One of the most well-known and well-recognized representations of contemporary Japan is the city ward of Shibuya, which is known for its progressive politics and culture.
There are numerous prefectures that make up Japan. Each prefecture contains its own municipalities, or “wards.” Despite its high-rises, nightlife, and economic districts, Tokyo is not technically a city, despite being the capital of Japan.
In reality, Tokyo is not a single city but rather a collection of municipalities that together form a huge metropolitan area in Japan.
In 1868, Japan’s monarch relocated to that area, and since since, that spot has been officially designated as the country’s capital.
Tokyo’s status as the nation’s capital encouraged the flow of commerce through the city, which has helped accelerate the city’s growth relative to other regions of Japan.
History of Shibuya
The name of this city district originates with a family that established a stronghold there in the eleventh century.
When the Yamanote trains were built in the late 1800s, connecting Shibuya to other cities in southern Japan, the city underwent a dramatic transformation.
At first, several of the important stations were connected to Shibuya. Throughout the twentieth century, additional railway lines opened or branched out to serve Shibuya, turning it into a major transportation hub.
The Shibuya ward is made up of several different neighborhoods.
Hatagaya, Yoyogi, Hikawa-Shimbashi, Sendagaya, and Ebisu-mukai are only a few examples. Towards the close of World War II, American servicemen moved into housing constructed in Yoyogi Park. The area around these homes is known as “Washington Heights.”
After 18 years, many of the residents had moved out, and the area was demolished and rebuilt for the 1964 Olympic Games.
Once famed for its production of Yebisu beer in the 1800s, the area today known as Ebisu is a hub for bars (or “izakaya”), ramen restaurants, and cafes in the Shibuya neighborhood. Yebisu Garden was erected there in the 1990s. Yebisu Garden Place was built somewhere around the 1990s.
The commercial complex known as Yebisu Garden Place is home to a number of attractions, including a number of museums, a restaurant with a Michelin star, an arcade, and a number of shops.
As for Harajuku, the area was formerly known as Shinjuku before it began to gain notoriety as a hipster haven for clothing boutiques in the mid-1970s.
The rest of Shibuya would eventually adopt the word as a synonym for high-end clothing. In the 1980s, Shibuya’s hip young people gained international attention for their avant-garde style choices.
Shibuya is not just famous for its fashion industry, but also its abundance of technology firms, which flourished during the decade of the 1990s.
Named “Bit Valley” as a play on the literal translation of “Shibuya,” which means “Bitter Valley,” it was a creative moniker.
The legalization of same-sex partnerships is another significant event in Shibuya’s past. Shibuya, Japan’s first and only city ward, and maybe all of East Asia, legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
Shibuya Today, Japan’s Fashion Capital
In modern times, Shibuya has gained notoriety as the setting for numerous well-known attractions, businesses, and tales.
Although the story of Hachiko, the Shibuya crossing, and the Meiji Shrine are all big draws for visitors, the commercial choice of stylish clothing in Shibuya is what makes it famous around the world.
The young people of Shibuya, Japan, are infamous for popularizing iconic themes of Japanese streetwear and using fashion as a means of self-expression.
Shibuya is a great place to find garb the Japanese consider “urban,” but which is actually quite flashy and garish thanks to trends like “Ganguro,” “Lolita,” and “Gyaru.” The faddish themes and clothing are well represented in the several Shibuya shopping centers that also stock more traditional fashions.
You can see the locals getting dressed up for a night on the town by taking a stroll around the Center Gai.
Supeinzaka, also known as Spain Slope, is a tribute to the narrow, winding alleys of Spain that lead to the Parco department store and offer a more peaceful promenade with a picturesque outlook.
Toga, Studious (the Shibuya location specializes in menswear), and MUJI are three names to remember if you’re in the market for high-quality clothing in Shibuya (great for the avant-garde fashionistas.)
The Shibuya Crossing
The scramble crossing outside the 109 Department Store is a major thoroughfare in the area, used by a large number of people every day.
When all the vehicles stop, pedestrians from all the crosswalks can pass in a chaotic frenzy.
Every time the light turns green, roughly 2,500 individuals cross the street. That adds up to about a million people crossing the street every day.
Perhaps it’s because of the abundance of nearby businesses and retail malls, but more likely it’s because of the convenience of the nearby Shibuya station.
It’s a prime location for billboards, shops, and sightseers because to the constant flow of people that pass by. Actually, this Starbucks location reportedly earns more money than any other Starbucks location worldwide. Witnessing and participating in the simultaneous crossing of so many pedestrians is a humbling sight.
A number of films, including The Wolverine, Fast & Furious, and Lost in Translation, have used this landmark as a setting.
Planning Your Route Around Shibuya Station
Shibuya Station is notoriously difficult to navigate due to its status as one of the busiest stations in Japan (the third busiest, depending on your methodology).
The subways here use color-coded lines that intersect at specific points, much like in any other metro.
Having cash on hand (or a Japan Rail Pass/JR Pass) and a map of the various lines’ connections will get you where you need to go.
Given the station’s prominence and the numerous other stations to which it provides access, it’s imperative that you know exactly where you’re going and how you’ll get there in Japan (which stops to get out of and board different lines, for instance.)
Lost? Follow signs for the scramble crossing outside the 109 Department Store by exiting through the Hachiko escalator. From that point on, you’ll be able to navigate to your destination.
The journey from Narita International Airport to Shibuya is surprisingly simple. Take the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori Station.
From there, ride the Yamanote line to Shibuya. Less than 3000 yen will get you from Narita to Shibuya, and the trip shouldn’t take more than an hour.
If you want to see the Sakura or Cherry Blossoms or the Koyo Front, the best time to visit Japan is during the spring (March, April, and May) or fall (September, October, and November).
If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you can save money on airfare and avoid the bulk of the tourists. Early December, January, and February are not available. Expenses rise during the months of June through August because of higher summer rates. The best time to experience the romance of Shibuya crossing is after dark, when the city is at its busiest and all the lights are on.
Over the past century, Shibuya has grown into a vibrant representation of a modern metropolis. Shibuya should be at the top of your travel itinerary (or shopping list, depending on which you value more) the next time you’re in Japan.
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