View of Shibuya’s Shopping District
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of customers tend to ask some similar questions. “Where can I find a vending machine that sells wacky things?” “Where’s a good café with a fun theme?” “Where in Tokyo has the best nightlife?” The answers, simply put, are Shibuya, Shibuya, and Shibuya!
Housed between two of the busiest train stations in the world, the Shibuya neighborhood can’t be missed by first-time travelers, and deserves additional visits from second, third, and fourth timers as well! Shibuya boasts some of the best bars, restaurants, sightseeing spots, shopping malls, game centers and more. There’s something for everyone in this hectic place, and plenty to discover! On your next vacation, you really must take a walk—well, perhaps not walk. Wade. On your next vacation, you really must wade through the excitement and chaos that is Shibuya.
You can be spontaneous and discover some hidden gems here, but without a plan, Shibuya gets overwhelming, exhausting, and confusing. The main intersections run into the old, narrow side streets which leak out into back alleyways, which spill out to main intersections that must be crossed by taking a bridge over rivers of buses and rail tracks and—whew! I’m exhausted just by writing about it! So, let’s dive into 10 things to do in Shibuya!
First, when traveling with a group, it’s always important to find a good meeting spot in case of separation. So, why don’t you….
Hachiko Bronze Statue Re-erected in 1948
Hachiko is one of Japan’s, and growingly the world’s, most beloved stories. It has been featured in multiple movies such as Richard Gere’s Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale. In 1924, Professor Ueno of Tokyo University adopted Hachiko as a puppy. Every morning Ueno went to Shibuya station on his commute, and Hachiko would follow. At night, Hachiko would meet Professor Ueno at the exact time his work ended.
Tragically, Professor Ueno suddenly passed away while at work. Hachiko waited for Ueno’s return at Shibuya station every night for the remainder of his life. Hachiko’s story touched the hearts of Japanese people, and they raised a bronze statue in his likeness.
These days, young Tokyoites use the Hachiko Entrance/Exit as a place to meet up with friends. You can spot Hachiko surrounded by students and young businessmen and women waiting as tourists jump around to snap a selfie with this cutie. Once you get your shot, don’t put up your camera because the next photo-op is just a few steps and a scramble away!
Get your Go-Pros ready and set your phone’s video to Time Lapse. You’re about to get the coolest shot of your vacation! The Shibuya intersection outside of the station is said to be the busiest pedestrian crosswalk in the world. At each traffic light change, cars stop on all sides for one minute, and the shoelace express bursts out from every which way. Midway through the crossing, it takes a steady foot to sidestep and swerve your way through the mass of people.
Once you reach your desired sidewalk, take advantage of one of the overlooking shops to get an overhead shot of everyone else trying their hands, or rather legs, at this challenge. One great viewing spot is the nearby Shibuya Starbucks. Get a refreshing drink on the first floor, then head to the second floor for a seat by the window. (Note: All Japan Tours is not brought to you by Starbucks!) We recommend a Friday or Saturday night when young people fill the streets to the brim under the neon glow of the city.
If the crowds are getting to you at this point, and I know they sometimes get to me, take a break from it all and….
It’s time to take a load off. Re-center. You might think Shibuya is exactly the wrong place for this, but you would be exactly wrong! Shibuya’s famous Yoyogi Park is one of the best places to get a little greenery in your scenery. Sit by the cool, calm waters of the central pond and recoup, or explore the expanse of the green green grass. You can traverse across the fields or keep to the concrete paths for a stroll.
Yoyogi Park is especially popular on Sundays. Artists, dancers, cosplayers, and musicians all gather in groups on weekends to strut their stuff or practice their crafts. It’s a great way to see some of Japan’s subcultures and funky scenes!
While in Yoyogi Park, don’t forget to stop by the famous Meiji Jingu!
The Torii Gate Leading to Meiji Shrine
Shrouded in the trees of Yoyogi Park stands one of Japan’s most famous shrine Meiji Jingu, which is dedicated to the late Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Meiji was the first emperor of Japan after the feudal era, and it was under his rule that Japan became the modern country we know today. The massive Torii gate welcomes visitors from all over the world to its tranquil ground. The road leading to the shrine is lined with barrels of sake donated from brewers as offerings to use in ceremonies and festivals.
Naturally, you can enjoy watching or participating in Shinto prayer and get a fortune. Here, you can also enjoy the iris garden in spring, and the treasure house to see some of the Emperor’s actual possessions. Meiji Shrine is quite a popular attraction, so you may have to deal with crowds. It’s especially busy on New Years when over three million people go to pray!
If the big crowds aren’t exactly your thing you can always….
Konno Hachimangu Shrine
Just a five-minute walk away Shibuya station can bring you out of the crowds, and back into your own world. Go to the Konno Hachimangu Shrine for all your sensory and spiritual needs. Built in 1092, this shrine somehow managed to survive years of catastrophe, including WWII. Perhaps that’s because this shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, a god of war.
