Archives for posts with tag: shibuya

Continuing the journey on Tokyo’s Yamanote line to explore what this mega city has to offer…

Route map of JR’s Yamanote line which forms a circle around much of central Tokyo. The larger or more important stations are in bold.

Some other Yamanote line facts for those hungry for useless information: A complete circle is 35km and takes about 60 minutes while visiting 29 stations. What really shows the scale of things in Tokyo is that 3.7 million people use this line every day compared with the 5 million who use all of New York’s subway lines (and its 468 stations) or with London and the 2.7 million who travel on the Underground’s 12 lines which serve 275 stations.

4. Minato – Shinbashi, Roppongi
Now we’re entering the west side of the Yamanote line. Minato is foreigners’ land. If you need your embassy then it’ll probably be here. And if you need a skyscraper then it may be in this city center too.

Roppongi at night

Tokyo Tower is around here somewhere too. It was designed to look like the Eiffel Tower and painted in red and white aircraft safety colours. Tokyo Tower was supposed to host the TV transmitters for the 40 million people who live in and around Tokyo but the ever-growing skyline means that Sky Tree has recently been built in Sumida to take over this role. And then there’s Roppongi where all the foreigners either live or head to at the weekend. It has Tokyo’s best-known night entertainment places and apparently the best. Be prepared to spend up to 1000 yen (GBP £8, €10, US$12) for a glass of beer though!

5. Shibuya – Yoyogi, Sendagaya, Harajuku

Tokyo Tower – Big but no longer big enough

This has to be the coolest ward or at least second to Shinjuku in terms of the number of neon lights and shops. Firstly there’s Shibuya itself which is home to Shibuya Crossing where you can join in the crowds and be one of 100,000 who cross a single road every hour in front of the train station. Or if you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic then head to Starbucks where you can drink a coffee and watch the crowds below instead! Even Starbucks is crowded so those in need of relaxation might want to go to Yoyogi park (see the Shinjuku section in the next posting). The stranger person among you may want to do a bit of shopping at Shibuya 109 which is world famous for creating the “kogal” subculture (school girl uniform style). If busy streets, school girl fashion and relaxing in the park don’t do it for you then why not a bit of culture at the National Noh Theatre, Noh being one of Japan’s traditional theaters and makes for a confusing conversation when you ask the staff questions like “Is this the Noh theatre” and they reply with the obvious answer “no(h)”.

Harajuku at the weekend

Harajuku is also in Shibuya and famous too for the fashion named after the area. Head here on Sundays to see the Harajuku girls walking the streets in clothes and hair that must have taken hours to prepare. This is “the” place to see Cosplayers in Tokyo and probably the most famous Cosplay area in the world. Two highly contrasting streets can be found in this part of Shibuya – Takeshita Street being the main street of Harajuku and crammed with cosplay teens seeking to spend all their money – and nearby Omotesandō which is trying to be western Tokyo’s answer to Ginza with dozens of high-end fashion stores. Take your pick.

Next stop: Shinjuku, the king of Tokyo’s cities, Katsushika for somewhere to sleep and Koto to try and find the sea…

Streets of Tokyo – Wide, green but mostly empty

Tokyo has a lot of people. Apparently some 35 million of them commuting on the trains and subways, riding the elevators, drinking in its bars and driving their cars on its wide streets. But where is the noise? I’ve lived in cities with only 0.2% of the population of this metropolis and not been able to hear the voices in my head talking to me. It’s like some guy up above has turned the volume down to just above the mute setting.

The second to last train wasn’t as crowded as the one we took

Tokyo, like London, is one of those crazy cities where public transportation seems to ground to a halt after the big hand and little hand reach 12 at night. Why is this? Had the fortune (or misfortune) to take the last train home the other night. Morning and evening rush hour trains have a world wide reputation for being rather overcrowded but they don’t compare in any way to the LAST TRAIN. It’s like a war. Everybody knows that if they don’t force themselves into this sardine tin then they’ll be spending the next 4 hours walking the streets of Akihabara, slouched over a computer in a cyber cafe or drunkenly climbing into a 3rd story pod in a capsule hotel. Japanese people are known for their politeness and helpfulness. The assistants in stores from McDonald’s to Gucci will greet and bow to you as you enter and unfailingly thank you for your visit when you exit. Little coffee shops and family restaurants will refill your plate with whatever they think you might want to try and parking attendents, police officers in a Koban, builders on the construction site and anyone else in a shiny uniform will take the time to bow and say hello as you pass. However, the last train is rather different. Unlike in London there are no apologies as somebody forces you further into the carriage. They just keep pushing. I don’t know how they do it nor how they tolerate this madness. I survived only because I was taller so able to stand on tip-toes in order to breathe and carry on with my life. Others probably held their breathe for the 20 minute ride. But how do they tolerate it day after day? Nobody complained! Had this been London, Paris or New York the passengers would have risen up, strung up the train company officials and demanded extra trains put on.

100,000 people use Shibuya crossing every hour

To witness the huge numbers of people take a trip to Shibuja where over 100,000 people cross a single junction every hour, head to Shinjuku and arrive at the world’s busiest train station with some 4 million passengers per day and around 100 exits (best not to say to someone that you’ll meet them simply “at Shinjuku station”). The best part about these huge numbers is that everybody seems content, almost everybody has a job and everything works like clockwork. Observe the construction sites which always have several people at the main gate even though all they do is occasionally stop the traffic to let construction trucks in and out, wash the outer walls of the building area (so it looks clean like the rest of Tokyo) and turn on the digital displays outside which tell people nearby how many decibals of noise the site is making (generally fewer than a small Italian town). As you walk around areas like Ginza and Ikebukuroyou’ll see street cleaners traipsing the streets looking for trash even though there isn’t any. I kind of feel sorry for them that one day I might throw some trash in front of them just so they can pick it up and feel useful!

A man walks through Ueno Park wearing a surgical mask to avoid spreading his cough or cold

With this many people you might expect dirt, pests and diseases to feel at home here but as I said before, the dirt must have been shipped off to Europe to brighten up its streets. Often cities are clean because the municipal government have cleverly placed bins everywhere while others are filthy because there are no bins. Well, in Tokyo it’s spotless yet you’ll carry your trash around for ages always on the look out for a bin! And with no trash, rather clean air and a population which wash the walls of construction sites every day there are no pests either. People get sick in Tokyo as anywhere else but good manners mean that many of those with coughs and colds walk around with surgical face masks all day lest their fellow commuters or colleagues catch something from them. Others wear the masks to protect themselves from other people’s cooties. After witnessing the last train of the day I’m surprised that everybody isn’t wearing them!