Shibuya & Harajuku
Shibuya and Harajuku are the trendy fashion setting areas of Tokyo. If you want to check out the latest (and strangest) fashions, find the hottest new CDs, or just learn more about the latest big trend among young people, this is where you want to go. While Shibuya features large fancier stores, Harajuku is all about narrow streets and tiny shops crammed with all sorts of interesting clothing accessories. For those not interested in shopping, you can also pay a visit to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Jingu Shrine.
If you just want to walk around both areas and take in the major sights, plan for two or three hours depending on how fast you go. But if you want to browse the stores and maybe find some new outfits, you could easily spend the better part of a day there.
Many of Shibuya’s biggest shops and attractions are near Shibuya Station, which is located on a large number of train lines (including the Yamanote loop) and several subway lines (including the Ginza line which also stops at other major destinations such as Ginza, Ueno, and Asakusa). From Shibuya Station, you can easily walk north to Yoyogi and Harajuku though both have stations of their own on the Yamanote line as well.
What to See
While the shops are usually the main draw, there are several major attractions in the area and, even if you have no interest in fashion, Harajuku is still worth a quick visit just to see some of the crazy outfits people wear. There’s a few small museums in the area as well, though unless you’re especially interested in their particular focus (such as tabaco, ukiyoe (Japanese wood block print art), or Japanese swords) you’re better off visiting larger more general museums like the ones in Ueno.
As long as you’re at Shibuya Station, you should make a quick stop at the Hachiko statue which can be found right outside of the station’s appropriately named Hachiko exit. The statue is a popular meeting place and anime and game fans may recall it from various titles such as The World Ends With You (which takes place in a fairly accurate recreation of the Shibuya / Harajuku area). But who is Hachiko? Hachiko is, or rather was, a dog who belonged to an old man back in the early 1900’s. Every day, the man would take the train from Shibuya station to work and every day Hachiko would sit there waiting for him to return. After his owner died, Hachiko continued to wait at the station for him for years until he too passed away. The local residents were so impressed with Hachiko’s devotion that a statue was erected in his honor. While the statue itself isn’t all that impressive, it’s right outside the station and makes for a good photo op.
Shopping in Shibuya
From the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, you can easily see a number of the area’s major stores such as Shibuya 109 (a large clothing store) and it’s only a short walk to the rest such as Tower Records’ anchor store. Like most areas in Tokyo, if you’re there to shop I think it’s a lot more fun to wonder around a bit and see what you find than to just have a checklist of stores to visit. You never know what you’ll find and it’s often the smaller less obvious shops which have the best deals.
A short walk (or even shorter train ride) North from Shibuya Station will bring you to Yoyogi Park. Likes Ueno Park, it’s a large sprawling area of covered with grass, forests, ponds, and pathways instead of a little patch of grass with a swing set like many US parks. Personally, I think Ueno Park is the nicer of the two, but Yoyogi Park hosts a number of festivals and events and can provide a nice break if you’re tired of walking through tall buildings.
Shopping in Harajuku
If you keep walking North from Shibuya Station on the East side of Yoyogi Park (or just take the Yamanote line train), you’ll reach Harajuku, home of Meiji Jingu Shrine (which I’ll talk about shortly) and the latest in teen fashions. Meiji Dori (the large road running roughly North/South through the area) features some larger more popular shops such as The Oriental Bazaar (a good, though somewhat expensive, place to buy souvenirs), Laforet (a large clothing mall of sorts), and Kiddy Land (a toy store).
But the places you really want to visit in Harajuku are the little streets directly across the street (East) of Harajuku Station such as Takeshita Street and Cat Street, where you’ll find an endless array of small stores dedicated to a diverse array of fashions ranging from chic to bizarre. A few of the popular styles that really stick out are Lolita (think 1800’s European high class with puffy dresses, lace, and frills), Goth (black, red, and lots of skulls), Lolita Goth (Lolita style clothes with a Goth color scheme), and punk rock, but that’s only scratching the surface and Tokyo’s fashion trends change rapidly.
As a warning, Takeshita Street and the other small shopping streets in Harajuku become insanely crowded on weekends, to the point where you can do little except go along with the flow. Though weekends are also the best time to spot young men and women decked out in their most daring and elaborate outfits. If you get tired of braving the crowds, a good (and much less packed) place to people watch is by the bridge to Meiji Jingu Shrine (see below) which is immediately south of Harajuku Station (to your right as you exit the station).
Meiji Jingu Shrine
The Meiji Jingu Shrine was built to honor the Meiji Emperor. He’s the emperor who helped reform Japan’s government and bring it up to speed with the modern world shortly after Perry opened up the country. He’s one of the most popular emperors and, as such, his shrine gets quite a lot of visitors. The shrine itself isn’t overly impressive (though it’s one of the fancier shrines within Tokyo itself) but it’s set in its own section of Yoyogi Park and the surrounding grounds are a popular picnic spot. There’s also a treasure museum containing lots of paintings of and items owned by the emperor.
To get to the shrine, go to your right (South) immediately after exciting Harajuku Station, turn right, cross the bridge, and follow the crowds down the path beneath the giant tori gate.
Since I’m not much for fashion, Shibuya and Harajuku have never been my favorite parts of Tokyo but I have to admit that people watching, especially around Harajuku, can be a lot of fun. Depending on your interests, I’d say that the area is definitely worth anything from a short visit to a full day as part of any Tokyo trip.