Anyone who is a fan of Fast and Furious would have seen “Tokyo Drift”, an American action film directed by Justin Lin and released in 2006. I think I speak for everybody when I say the film was pretty downright awful. The plot was lousy, the acting was mediocre, the culture was terribly distorted and the Japanese characters were played by…non-Japanese. No wonder I wanted to start screaming half way through. The one thing they got right, however, is the extremely busy and blinding scramble crossing of Shibuya. Many foreigners have come to ask me, “Like seriously? Is it really like that?” The answer is “Actually, yes. Yes it is. It really is that crazy”.
Shibuya: The trend setting center of Japan
Not familiar with Shibuya? Let me take a moment to explain. Shibuya is located in the center of Tokyo and is known as the center of fashion and nightlife in Japan. The moment you step off the train at Shibuya station, you will notice that something is different. The people are younger and trendier, the neon lights are brighter, and the air is electrified by the buzz of excited chatter. Everybody there looks like the latest it-girl or it-boy.
You might think “well it can’t be all that different from other big cities in the world…” Well think again. Here, anything is possible, especially when it comes to fashion. To be honest, it might seem like you are in the middle of a Halloween party with costume players, Gothic and Lolita fashion, “Gyaru”(high school girls who can be recognized by super mini-skirts, slabs of make-up, false eyelashes and brightly dyed hair), and the list goes on and on. I once saw a 60 year old man in hot pink shorts, a belly revealing tank top holding 2 fans and dancing away at the station like he didn’t have a care in the world. True story.
Shibuya Scramble Crossing
Once you get off at Shibuya station, follow the crowd and they will immediately take you to Hachiko Exit where you will find the biggest and most crowded intersection that you have ever seen in your life.
This is the world famous Shibuya scramble crossing. It is surrounded by towering department stores, gigantic and flashy TV screens that show one advertisement after another, countless fashion boutiques and hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of people. When you finally realize that this is real, and no, you have not been sucked into some preppy Japanese animation, take some tentative steps forward. The intersection is always busy with cars, buses, motorbikes and trucks and traffic is slow. But despite the congestion, you will notice that the roads are relatively quiet. Japanese people usually never honk their horns unless, well…unless they’re about to be hit by a truck (I’m always surprised by how many people honk their horns during traffic in New York. I mean…really, what’s the point?). Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Ferrari’s are not uncommon in this area so keep your eyes open! Once all the traffic lights turn red, this is the moment you have been waiting for.
People will immediately pour into the intersection from all sides of streets, in every single direction possible. It will probably look like complete mayhem, an absolute frantic mess, but that’s actually where you’re wrong. Look closer and you will realize that Japanese people rarely bump into each other. In the midst of all this chaos, Japanese people are able to get to the other side without a single scratch so effortlessly that it is completely mind boggling to every tourist who ever witnessed this spectacle. As soon as the pedestrian lights start to flash, the chaos will disappear and all will be orderly again…until the traffic lights turn red again.
Can’t get enough of it? You’re not alone. There is a Starbucks overlooking this scramble crossing on the other side of Shibuya station where, no doubt, you will see other tourists taking pictures or even better, videos of this phenomenon. Order a tall latte and enjoy.