Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sweaty Summer Shopping in Shibuya

17th August, 2010 - After a sweltering welcome to Tokyo, and an even hotter search for a spare locker at Meguro station, we finally found ourselves a great deal less encumbered, but nonetheless unsure of what to do. We knew we had to wait for H-kun, T-chan's brother to get away from work. But we also knew that in Tokyo, that could be just about any time. We had decided to head to Shibuya, just a couple of stops onwards from Meguro station on the famous Yamanote Line that is the main heart-beat of Tokyo's complex and yet highly efficient transport network. By the way, I've thrown together a bit of a graphic which shows the Yamanote Line with approximate timings... something that's difficult to find on the net... So the good news was that Shibuya was only 5 mins from Meguro station.... so it wasn't too far to go in the hot afternoon.

Yamanote Line Map - Numbers are mins between stations

Shibuya is one of the main districts in Tokyo, and definitely one of the major centres on the Yamanote Line. Anyhow, Shibuya's a bit of a strange amalgam of experiences... firstly, it's still a major business district, and that means salarymen. Lots of them. After about 2005, the government started promoting a energy-efficiency campaign known as "Cool Biz", which in part advocated workers to start to wear short-sleeved shirts so that the air-con could be set to a rather warmish 28 degrees. Hmm - nothing like working in a high-rise building with 1000's of hot, sweaty bodies and no opening windows.

[Note: Post 11-3-11, they introduced "Super Cool Biz" which sought to introduce even more energy conscious casual wear into corporate Japan]

Now way back in our first trip (in 2003) I wrote about the story of Hachikō, the famous story of the Akita dog that was so devoted to his master (whom he awaited everyday to return from work at Shibuya Station) that on his master death, he remained patiently waiting for his master to return. Of course he never would, but night after night, he would return to the station by himself to wait expectantly. For nine years he waited, until his own death in 1935. His story of single-minded loyalty remains an inspiration to the Japanese people. Hachikō is the story of resolute determination in a time of great national change and turmoil... such was the state of Japan in the 1930s. It is, in typical Japanese style of tale of stoic tragedy.
Statue of Hachikō
The statue of Hachikō remains a well-known meeting place outside Shibuya Station, and there's always a crowd of people waiting nearby. And crowds are something that Shibuya is quite famous for.

Indeed, Shibuya is known perhaps most of all as a young person's shopping district.... and there's a lot of shopping centres to visit (if you're so inclined). Just outside of Shibuya Station is one of the busiest and best known pedestrian crossings in the world, just next to statue of Hachikō. It's always a good spectacle to see the multiple avalanches of humanity colliding mid-street. Just down the road (on the left had side of the image below) you see see one of Shibuya's famous shopping buildings, Shibuya 109 ("Shibuya ichi maru kyu"). This is a must visit place for young fashionable people... however, according to my wife, we weren't quite young... or fashionable... enough. So we set our sights on more "age appropriate" shops.

And there's no mistaking that this is a young person's paradise... And there's certainly a wide range of fashions (good and bad) on display. Of course, the real fashion-centre is Harajuku, just up the road (or 2 mins by the Yamanote Line). 

Everyone has somewhere to go in the heart of Shibuya - and they follow that path with incredible determination. Shopping in Japan is like that. Of course, not everyone is shopping, with Shibuya being a place to go (like us) when you've got a spare afternoon. It is a melting pot of lives, criss-crossing in frenetic profusion. Converging momentarily in a nexus of common humanity - but no sooner has that happened and the crowd has moved on to be replaced by a completely new set of actors in this street-theatre.

Shibuya station is fairly large, and because there's many major roads intersecting around there, it can be a little disconcerting at first while you get your bearings. Always advisable to take a map of the area, and Google's StreetView is always an excellent way of familiarising yourself to the surroundings if in doubt. Of course, these days of the smart phone and/or tablet, you have a ready map at hand. And it's a good time to mention one thing that I hadn't actually realised before (being a bit of a noob).... if you travel to many parts of Japan you'll see two major department stores... Tokyu and Seibu (or stores owned by these companies). Both of these chains actually spawned from their respective private railway companies, and Shibuya was Ground Zero for their railway and shopping wars. It's interesting to see just how interconnected the Japanese economy is.
View Tokyo Map in a larger map

Now this was our first day in Tokyo (again) so we were only "window shopping"... plus we were already tired from the high humidity. However, T-chan shows great strength and determination when it comes to shopping. The only problem is that she's out-of-practice. L-kun is there to offer moral support (by which I mean, to be as generally distracting as possible). Some good stores include Gap, Forever 21 and H&M which have a great range at good prices, and aren't geared around annoyingly annoying Japanese kogals.

Whilst in Shibuya, you can also check out other famous Japanese stores like Tokyu (and of course Tokyu Hands), Seibu, Loft, Parco, Tower Records, Marui, or one of my favourites, Don Quijote. It may not be class, but it's always good to get a snapshot of what's happening in Japan... and another great place to pick-up some quintessential Japanese knick-knacks. And of course, you can always find a 100yen shop nearby, if you haven't experienced one before.

Of course, L-kun was also keen to have a look around... though I think he thought his rather wet hair was the result of rain. Hence the umbrella. No L-kun... that's the Sweaty Summer Shopping in Shibuya for you... it may not always be comfortable, but it's always an experience. The crowd just can't be wrong.

Stay tuned for the second Shibuya instalment... 

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