Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku

Shibuya is probably one of our favourite districts in Tokyo and we kept coming back here day after day during our week in the capital. Shibuya is famous for its ‘scramble crossing‘ which is a pedestrian crossing that can have around 2500-3000 people crossing every green light cycle during rush hour. The lights are pretty frequent and I hadn’t realised that the rest of the time the crossing is occupied by cars! You also see the odd convoy of go-karts drive through with people dressed up in different costumes which is pretty funny to see and looks like good fun. This crossing is located outside the Hatchikō entrance of the Shibuya Station which is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. Within the station there is a giant painting called The Myth of Tomorrow depicting the Hiroshima nuclear bombing by Taro Okamoto which is spread over a number of panels and takes up the majority of the wall along the station concourse. It’s a very cool piece of art to go and see.

One of the best places to get a good view of be crossing (after you’ve crossed it yourself of course) is from the Starbucks. We went up here a few times to have a look through the big windows over looking the crossing and all the plasma screens advertising different things and one of those times we actually bought a drink to maximise our time to sit, relax and people watch here.

By this entrance there is also a statue of Hatchikō the dog which is famous for waiting outside the station every day for years for his master to finish work. Hatchikō would still wait at the station everyday even after his master died. He did it for so long that he became known in the area and a statue was built to honour his loyalty after he died. We found the statue quite hard to find but I think that was because of the sheer number of people making it hard to spot!

Shibuya doesn’t just have a Starbucks and the scramble crossing, it’s also got a massive youth fashion and culture scene made apparent straight away by the number of department stores and shops here and in the surrounding area. We went into two department stores called 109 which are split into store for males and a store for females. This isn’t in a sexist way but it’s actually very practical as the department stores sell clothes so it makes it easier to tailor the stores to their demographic.

It was really cool to walk around both of those stores which have loads of floors. Whilst we were in the female store there was a giant queue going all the way up the stairs to the top floor (there were 10 floors). This led to a pop up store for the K-pop (Korean pop) band called BTS who are enormously famous in Japan, so much so that we weren’t even allowed to stand near the store for long to take a look as the store worker said she didn’t want to cause an issue with the girls waiting in line (yikes!). The male store had a giant Star Wars exhibition in it which we spent ages in (once we had been to see the film) which was good.

Shibuya is full of places to eat and also has a one of Tokyo’s many cinemas where we went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi after getting help from our hostel to book an English version (they also offer dubbed Japanese viewings which we definitely didn’t want) and it was so good! The Japanese are Star Wars mad and so we had had to be so careful not to stumble across any spoilers from all of the adverts whilst we explored the city. We treated ourselves to caramel popcorn and a drink which came on a fancy little tray and the strangest thing about the whole experience is that at the end of the film everyone stays until the very final credit is played and it’s only then that the lights come on and people leave. I don’t know about other counties but in the UK, once the film is done and the credits start to roll everyone is getting up to leave! It was quite surreal to be sitting until the final worlds of the film but really it makes sense as they deserve to be recognised for their work. For me though, the biggest thing this emphasised to me was how disciplined the Japanese are!

We kept finding our way back here especially as it was a nice walk from here to Shinjuku or vice versa. Every time we were in Shibuya we would go to the Lindt shop to get a complementary truffle (I LOVE them) and we found a Japanese curry house here called CoCo which we went for dinner with Niall’s friends Andy and Alex one evening as well. It’s got so much to offer and has so much life more than just the crossing but also down the brightly lit neon shopping streets such as Centre Gai too. I can’t see anyone not enjoying how very Tokyo this place is.

From Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku are logical destinations for the same day (if you can tear yourself away from Starbucks).

ShinjukuStation is the world’s busiest railway station which has more than two million passengers pass through it every day! It’s also meant to be one of the most confusing with so many different exits that it can be hard to find your way around, especially when coupled with the sheer number of people there. Shinjuku is seen as the entertainment district and is very neon at night with lots of clubs, bars and themed cafes to go to.

The Metropolitan Government Office is here and you can go up either of it two towers (the north, south or both) to see great views over Tokyo. We came here just before sunset and stayed until it was dark and also went up both of the towers to see the difference in the views. It’s free which is really great as that’s not very common in capital cities to give free viewing platforms and we spent ages up here watching Tokyo come to light for the night.

