Tokyo Part 1: Shibuya and the Jukus

Ahhhh Tokyo, we meet again. It’s been over three years since the last time I battled my way through Tokyo’s crowds and I can definitely say it’s been good to be back. After spending seven hours on the ever so comfortable floor of Sapporo airport, waiting for the weather to clear up so my flight could finally take off, I arrived at Narita and was soon wrestling my giant backpack into the overheard racks of a crowded Tokyo train. The claustrophobic hustle and bustle of the city immediately set in as a harsh contrast to the beautiful and spacious outdoors that I had become so accustomed to in Niseko. With a whole nine days to explore this incredible place, I had a nice early night at my cozy hostel, ready for the following jam-packed day. First stop – Shinjuku! or should I say Shinjuku Station, which is basically a town in itself. Officially the busiest transport hub in the world, this place serves approximately 1,260,000,000 commuters annually. That’s about 3.5 million people every day! CRAZY. In addition to the swarms of people you have to dodge in order to make it out of here alive, you must also navigate your way to one of over 200 different exits out of the station. Luckily I spotted a sign pointing me to my destination, so getting out wasn’t too difficult, but it did take twenty minutes to get from the platform to the exit. I headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to be whizzed up to the 45th floor (for free!) to take in the view.

That little white peak to the left is Mt Fuji!
Looking to the South. That little white peak to the left is Mt Fuji!
Looking to the North
Looking to the North.

From the Government building I walked through the quieter side of Shinjuku filled with parks and offices, to the absolutely insane side of Shinjuku filled with gazillions of people, stores, and restaurants. I found Shinjuku a little overwhelming to be honest. I didn’t enjoy the crowds and I really didn’t enjoy waiting in line for a coffee and a snack at a bakery for over half an hour. It might have just been the hunger talking though, because after I had a full tummy and a little rest, I had fun wandering through the department stores, looking at things I can’t afford and generally just taking in Shinjuku’s crazy vibe.

Shinjuku? More like Shin-koo-koo. AM I RIGHT?
Shinjuku? More like Shin-koo-koo. AM I RIGHT?

A short subway ride from Shinjuku lies Shibuya, a major shopping and entertainment district and home of the famous Shibuya Crossing. With huge TV screens and blinding neon lights everywhere you look, J-Pop blaring from all over the place, and people moving in every direction possible, its easy to see why Shibuya Crossing has become one of the most famous icons of Japan. The sheer energy of the place is everything you’d expect from Tokyo and it’s estimated that in peak periods, up to 2500 pedestrians cross the intersection at once. Despite the masses of people heading toward each other from four different directions, in true Tokyo style, there’s no collisions, no fuss and no punches thrown. It just flows. I’ll let this video demonstrate.

Classic solo traveller selfie. Taken from Starbucks looking down at Shibuya Crossing.

Aside from the crossing there is plenty to see and do in Shibuya. I spent hours wandering the busy streets, checking out the abundance of shops from Uniqlo to Chanel and everything in between. Even though Shibuya is probably just as busy as Shinjuku, I somehow found it less stressful and slightly easier to get around.

Shibuya streets
Shibuya streets.

I had a particularly exciting time visiting the Disney store, getting a sneak peak into one of next week’s adventures. I also treated myself to a MASSIVE and DELICIOUS feast of ramen and gyouza at a vending machine restaurant. This was actually really cool. So out the front of the restaurant is a big vending machine looking thing with a menu on it and a button for each item on the menu. You decide what you’d like to eat, press the button, insert your money into the machine and you receive your change and a ticket. You then walk into the restaurant which is set out kind of like a Sushi Train, with all the action happening in the middle and the customers sitting around the outside at one long round bench. You hand one of the staff your ticket and they proceed to make you meal! Pretty cool really! I suppose the benefits are that all the cash handling is done by a machine, so the till is never out. And if you’re a foreigner it’s great because you don’t have to attempt to speak awful broken Japanese to anyone!

Was so hungry I had to eat before taking the photo. Only about $9 for all this amazing food!
Was so hungry I had to eat before taking the photo. Only about $9 for all this amazing food!

Oh, I should mention one more thing that happened in Shibuya. I split my jeans about 10 minutes after I got there and had to spend the rest of the night with my jacket tied around my waist. Looked real cute and not like a tourist at all…

After a busy day I headed back to the hostel for the night for some much needed R&R.

Shibuya Crossing by night.
Shibuya Crossing by night.

The following day it was time for the second “Juku” – Harajuku! Made famous by Gwen Stefani and her love for Harajuku girls, this place is the epicentre for youth fashion and subculture in Japan. When people talk about Harajuku, they are usually talking about Takeshita-dori, the crowded alleyway directly across from Harajuku Station. This street is home to plenty of food outlets such as a McDonald’s, three different crepe stands, kebab shops, sweets cafes and a plethora of boutiques stocking both cute and crazy clothing. It also serves as a catwalk for fashion forward, dress-up-playing teens.

"Harajuku Girls"
“Harajuku Girls”
In front of the famous Takeshita Street.
In front of the famous Takeshita Street.

Whilst Takeshita is worth a look around, my favourite part of Harajuku is the backstreets. If you walk all the way to the end of Takeshita, cross the road at the traffic lights and continue straight until you reach a T-section, you end up at a sunny little alley filled with second hand clothes stores. These stores source vintage clothes, accessories and knick-knacks from all over the world. Most things are surprisingly cheap, and even if you’re not looking to buy, rummaging through the racks of each store is a feast for the eyes if you’re at all into fashion or art.

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After a stroll down Harajuku’s backstreets I decided to check out the Meiji Shrine. I’m not really a huge fan of temples and shrines but seeing as I’m in Japan I thought I’d give it a go.

The Torii (gate) at the entrance to the shrine.
The Torii (gate) at the entrance to the Shrine.

The Shrine was constructed over six years from 1915 to 1921. It was then destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in 1958.

Wall of decorative Sake barrels donated to the Shrine.
Wall of decorative sake barrels donated to the Shrine.

Not sure what purpose these sake barrels serve, but they look great.

Kiyomasa's Well. Frequented by Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken during their lifetimes.
Kiyomasa’s Well. Frequented by Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken during their lifetimes.
Meiji Shrine.
Meiji Shrine.

Whilst I personally didn’t find this particular attraction very exhilarating, the Meiji Shrine and surrounding gardens are worth a visit, and are a welcome escape from the crazy city scenes that Tokyo is so famous for.

Stay tuned for adventures with new friends in Ueno and Asakusa!