The Synchronised Scramble Of Shibuya

Ten traffic lanes. Five pedestrian crosswalks. All converging onto the most iconic intersection in the world. An attraction in its own right.

When the lights change, traffic comes to a halt on ALL ten lanes. And this huge mass of people – an estimated 2500 at any given time, and a whopping 2+ million per day! – surge forward in every direction in the most polite and orderly ‘scramble’ you can imagine!Shibuya intersection, Tokyo
Shibuya, Tokyo
The spectacle of the Shibuya crossing (you might remember it from the movie “Lost in Translation”) is best witnessed from the upper floor of Starbucks in the Tsutaya building. But we decided to dive into the melee in search of a quieter cafe across the road. Along the way a pet shop seriously eroded our coffee break, much to my sister’s annoyance.

The trendy neighbourhood with its plethora of boutiques is a great place for people watching. As is the adjacent station. The plaza outside, named after a statue commemorating the undying loyalty of the Akita dog Hachiko, is reputed to be the favoured meeting spot for tourists and locals alike. (I confess to crying buckets over the tearjerker of the same name starring Richard Gere and an even more handsome Akita.)

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We spent the rest of the morning at the Shinto shrine of Meiji Jingu, where we shamelessly joined the ranks of gawping tourists around traditional weddings and the fascinating ritual of Shichi-go-san.

Later, a few of us continued on to Harajuku to witness another, and even greater convergence of humanity!

Harajuku, Tokyo
The virtually overflowing Takeshita Street – Harajuku, Tokyo

We miraculously managed to find a quiet place for a delicious sandwich and dessert, bang on that busy street, before hightailing it back to our hotel.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

53 thoughts on “The Synchronised Scramble Of Shibuya

  1. One of my favorites countries – visited twice – As of 2008, it has an estimated population of 208,371 and a population density of 13,540 people per km². The total area is 15.11 km².

    The name “Shibuya” is also used to refer to the shopping district which surrounds Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations. This area is known as one of the fashion centers of Japan, particularly for young people, and as a major nightlife area.

    1. I loved Japan too, although I didn’t quite have as much time there as I would have liked. Are those stats limited to Shibuya? Because I know the population of Tokyo alone exceeds 13 million.

  2. We sat at the busiest intersection in Hanoi and just watched the traffic – could have sat there for hours, it was fascinating. I’d love to see Shibuya for myself!

    1. I can imagine that Suzanne. Haven’t been to Vietnam, but Phnom Penh was equally crazy. I do believe traffic lights were non existent or not working at most intersections!

  3. I had a fight with a friend in the middle of Shibuya Square in May, 2008. We were screaming and crying, but no one noticed us. I remember feeling as if I were being stuffed into a sausage.

    1. I am not surprised. Embarrassing you with their attention wouldn’t be the Japanese way. You would have had the undivided attention of the entire crowd, and of passing traffic, had that incident occurred in any place in India 🙂

      Thank you for your visit and comment.

  4. Tokyo shows us how order does exist in such a densely populated city — a lesson for its Indian and Indonesian counterparts. Until now I still don’t really get the aesthetics of Gyaru or Harajuku Girls, but that kind of quirkiness makes this part of Tokyo interesting to explore. Really interesting captures, Madhu!

    1. Right Bama. Only we need to be ready to adopt the lessons.

      We went at a relatively quieter time of day. Would have loved to witness it at peak hour on a working day. Glad you enjoyed my gallery Bama. Not quite sure why I didn’t publish these earlier!

  5. Madhu, what a fantastic post and the images … thanks for bringing me there – specially now when I will be visiting Tokyo for 5 days next April. There is so much I want see and do, I will be staying by the Imperial Palace. How difficult is it to find the way around the underground. Hachiko, the movie by the Swedish director – Hallström – one of my top ten moives.

    1. Thank you Viveka. Yes, Hachiko was a true tear jerker 🙂
      The Tokyo metro is super efficient and well marked in English. Only, you are advised to avoid peak hours and try to time your travel between 10.00 – 17.00. Never tried peak hour travel myself, but it does appear intense by all accounts! I am sure you will have a blast…you always do 🙂 Do hope you aren’t skipping Kyoto.