As one of the main entertainment districts in Tokyo it has a big obsession (as does a lot of Tokyo) with Godzilla and, when we looked into this, there have been loads more films made in Japan using the Godzilla franchise. Moreover, the cinema in Shinjuku has a giant Godzilla statue really havoc on its roof! It’s one of the many times you see something random that you may not have spotted first time around when you wander Tokyo’s streets.

Shinjuku also has the largest red light districts in Japan called Kabukicho. We walked through here but just along the streets and I think the wildness of the place is more something you’ll see once you start to go behind the closed doors and participate which we weren’t going to do. Instead, we went to one of the many Batting Centres that Tokyo has for when the businessmen have missed the last train home after working or drinking too late (the last train is at midnight!) and so come to hit some baseballs into the early hours before they head back to work. It was actually a very reasonable price to have a go at the batting and so Niall gave it a try. You could tell that some people who were there go regularly as they are smashing every ball to the back of the nets but there was also a lot of groups of friends there, probably in a similar way to people going to driving ranges at home.

Between the two districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya is Harajuku. This district gets its name due to the Harajuku railway station here and is a popular hangout for teenagers as well as having the city’s most popular park, Yoyogi-Koen. This park was enormous and very pretty and I imagine it’s packed during cherry blossom season. There was a big pond and loads of open spaces where people were playing badminton and other sports and enjoying being outside. There was a section of the park fenced off for dogs and we went here to see all of the cute dogs running around. It wasn’t just dogs people were walking in the park though! We saw one lady who had two pet meerkats on leads and in little outfits as well as someone walking their rabbit and their cat! We had never seen anything like that before but it seemed commonplace in Japan!

Around this area was also the Meiji Jingū which is a big shrine that you reach through a tree lined park. On your way to the shrine you pass giant rice wine barrels that are a homage to the wine industry they have here.

The shrine itself is in a big courtyard and it’s very pretty. The impact was taken away from us a bit due to how many we had been to Kyoto but we still enjoyed it here. It wasn’t that busy when we went but my sister, Biz, was there just after us on New Years Day and it was absolutely packed with people coming to get good fortune for the year ahead. Below are some photos to show the comparison.

Top picture: The bottom right picture is my sister’s photo from when she was there on a packed New Years Day. Bottom picture: photo on the right from my sister on the same road on New Years Day.

Near the shrine we saw the second giant queue of our time in Tokyo where a few hundred people spent their entire day queuing up to meet a famous pop star that was inside a book store doing signings. It took us a while to work out what they were queuing for and we couldn’t believe it when we had been to the park and shrine and came out still to see hundreds of people queuing up in the streets. Some people must have spent their entire Saturday there!

Within Harajuku is Takeshita Dori which is a street full of fashion boutiques, sweet shops, many crepe stands (that I regret not trying as they looked amazing) and everything else cool and colourful. The street was packed when we were there and is a hub for the most extreme teenage cultures in Tokyo. I know that, if I had grown up in Tokyo, I’d have spent so much of my time here and even as a 24 year old I enjoyed walking the street and seeing what was being sold. We stopped at one stall that sold enormous, rainbow coloured candy floss and as a massive sugar and candy floss fan, I obviously had to buy my own. It was tasty and enormous (I got the small) and the place also sold flavoured popcorn which is another favourite of mine and you could buy this covering a big bowl of ice cream which looked so good but, being on a budget, I didn’t buy that too! The street had so much energy and you could tell was a popular after school and weekend hangout for all of the teenagers of Tokyo!

These three districts were probably our favourite and, after doing the route from Shibuya to Shinjuku on the first day we reversed for one last look on our last day in the city. Shibuya was without a doubt my favourite and I think Shinjuku is best experienced at night as we came here during the day and it didn’t really look like much. If we had had more money I would have made sure we tried all of the sweet treats on Takeshita Dori but that will just have to be for our next trip here! They’re great districts with a lot to offer and, in my opinion, are what I imagine when I think of Tokyo.

Sending Love x

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