A good time to visit this shrine is the last Saturday of March. Every year a festival is held to honor the samurai Konnohamaru (1141-1185). Konnohamaru once carved a statue of himself for his mother, and this statue is put on display during the festival. Take a moment to cleanse yourself, reflect, and sit on one of the small benches lining the road to the shrine.
If you’re feeling well rested, get on back to the shopping district for our next stop.
The Shibuya 109 department store is one of the most popular places for young Tokyoites to shop. Or should I say stores? Technically, it’s all one department, but there are two buildings! One dedicated to women’s, and one dedicated to men’s so make sure you know which one you’re walking into! If you’re not sure, just look up! At the top of the men’s store, you’ll see “109 Men’s” in gold lettering.
Shibuya 109’s architecture sends customers on a circling track so you can explore each shop. You won’t find your favorite brands here. The shops are run by underground designers popular among the fashion subcultures. This is a great place to really find something unique to take home with you!
If shopping for clothes doesn't suit you, head down the street for something everyone can enjoy!
Tower Records Main Entrance
Remember those days when we bought music we’d get a tangible object in that transaction? Not some digital file floating through satellites to our screens, but a real, multi-colored, multi-pocketed bit of cardboard and plastic and magic. Naturally, listening to music on audio files is big in Japan. On any given train ride about half of the passengers have earbuds plugged into their phones. But this new wave of listening hasn’t taken away from other forms of media, and record shops like Tower Records are still going strong. We haven’t been able to enjoy a Tower Records shop in America since 2006, but in Shibuya, you can step into nostalgia and pick up a few CDs along the way.
This particular branch stands at nine stories with a vast collection of CDs, DVDs, and books. The seventh floor even boasts a wide variety of foreign books if you already finished that novel on your flight here. The second floor has a café where you can eat while you read, or take a coffee to go as you browse through the store. The basement serves as a venue for live events, so look out for any possible shows you can work into your trip!
After spending a day like this in Shibuya, you might want to head back to your hotel, or you just might….
If you’re not quite ready to go back, or just want a quick nightcap, head to Shibuya’s Center Gai for a pedestrian-only narrow street lined with bars, shops, and nightclubs. This particular area is popular with Japanese youth and subculture hipsters, so you’re sure to see some of that funky fashion and lively spirit you’ve heard so much about! The energy makes the streets seem more crowded than they really are as squeals of excitement and laughter fill the spaces between people. You’ll quickly realize that Japan by night is quite different than Japan by day. The shy, soft-spoken facades quickly dissolve into broad grins that you could see tonsils through.
Walking into any of the shops lining the street gives promise for a fun-filled night, but be cautious. Many of these shops have cover charges, even if they don’t advertise it. Make sure to ask your potential barkeep how much the cover charge is before you order your first drink! Now, some of the shops around here, especially the fast food places, might make you feel as though you didn’t actually fly over the Pacific.
If you’re feeling little too much “at home,” there’s another place you can go to….
Patrons Decide on Which Bar to Enter in Nonbei Yokocho
Drinking in Japanese-style widely differs from other countries. Even in the most informal occasions, there are still some rules of etiquette that always apply in Japan. The pricing of drinks differs from your hometown dive, and even the architecture of the establishments themselves might seem strange. Westerners might be used to the set up of a counter with stools, a few tables and chairs, perhaps a pool table, and the smoky back patio. Now take away the stools, tables, chairs, in fact, everything but the counter itself. That’s it! That’s a Japanese-style standing bar, where the bartenders have more room to move than the customers.
You can find these kinds of bars in the Shibuya Nonebei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley). There are plenty of tiny, some only seating four to five people, ramshackle bars to choose from along the narrow road. Some of these bars have been here since the 1950s, and the owners are well-loved by their patrons. You might even hear some of the patrons refer to the bartenders as “Mama-san!” to get their attention.
If standing for long periods of time in noisy, tiny rooms doesn’t sound like your cup of beer, I’ve got just the place for you.
The Bello Visto Bar inside of Shibuya’s Cerulean Tower Hotel offers more than just simple cocktails. The bar does it’s best to offer rare and exclusive spirits on their menu. The food is simple, stylish, and constantly raved about by customers. The atmosphere is soft and welcoming after a long walk through the city. But, the main attraction is the view.
From forty stories up, you can see all across the lights of Shibuya and the surrounding areas of Shinjuku, Roppongi, and the Tokyo Tower. At night, you can spot all the different places that you went to and saw and compare your pictures from the day to the view below. It’s the perfect place to end the night and the perfect place to end our review here.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article about Shibuya. If you’re ready to go exploring with one of our guides, check our link below to make your own to see our tours in Shibuya!