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.
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.
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.
Center Gai (“Center Town”) is just that—the center of Shibuya and the place for which many coming out of the Hachiko Exit of the station will make a beeline. The main street is filled either side with fast-food chains, discount clothing stores, and bars which aren’t necessarily that interesting, but it’s more about people watching and exploring the wider area.
More a short detour than a “thing to do”. Spain Slope (supein-zaka) is a narrow street about 100 meters long that leads up to the Parco department store. It is so named for its resemblance to a Spanish street scene (those from Spain may be disappointed).
Tokyo’s most famous statue is in fact a small bronze dog. The tale goes that Hachiko, an Akita dog, used to wait at Shibuya Station at the same time and place every evening for his master to return home. One day the master, a university professor, did not show—he had died suddenly at work. Despite his master’s passing, Hachiko continued to wait faithfully for his owner at the same time each day until his own death in 1935. The bronze statue stands in the place he used to wait and is now the de facto meeting point in Shibuya. The 2009 film “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” starring Richard Gere is based on this story (the film itself a remake of a 1987 Japanese film). The statue was melted down and turned into train parts for the war effort just one day before the Japanese surrendered. The statue you see today was cast in 1948.
Built in 1989, Bunkamura was the first large-scale cultural complex in Japan. It contains a concern hall, gallery, and a small art museum.
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 the best.
One of Shibuya’s most well-known commercial complexes is home to a shopping mall, a hotel, offices, and more than 70 restaurants. The entrance to the Keio Inokashira Line is on the second floor of the building.
Hikarie is 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.
The Shibuya 109 department store has been leading the way in female fashion for the under 30s for the best part of four decades. Nowadays, it is associated with the gyaru (“girl”) sub-culture which sees young women dye their hair and attach fake eyelashes in search of an alternative Barbie-look.
Don Quijote is a 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.
This self-styled “Creative Life Store” aims to be a one-stop shop for all your retail needs and desires. The larger branches sell everything from outdoor camping equipment to animals and pet supplies, and you can often find more gimmicky items in its toys and electronics department (electronic beer dispensers and oddly-shaped sandwich toasters—that sort of thing). Free WIFI and tax-free services are available in most branches. In central Tokyo you can find branches in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza, Ikebukuro, and Tokyo Station.