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Shibuya 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, H&M, and Forever 21, 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.

Shibuya in 1952. Hachiko’s statue can be seen to the bottom left of the photograph.

Further redevelopment is underway ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Shibuya Hikarie, completed in 2012, was the first wave of the plan which includes the construction of another 33-storey skyscraper, an observation deck and rooftop garden, and a water lane (currently under concrete) will be opened up with a tree-lined plaza either side.

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