Shibuya (渋谷) encapsulates the stereotypical image of Tokyo better than any other area. No self-respecting travel documentary would dare broadcast an episode on Tokyo without at least one scene showing Shibuya’s crowds or the neon signs at night. Walk out of the Hachiko Exit of JR Shibuya Station and you will be faced with swarms of young trendsetters, bright screens, noise from just about every direction, and the famous scramble crossing—reputedly the world’s busiest. Whatever your interests, Shibuya is unmissable for visitors to Tokyo.
Shibuya is also the name of the ward—one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo—but it is almost always used to refer to the area around the Shibuya Station. The center of it all is Center Gai, a shopping district on the other side opposite side of the crossing when you leave the station. Around this area you’ll find all the major Japanese department stores and Western brands like Levis and H&M, as well as numerous fast-food chains, coffee shops, and bars.
The History of Shibuya
Shibuya was once home to farmland and tea fields, and Shibuya Station began its life in 1885 as a small suburban railway stop. But it was really after the war that Shibuya began the mecca of youth culture that it is today. Like Shinjuku, it suffered heavily in the air raids of 1945 and the ruins were prime bartering grounds for street hawkers and black market stalls in the immediate post-war era. In the 1950s it was—rather fittingly for an area that today seems the epicenter of commerce—the department stores that led the redevelopment of the area: Tokyu Department store (est. 1954), Tokyu Bunka Kaiken (est. 1957; now Hikarie), and Tokyu Building (est. 1965; now Tokyu Plaza). As the 1970s and 1980s brought in dramatic shifts in the attitudes and wants of youth culture, Shibuya found itself at the center of it all—a position it still holds today.
Things to Do
A 34-floor skyscraper completed in 2012. The department store ShinQs occupies B3F to 5F with basement food courts and fashion stores mainly targeting young women. Above there is a restaurant floor, a creative/art space, and a large theatre on 11F-16F (Tokyu Theatre Orb) which shows Western musicals.
Popular discount chain store that sells just about anything. Items are stacked on top of each other and crammed onto shelves like some sort of modern day bazaar. And that’s kind of the attraction—you never quite know what you’ll find down each aisle. A great store for souvenirs or a weird gadget to take back for friends and family.
Small, narrow alley a short distance from Shibuya station that is home to many kiosk-sized bars. A good place to make friends with the locals over a beer or strike up a conversation with the bartender (some speak English).
LOFT is an urban lifestyle store that sells everything from stationery and watches to health products and kitchenware. It is a superb place if you’re looking for gifts to take back. LOFT does also have branches in other areas of the city (e.g. Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Yurakucho), but the Shibuya branch is one of the best.
Self-styled “Creative Life Store” chain. Shibuya is one larger branches, selling everything from outdoor camping equipment to animals and pet supplies. You can often find more gimmicky items in its toys and electronics department. Another good place for souvenirs.