People Watching at Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya crossing might be one of the most iconic images of Tokyo. From the onset, one might think it's just a simple intersection, but upon waiting for the red light, things become all the more clear. Traffic stops from all directions, turning the street into a pedestrian, all-way crossing. Suddenly a surge of people starts flowing from each direction, like fish swimming upstream and down. They call this the "scramble". Shoppers, students, couples, tourists and commuters all rush in all directions.
The crossing is rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world with hundreds, sometimes over 1000, people crossing the street at one time. Japan's notorious for being one of the biggest city's in the world and this scene makes the population come to life in front of you.
The crossing has become an important scene in pop culture by its feature in movies like "Lost in Translation", "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift", and "Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution". Facing the crossing are three huge television screens which flash all day long. If you're interested in seeing what is big in the advertising world in Japan, this is a great place to come.
The best place to see the magic of the crossing is by getting yourself a seat at the Starbucks across the street. They had a giant second floor with floor-to-ceiling windows and a viewing counter to sit at. This is people watching at its best.
Japanese Starbucks has many more drink options exclusive to Japan, and we both chose one of their featured Peach Tea Frappucinos to enjoy while watching the orderly lines of people below mill about.
The best time to see the crossing is at night, the with neon lights of the surrounding buildings glowing all around it. People are dressed up for a night on the town and music blares from nearby Izakayas.
One of the most exciting attractions near Shibuya crossing is the "Shibuya 109" shopping tower. This shopping mall is ten floors of fashion shops mainly geared towards women aged 25-30 (a rare subsection since many malls tend to appeal to the younger generation).
When it was built in 1979, the mall wanted to target career women, who know their fashion sense and aren't just looking for the next big trend. There are still plenty of stores for that demo, but teen fashion has also made its way through their doors by popular demand.
Shibuya 109 is not for the faint-hearted. The music is pumping, the lights and lack of windows make it impossible to tell what the time it is, and employees shout “irrashaimase” (meaning welcome) at any passers by.
The one other thing that makes this mall so unique is how the owners runs their business. They make an effort to bring in young entrepreneurs and upstart companies. Small brands, which are now known worldwide, got their start in this very place. Shibuya 109 is notable for selling cutting edge fashions made by new designers but also clothes that bring in the customers since only stores which make enough revenue can stay. This ensures all the stores inside Shibuya 109 are beloved by their customer for quality, design and price.
One of the things I noticed while shopping in Shibuya 109 was their enormous selection of shoes. There were so many shoe stores featuring some of the most eclectic designs, bright colours and even accessories to make any shoes an original work of art.
Unless you have a similar body to the majority of Japanese woman you might find it hard to find clothes in your size. If you're thin and petit, you'll be in heaven, but for those of us who are tall or curvy, there are not many options. But if you want to find something to bring home look for things like shawls, sweaters (which are designed to be extra oversized so will fit), hats and other accessories. Ruby to Be! on the second floor has a beautiful selection of bohemian fashion with lots of these options.
Accessories are something that Japanese fashion does best. Hair clips, hair bands, purses and decora (little jewels to decorate pretty much anything), tights and socks in a multitude of colours and designs. These stores sell everything and anything to make any outfit more frilly, shiny and colourful.
There are plenty if nice restaurants in and around Shibuya but if you're looking for something cheap with a huge selections, head over to the basement of the Tokyu Department Store, right near the east exit of Shibuya Station. Underground hides one of the biggest food halls in Tokyo. You find tonkatsu, sushi, grilled chicken, tofu products, pickles, deli salads, and all kinds of bento boxes as well as ethnic foods like Indian curries, pho and other Vietnamese dishes, Chinese dumplings and dozens of Chinese-style main dishes. Honestly anything you're craving, you'll find down here, and at prices so low you can afford to try a few different dishes.
Shibuya is one of the many beating hearts of this city. Even if you just come here to sit in Starbucks while watching the crowds for a few minutes, it's worth the trip down here.