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Shibuya has changed a lot since its early days as the site of an 11th-century castle belonging to the Shibuya family. Today, it is one of Tokyo’s best shopping districts, a blaze of flashing neon, swarmed with throngs of people and a magnet for some of the city’s trendiest youngsters. Famed globally, the Shibuya pedestrian crossing at the heart of the district is its most iconic sight, but venture away from the station area and you will discover malls filled with the very latest in on-trend fashion, restaurants at every turn, spacious parks that rain Japanese cherry blossom in spring and thumping nightclubs.
Shibuya is an assault on the senses, a buzzing, electric and exciting whirl of music, cars, people, food and vast television screens. The best place from which to start your explorations is Shibuya Station, one of the city’s busiest railway stations. It is here that the famous Shibuya Crossing scramble occurs as the rivers of traffic are halted to allow people to pour across the junction. Take the plunge and walk across the famous intersection, which has featured in movies such as ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’.
Shibuya might be famed for its youth culture, its maze of shops and even for being the first place in East Asia to recognise same-sex partnerships, yet its most well-loved story – one that draws people from around Japan and the world – is that of Hachikō the dog. When his master passed away at work, Hachikō waited by the train station for him every single day from 1923 to 1935. His loyalty is legendary and there is a small statue dedicated to him just outside of the station, which has become a popular meeting place.
To truly appreciate Shibuya, do as the young Tokyoites do: hit the shops and then chow down in one of the thousands of restaurants. Several well-known department stores, including Shibuya 109, sell some of Japan’s most contemporary, avant-garde and downright quirky fashions, and streets such as Omotesandō and Sendagaya are packed with clothing shops. The narrow Center Gai street is one of the area’s top shopping destinations, with funky fashion, music and video games luring in the city’s youth.
When it comes to food, Shibuya possess a good mix of options, ranging from the suave high-end restaurants tucked into the summits of skyscrapers to the many budget noodles bars. The trendy Ebisu neighbourhood is another top foodie haunt. Hungry travellers may also want to visit to the Tokyu Food Show in Shibuya Station where you can try all manner of weird and wonderful specialties. When it comes to drinking and dancing, Shibuya doesn’t disappoint either with cafés, friendly izakaya (Japanese pubs) and stylish nightclubs blaring out everything from hip hop to R&B, techno and rock.
If you need a break from the crowds, head to Yoyogi Park, a popular expanse of green complete with picnic areas, bicycle paths and bike rental shops. In springtime, the air is filled with the delicate petals of Japanese cherry blossom, and it is a gathering place for artists and musicians, street performers and martial artists. Interestingly, the site where the park now stands was not only a training base for the Japanese Army, and a housing area for US personnel during the occupation of Japan (known as Washington Heights), but it also served as one of the venues for the 1964 summer Olympics.