Shibuya Crossing


The scramble crossing at Shibuya is one of the most-recognized images of Tokyo and is often featured in movies, including Lost in Translation.  So, after our week in calmer surroundings around the country we decided to dive back into the densest, busiest city in the world and headed to Shibuya Saturday night upon our return to Tokyo.  From a pedestrian bridge just south of the main crossing, I was able to take this mesmerizing video of one crossing cycle.

The crossing is officially called Hachiko Square, and is probably the most famous pedestrian scramble in the world (at least according to Wikipedia).  There seem to be more of these types of crossing in Japan than anywhere else, although a major one has just been installed at Oxford Circus in the center of the London shopping district.  I’d be quite remiss, however, if I didn’t point out that invention of this concept is attributed to one Henry A. Barnes, a mid-20th century traffic commissioner in Denver, Baltimore, and New York City.  It was in Denver that Mr. Barnes established this practice (supposedly after watching his daughter almost run over trying to cross the street to go to school), that came to be known as a “Barnes Dance” (see more here from the Federal Highway Administration).  No doubt this was featured prominently in Astrid’s school year of Colorado history :)

Astrid got this picture of Hachiko the dog, which is regarded as a key meeting place. The story goes that the dog faithfully met his master (an agriculture professor) at the station every day, and upon the professor's unfortunate death in 1925 the dog waited at the station every day for the next 9 years, arriving precisely at the train's scheduled time. Hachiko's legendary faithfulness became a symbol of national loyalty (ironically, the original statue was recycled for the war effort - is that the ultimate loyalty or the ultimate disloyalty?). Read more in the Hachiko entry in Wikipedia.

The area has a bit of a Times Square/Piccadilly Circus feel thanks to the huge neon displays and crowds, but it is actually a vibrant well-rounded commercial area known for fashion shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.  This area, along with nearby Harajuku, is very popular with the young and hip crowd – and I think we saw most of them waiting to meet up just outside the station or making the crossing!

The street-level view: as you can see in the video, and typically characteristic of Japan, is the relative tranquility of this incredibly busy urban scene. Note the dramatic light/dark line in the photograph between the people and the neon about 1/3 of the way from the bottom.

In search of cash, we decided to explore the surroundings away from the station and the crossing a bit.  We found that the only ATMs that worked for us were in 7-11s (which is a documented phenomenon), and figured that there must be one nearby – in many parts of Japanese cities you can practically see another 7-11 from inside one!  Alas, we could not find one; maybe the store rents were too high…but we did get a good tour of this very vibrant district around 9pm on a Saturday night!

I wondered about the circular tracks in the middle of the road at this secondary scramble crossing a couple of blocks away, and Astrid told me that it was from late-night drag racing...they reminded me of zamboni tracks on an ice hockey rink! Hard to imagine something so out-of-control to create that in Japan, but then while we were there they had a spectacular crash of sports cars on an expressway, so maybe not so far-fetched...

Shibuya Station is the anchor of the area (as stations anchor virtually every place in Tokyo!), and anywhere else in the world it would be the biggest station imaginable…here, though, it is only the 3rd or 4th largest.  It combines the JR station (serving the Yamanote Line loop plus the Saiko and Shonan-Shinjuku Lines and the Narita Express airport train) with two private railway stations (Tokyu and Keio) and two separate metro stations (one elevated for the Ginza Line and one underground for the Hanzomon and Fukutoshin Lines) – all combined serving well over 2 million average daily passengers!

Like so many places in Tokyo, all times seem like rush hour, especially along the Yamanote Line loop.

Overall, a must-see (easy, free, iconic!) Tokyo experience to spend a few minutes watching the crowd at the scramble.

A daytime view from the same vantage point as the video - Astrid went to see it while I was working, then we went back together at night at the end of the trip. Incidentally, the Starbucks on the second floor of the building on the left is apparently one of the busiest in the world!

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Posted on 08/01/2012, in travel, Travel to Asia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Nice article, thoroughly enjoyed reading. =)

    I’m currently in the midst of writing an ebook on traveling to Singapore (it’s where I stay), and you love traveling! Was hoping you could share with me on what you’d like to know about Singapore if you plan to travel here.

    Here’s the link to my post, would be really grateful for your inputs and comments, cheers! http://themanwhodoesntwork.wordpress.com/ebook/

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