist: to work and play.... and in some cases, to do both at the same time.  It's also a symbol of something very Japanese too... the attraction of the crowd... when many places across the world have sought to provide an open ambiance, Shibuya has become famous for just how crowded it can become.

It may not be the ideal place for a temporary stopover (with a 4 yo), but it's not that bad either. And yes, It is a typical neon paradise, like much of Tokyo. But it's powered by people - who give it energy, creativity, and passion. It's just a great place to get into the vibe of one of the worlds truly BIG cities.


  1. Very good introduction of Shibuya.

    Let me add one place: Bunkamura. It is a complex of fine arts.
    It might not be a place with L-kun, either, but fun to visit when there are good exhibitions and concerts.

    1. Thanks Muravej - that's a good addition. I had heard of Bunkamura, but have not been there. Most probably right (not a place for L-kun just yet), but maybe next trip to Tokyo we'll check it out.