Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo’s Times Square

Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest scramble crossings in the world.
Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest scramble crossings in the world.

Every two minutes, the scramble crossing in front of Shibuya Station changes its traffic light. What follows can only be described as an explosion of civil disorder – 2,500 people simultaneously charge towards the centre of this starfish-shaped intersection like water gushing through the floodgates.

If there is one image foreigners conjure up when they hear Tokyo, it would be Shibuya. Thanks to media portrayal, Shibuya’s shopping district has always been that one spot everyone visiting Tokyo wants to experience. Understandably so. To traverse the magnificent LCD canyons and kaleidoscope of neon lights, we need to submerge in a sensory shock that overloads even the most extroverted, hyperactive minds.

Every two minutes, the scramble crossing in front of Shibuya Station changes its traffic light. What follows can only be described as an explosion of civil disorder – 2,500 people simultaneously charge towards the centre of this starfish-shaped intersection like water gushing through the floodgates. The waves of foot traffic then surge in five directions into the deep valleys of nearby shopping complexes.

Accompanied by the latest K-pops, this urban phenomenon is repeated every two minutes all day until the last train around midnight. By then, over half a million people would have crossed the street. No words can fairly describe the ferocity of Shibuya Crossing. It is one of the few places in the world where people visit just to cross a street. Like many things in Japan, though, this apparent chaos is actually quite orderly, once we get use to its rhythm.

Navigating through Shibuya’s shopping complex is a feat in and of itself. Inside these towers, such as Shibuya 109, we find an assortment of shops carrying the latest fashion. These styles are designed to be highly disposable as trends change swiftly from season to season. They come in all kinds of colours imaginable and are sold by aggressive salespeople in gyaru style.

Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Shibuya Crossing's apparent chaos is actually quite orderly once we get use to its rhythm. Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Pedestrians getting ready to charge through the crossing. Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Shibuya 109 is a shopping tower dedicated to the latest trend in women's fashion.

To call it Tokyo’s Times Square is not entirely fair, however, as Shibuya is not only a tourist glitz, but a headspring of Japan’s latest cultural lexicon.

Gyaru culture is first popularized in Shibuya by the Japanese pop star Ayumi Hamasaki. It is a street fashion featuring full-volume hair that is heavily bleached and curled. They are paired with long and highly decorated nails, dramatic eyelash extensions, iris enlarger, and makeup that rivals Marilyn Manson. Liz Lisa is one of the well-known Gyaru brands that has survived the market’s ferocious competition.

In order to keep storefronts in such prime locations, shops need to compete with their revenue, not just by their willingness to pay rent. This results in a high shop turnover as counters are regularly booted out of the strip. Such arrangement maximizes the bottom line and ensures that fashion in Shibuya remains cutting-edge as smaller brands get to try their luck in the arena.

Shibuya is the crossroad of Tokyo’s fashion trends. Everyday, it sees millions of commuters from nearby fashion districts passing through. Harajuku is one such district with an electrifying alternative street fashion scene – a key inspiration for Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. album concept and her Harajuku Girls. Omotesando is another, a more upscale shopping avenue for the mature crowd.

Gyaru, lolita, visual kei, dekora, OL, otaku, you name it, and you will find it here. Shibuya’s shopping district is the place to transcend age boundaries and experience Japanese mainstream youth culture at its fullest intensity. To call it Tokyo’s Times Square is not entirely fair, however, as Shibuya is not only a tourist glitz, but a headspring of Japan’s latest cultural lexicon.

Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Train approaching Shibuya Station. Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. Tower Records, another iconic tower in Shibuya, is near empty in the early morning. Shibuya: Crossing Tokyo's Times Square. As the sky grows darker, the shopping streets in Shibuya becomes busier.

 

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