Thursday 18 July 2013

Shibuya at night!

Most people associate Tokyo at night time with bright neon signs and lots of them.  A couple of years ago when I came for a holiday to Japan with one of my brothers and two friends, they were looking forward to seeing all of the neon.  We visited about two months after the major earthquake and tsunami of 11th March 2011.  The country was in electricity saving mode, so the nighttime view was more restrained than I remembered it being.  Fast forward two years and there is not such a problem with electricity supply anymore, in fact (after all nuclear reactors were shutdown after March 11) 2 have already been restarted and there are applications in to restart 12 more of them (out of a total of 50 countrywide).  That means the neon signs are back, and there is no better place to see them than in Shibuya, the heartbeat of Tokyo.

Last time I lived in Japan, I worked in Shibuya for 1 1/2 years, and when I say Shibuya is the heartbeat of Tokyo, I mean it keeps on beating, 24/7!

When I worked in Shibuya, one of my students was an elderly man, well into his nineties.  He was an absolute joy to teach.  He had been coming for English lessons for about 3 years but his English level had not improved.  He forgot, from one week to the next, what he had learnt the previous week, but he loved coming and we loved to see him each week.  He had some amazing wartime stories that he loved to tell (which I will not tell here so as not to offend some people) that he told with great energy and animation!  He also told me one time ho he could remember walking through Shibuya as a young child and that it was just farm land with a few houses back then.  It is nearly impossible to imagine that when you look at modern day Shibuya.  It is now home to contemporary fashion and a very vibrant and robust nightlife that is enjoyed by Tokyo's young, and the ever-drinking Tokyo salaryman!

Let me begin by saying that Shibuya is an assault on the senses, in a completely good way. One of my current students is a concierge at a hotel and she asked me one time why all of her foreign guests always ask "How do I get to Shibuya?".  It is an exciting place!

I use Shibuya station everyday (and also did when I lived here before) so, for me, it is one of the easiest of the large train stations in Tokyo to navigate.  Coming out of the train station you head down some extremely crowded escalators.

At the bottom of the escalators there are always people handing out advertising material (usually in the form of a small pack of tissues or a plastic fan in summer).  It is loud and in your face from the moment you start heading down the escalators.

Outside of the train station, there is an area called Hachiko square.  It is a famous meeting area for those meting friends in Shibuya.  It is also home to the statue of a famous dog.  The dog's name was Hachiko, and Hachiko's story is a good one (set in the 1930's).  Hachiko's owner was a professor at Tokyo University and every afternoon, Hachiko would make it's way to Shibuya train station to meet his owner as he came home from work.  One day, the professor died at work but that didn't stop Hachiko from coming to the train station each day for the next decade until the loyal pet itself died.  The statue of Hachiko was placed in the square as a tribute to it's loyalty.

It is also home to some of Shibuya's street performers (of which Tokyo doesn't have many, unless they are singers looking for a lucky break).

Shibuya is also home to the world's busiest pedestrian crossing (that I have talked about briefly here).  Crossing this pedestrian crossing is like being in the middle of the great wildebeest migration through the Masai Mara, the foot traffic is so heavy!

I also mentioned in the previous post where I touched on this pedestrian crossing that it also has the busiest Starbucks coffee shop in the world.

Moving on from Hachiko crossing, I headed off down Center Gai, a pedestrian only street, home to hundreds of shops, restaurants and bars.  Enjoy!

A 24 hour food place right next door to a nightclub that is open until after the first train of the morning.  Kind of a ready-made customer base! 

A menswear shop (suits, shirts, shoes etc)

A shop selling all kinds of silver jewelry imaginable.

I'm not quite sure.......

Shoe shop.

One of the little side streets that runs of Center Gai.  "Loft" is the name of a big department store.

First time I've seen a chicken with eyebrows........

Delicious Japanese curry restaurant!

A couple of guys waiting to lure customers into their Izakaya restaurant.

A good cheap chain eatery called Matsuya that is good for a fast meal anytime!

I would have laughed and laughed if Backstreet Boys got a bigger crowd than Justin Bieber!

Karaoke place.

The only reason this one is here is that I saw it and remembered a student recommended I try this shop's ramen.  I didn't today, but putting it here will remind me to do so later!

I noticed that this restaurant serves okonomiyaki, amongst other things.

American owned, Australian themed steakhouse.

Korean BBQ I think.

Clothes store full of bright flouro coloured clothing.

The ever-present flower shop.  Each area in Tokyo has at least one.

Not sure of the thinking behind this one, or maybe the mannequins were from the cheap mannequin reject shop.

A giant electronics store.  Imagine, eight floors of just electronics!  I know my brother Matthew will probably get goosebumps when he reads that and remembers walking through them in Akihabara two years ago!

These pictures are now heading out another street called Dogenzaka.  This is Shibuya 109, an iconic fashion department store.