      1. No, Kyoto is the most important stop for me – 5 nights there too. I thought that the Tokyo underground only was signed in Japanese, great news. Because I travel alone and only have to relay on my own common sense. I will take a day tour to Fuji. But Shibuya is a must I understand both day and night.
        Yes, Hachiko …. what a wonderful dog in all stages of the film. Especially as a puppy when he met Richard Gere at the station. Just a beautiful movie. I will come back with more advice about Japan.

  6. Although I haven’t been to Tokyo since earlier this year (Feb I think), I can still always remember the scramble of Shibuya Crossing, and the busy Starbucks nearby overlooking the pedestrians! 😉 The Yamanote Line/Metro station at Shinjuku is also the busiest in the world, not a place I would like to be during the rush hour!

    1. For me it is not so much the number of people, as the orderliness that was impressive. It would take an urban planner with great gumption to attempt something half as ambitious here in India. Getting us to cross at the intersection would be the first challenge. We take our freedom to do as we please too seriously 😀

  7. It’s been a long time since I was last in Tokyo, but reading the account (and seeing the pictures!) reminds me of how I stood in awe on the street, watching life unfold at an amazing speed. This is a wonderfully quirky post, Madhu; parts of Hong Kong are clearly moving in this direction although we will never attain those Japanese levels of orderliness!

    1. Thanks James. I am not a huge fan of crowds as you know, and will usually flee the other way if I can help it. But this was fascinating. Even that heaving street in Harajuku! It was fun actually with all its attendant quirkiness.

      I imagine there is a distinct drop in the level of orderliness as you move Westward towards the Indian subcontinent 😀

  8. Great impressions from another world. I’d love to see Japan for myself one fine day, Madhu. I tend to feel a bit torn about SUPERBIG cities, but I feel quite comfortable accompanying you in my chair at home. 🙂

    1. Then you should not start in Tokyo at all. A very spiritual minded friend and her family cut their two week trip short and returned after just three intense days there! Kyoto is far quieter and way more beautiful.

      Thank you for reading Dina. Have a great day 🙂

  9. Oh my! This is such cool place to be..love the way Japanese dressed up themselves – they have their styles and no fear to show it off! Did you try the apple pie milk tea? 😀 😀

    1. Absolutely! And that is the reason they are able to carry it off!

      No, I did not dare try that concoction Indah….I should have 😀

  10. Who’d have thought crowds of people would create such an interesting post, and such an interesting interpretation of convergence. My preference is still a quiet intersection of two bush tracks with just me, and maybe a wallaby, but then I’m a bush woman.

    1. No, I can’t see you here either Meg😊 While I do enjoy the energy of big and beautiful cities, Tokyo wouldn’t figure on my favourites list at all.

  11. Oh dear! I do quite well remember my layovers in Tokyo (after we spend the nights in Narita, which was quite less expensive)… I don’t know how may times I flew to Tokyo during these13 yrs! When we had two or tree nights stop, I’d rather take the shinkansen and go south… I guess Japan changed a lot, quite a lot, and I think I wouldn’t recognize what I had known in the nineties! 🙂 c

    1. I don’t particularly remember liking the movie Ian. I should watch it again. You were fortunate to have got to see so much of the world through your work.

  12. I’m impressed with the orderliness of this intersection crossing, Madhu. Hanoi was a real challenge since there are few lights and pedestrian crossings. Your pictures depict a young, modern, hip culture in this huge metropolis. What fun you and your sister had.

    1. An intersection like this would be utterly chaotic anywhere else in South Asia!!😃

      It was a fun trip Lynne. But I do want to return with R for a more leisurely visit.

  13. What a great idea to stop all the traffic at once. I can’t think of any other way this could work, though, with so many people crossing the intersection at one time. 🙂 Great photo gallery, Madhu. I love the children of the world sculpture.

    1. Thanks Sylvia. I think a number of big cities in the West have emulated the Shibuya model. Did you know this kind of intersection is called a ‘scramble’?

    1. I found it rather boring at the time Jo. I must watch it again to see if the familiar seens up my enjoyment😊

  14. Great photos and description, “in the most polite and orderly ‘scramble’ you can imagine!” is just about perfect. Have a great weekend…

  15. I found the blog very organized and I couldn’t get past it without writing something. The language of expression and on-site pictures are great. I wish I was there. Thanks for the useful information.

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