Exploring Tokyo - one day in Harajuku and Shibuya
Tokyo is a city of contrasts: quiet and narrow lanes and constantly busy wide boulevards, huge parks and forests of skyscrapers, ancient temples and ultramodern buildings… I already illustrated it in the story of my explorations of the district of Shinjuku, but I also deeply felt it during the day I spent in the neighbour suburbs of Harajuku and Shibuya, from the peaceful atmosphere of a shinto shrine to the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world, from an alternative art gallery to the fanciest street of the city. Here’s the hour by hour story of that day, with some useful tips if you’d like to explore these suburbs yourself!
This article is part of a series of four articles about Tokyo. Here are the other ones:
10am – visiting the Meiji-Jingu Shrine
I began my itinerary at the Harajuku Station. Before heading east to the crowds of Takeshita-dori, I went across the Harajuku bridge to enter the beautiful Yoyogi Park. It is home to more than 100,000 trees, as well as the tallest torii of Japan: 12 meters high, with 1.2 meters wide pillars and weighing almost 13 tons! I felt very small when I walked under it…
A little further, I reached the shinto shrine of Meiji-Jingu, one of the most beautiful temples of Tokyo with its wooden and its harmonious architecture, even though it is quite recent (inaugurated in 1920). A lot of traditional weddings are held here every weekend.
11.30am – going down Takeshita-dori street
After this quiet morning stroll in Yoyogi Park, I headed back to Harajuku Station and crossed the street towards the big sign indicating “Takeshita street”. Fun tip: if you’re standing at the right point you’ll see yourself on the screen beneath the sign!
From this point dominating Takeshita-dori street, I had a perfect perspective over the flood of people moving up and down. This pedestrian street is like an open-air exhibition. Everywhere, you’ll find dozens of shops filled with the most unexpected items: decoration with more or less good taste, games, hundreds of sweets, any kind of costumes you can imagine or even giant rainbow cotton candy!
With so many crazy shopping options, Takeshita-dori is also a real paradise for the cosplays, these young Japanese boys and (mostly) girls who love to dress as their favourite characters, manga heroes or pretty angels… Even in the middle of such a big crowd it was impossible to miss their flashy hair and outfits!
1pm – lunch time in Sakuratei
At the end of Takeshita-dori, I crossed the wide Meiji-dori and kept walking through the little lanes on the other side in the direction of Design Festa Gallery (see below). Left of the building, a narrow path lead me to Sakuratei, a restaurant specialised in the delicious Okonomiyaki. But here I was in charge of cooking my own food! After selecting the stuffing of my choice, I received a mixture with all the ingredients of my dish and instructions on how to prepare it perfectly on the hot plate in front of me. The result was particularly tasty… I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re visiting Tokyo! Icing on the cake: between 11am and 3pm, there’s an “all you can eat” menu. For only 1600¥ (around 11€), you have 90 minutes to eat as much food as you want, plus an extra drink offered.
2.30pm – exploring the exhibitions of Design Festa Gallery
At the end of the 90 minutes I was allowed to eat the Okonomiyaki I had prepared, I went to the Design Festa Gallery, a free art gallery located in two buildings on both sides of Sakuratei. Many local or foreign artists come here to expose their work. Not all the collections had the same interest in my opinion but some of them were really worth a look, and even the facade with its muddle of black metallic poles was an artwork by itself!
3.15pm – 3D latte art coffee in Reissue
This is among the kitschiest things I saw in Japan, but it was also so completely unusual that I can only recommend to give a visit to the café Reissue, up a discreet little staircase on Harajuku Street, close to Design Festa Gallery. The barista here has an extraordinary savoir-faire: he is capable of drawing anything you want on top of your cappuccino, in 3D with milk foam! Name your favourite character or even show him a picture of your choice and after a few minutes you’ll get the result in a cup in front of you. Will you recognise what I ordered myself?
Good to know: booking is advised at least a couple of hours prior to your arrival as it’s a very small place which gets quickly full.
4pm – luxury shopping in Omotesando-dori
I have to admit, this title is misleading: shopping is really not my thing, especially not in such a place! But I still enjoyed my stroll on the wide boulevard of Omotesando-dori, very popular with Tokyoites. The atmosphere couldn’t be more different compared to Takeshita-dori street: no crazy shops or alternative clothes here, but all the international luxury brands, often in modern buildings with audacious architecture. Ideal for some window shopping, but take care of your budget if you decide to buy anything from one of these shops!
5.30pm – the fascinating Shibuya Crossing
When I reached Omotesando Station at the end of the boulevard, I turned right on Aoyama-dori avenue towards Shibuya. After a twenty-minute walk (also doable in two minutes by taking the subway between these two stations), I reached the famous Shibuya Crossing, the busiest crossing in the world.
Every time the traffic lights turn to red for vehicles, hundreds of people start crossing the street at the same time, in every direction; it’s like a giant human wave, temporarily calming down when the traffic lights turn back to green just to start again even more powerfully within a couple of minutes. The best place to enjoy the show is from the first floor of Starbucks on one side of the crossing… if you manage to find a window seat.
6.30pm – the bright lights of Shibuya
When the evening comes and the lights turn on, Shibuya becomes one of the busiest districts of Tokyo. I particularly enjoyed taking a walk around these bright streets filled with shops, restaurants and karaoke bars. I also spotted a rather unusual sight: a few people driving go-karts and dressed as characters from the video game Mario Kart!
8pm – dinner in the Hikarie Tower
With its 182m, the Hikarie Tower dominates the Shibuya Station; you can even catch a train directly from the lower levels. This is where I went for dinner, with many different kinds of restaurants and cafés offering Japanese or international cuisine on the 6th or 7th floors. After finishing my meal, I took an elevator until the 11th floor to enjoy the view from the Sky lobby; the Shibuya Crossing looked much smaller from here, still crowded and busy until late at night… And then after a few last pictures, I headed back to my accomodation to get some rest after this long day of exploring. But if you decide to follow the same itinerary as me but are willing to go out in the evening, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the area!
I hope you enjoyed following me for this tour around the districts of Harajuku and Shibuya! Do you know any other unmissable places in this part of Tokyo? Don’t hesitate to share them in the comments!