A nice Irish pub that is popular with the expat crowd as well as Japanese people.

About halfway up Dogenzaka I start to head in a little side street.  In this direction is the seedier side of Shibuya, although, still quite safe. The first place I saw is a Pet Hotel, 

right next to an Adult shop!

This poster is advertising jobs available to ladies in the Adult industry.

And up this little stairway is Shibuya's Love Hotel District.  I have previously written a little about Japan's love hotels here.

They are used for couples who, for whatever reason, do not want to or cannot have sex at home (maybe too far away, they still live with parents, they haven't cleaned the apartment for a while etc).  You can rent them for a "rest" or short stay (three or four hours) or a stay (overnight).

Some signs also have photos of the rooms as well.

The Love Hotels themselves are built with great style and effort on appearance to tempt the love-struck couple inside.

They also have signs out letting people know if they have vacancies or not.

Some more neon, if you hadn't had enough yet.

Japan has a few homegrown Burger places that do quite nice burgers.  They are (in order of generally accepted quality, from high to low):

Mos Burger:

Freshness Burger (whenever I walk past this one, I always think "Well, I hope so!"):

First Kitchen:

and Lotteria:

Most Japanese will also rank all of these above Macdonalds and Burger King too in terms of quality and taste!  Each of these are present in Shibuya.

Back out on Dogenzaka I saw one of Japan's famous Fugu restaurants.  

Fugu is that poisonous puffer fish that Homer Simpson nearly died of one time.  It is considered safe if only prepared a certain way.  Because Fugu is a poisonous fish, you actually need a licence to be legally allowed to prepare it.  Having said this, people still die every year eating Fugu.  I haven't tried it yet, because (as I tell my students) why would I want to eat something that can kill me!

And here is the humble Fugu.

Just off the side of Dogenzaka I spy a little cafe that deserved a closer look.

A look at the menu revealed....

Kangaroo, alligator, ostrich and gizzards!  I might go back one day for the kangaroo, but will give the gizzards a miss I think.

It was getting close to dinner time so I looked around for a ramen place and found this one nearby.

I ordered the top one.

Luckily for me, they also had an English menu, and the girl serving also was nice enough to speak English to me.  Dinner arrived,

and departed soon after!  I can only imagine what my heart doctor would say if I had one, and if he saw that!

Full and satisfied with another exploration, I wandered back down a nearby side street to the train station.

My train was waiting for me, so I boarded it and made my way back home.  

I hope you enjoyed Shibuya.  It is a special place for me as I spent all of 1 1/2 years working there, and I love it's energy.

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you again next week.


  1. Hi Jason.Another very interesting article.Unfortunately,never got to Hiroshima,which I believe is a very attractive city and nice surrounds.Amazingly, the people quickly went about getting the trams,hospitals etc up an running within a few days of the bombing.The long term and devestating health problems people suffered make one question the morality of this episode in World War11.I wonder too if you and others in the Tokyo/Chiba area have any concerns now,about consuming food following the Fukushima meltdown?

    Genki have opened a new Sushi Bar in Gouger St.,next to the Matsuri and have installed Ipads for ordering.

    Last night Luke Darcy interviewd "the weapon"..James Hird in particular came under fire.

    Well Jason,all the best from the land downunder..Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      Hiroshima feels a lot like Adelaide. It is approximately the same size and has the same relaxed atmosphere, so it struck a chord with me.

      I think that the Japanese people have shown that when something devastating like this happens, they quite quickly re-group and get on with what needs to be done to fix the issue. The earthquake and tsunami of tow years ago and a fine example of that. Regarding food after Fukushima, I am not worried about it. You just have to trust that the powers that be are doing the right thing and that the food you are eating is fine. I don't have much more hair to lose anyway, so I'm not too worried!

      I had heard about the interview with Dean Robinson and I hope someone uploads it to youtube so I can have a look. I thought there might be some pretty strong allegations in it, but it is really all "he said, she said" at the moment. I just hope ASADA release their findings soon and get it all over and done with.

      Take care Noel and see you again.

  2. Hi Jason,

    Sorry to ask you about English on your blog.
    What exactly is the meaning of " kind of a ready-to-made customer base?

    Let me get you a drink as a tuition fees!

    Many thanks,

    1. Hey Masa,

      no problem asking about this!

      A ready made customer base means that when people leave a place where they have been drinking, sometimes they look for somewhere to eat as that is the next thing they want to do.

      If you have a drinking place next to a 24 hour eating place, for the eating place it is natural that the drinking people will want to go there. So the eating place has a natural market for customers because drinkers want to eat after they have finished drinking.

      Imagine that you have been drinking all night and when you leave the bar you want something to eat, and there is a restaurant near the bar. That is a ready made restaurant for you. For the restaurant, you are a ready made customer as you are looking for somewhere to eat and the restaurant is near.

      I hope that explains it!

      If it does, I would love to have a drink anytime!