On Sunday, my husband and my kids and I were in the car, driving to see friends for dinner. We don’t normally drive around to see friends; we normally take a taxi or the train. In fact, most often we simply walk. But this
time we chose to drive the four kilometers. All of a sudden, from the back of the car I hear my seven-year-old daughter shout out, “WHOA! What is that?”
She was looking head-on at Shibuya Crossing.
Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s twenty-three wards and is a major center for commerce and industry. It is home to the upscale section of Omotesando, where the world’s most interesting Prada shop resides. It has Harajuku within its boundaries, which is alive with funkily dressed teenagers all weekend. There are department stores and fashion outlets and shops and boutiques galore throughout the large ward. There are even rare spots of green in Shibuya ward, such as:
- The Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s top tourist destinations, it’s dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and has a huge forest surrounding it.
- Yoyogi Park, once an Imperial Army base, and then housing for the Tokyo olympics in the sixties, now it’s a grassy park, one of the few with real grass in the city.
Shibuya train station is an epicenter of action, carrying a plethora of people to and from work or shopping every day.
It was the front of Shibuya Station that is the cause of my daughter’s consternation and awe. The crossing is actually what’s called a “scramble crossing” – mainly because traffic is stopped by traffic lights in all directions, allowing pedestrians complete access to the street for several minutes before the traffic begins again. The crowd of people streams magically into the street, flowing and flowing and flowing until it seems like there’s no way to staunch the raucous drip. But then the light changes and instantly, the sidewalks dam the teeming masses.
“Oh my goodness!” shouted Sydney again from the back of the car. “People could get so lost here!”
With the myriad of little side streets off of the crossing, I have no doubt that she’s right. Between the mass of humanity and the wave of criss-cross streets, it is simple to lose one’s way there.
What Sydney doesn’t’ know is that this is a popular meeting place, though. On one side of Shibuya station is a statue of a dog called Hachiko. The story goes that when Hachiko’s master went off to war, the faithful dog waited and waited for his master to return. When the master was killed in battle, the dog was rumored to have howled and wailed at the exact moment of his death. The dog never moved from the spot and indeed died there years later. The statue was built as a memorial to the faithful animal and is today seen by thousands of people daily.
For the rest of the area, however, every inch of the sidewalk is taken up with a restaurant or a shop or a department store. The area is rich with vibrant color and industry.
Sydney is right to be awed, though: this crossing is one of the busiest in the entire world with a huge and
enormous daily flow of people from side to side. A common pass-time for workers and visitors alike is to sit at the 4th floor Starbucks that overlooks the crossing and watch the people go by. Many a photo has been taken from there! In fact, the crossing, along with the Starbucks, had a role in the film “Lost in Translation” as it functions as a metaphor for the main character feeling lost in the trenches and culture shock of Japanese society.
Lest you worry, I am not remiss in taking my daughter to the crossing; she just doesn’t remember it from years ago. Somehow, especially for foreigners who are unaccustomed to such crowds, once one has experienced the crossing a few times, he is not anxious for a repeat experience unless necessary. However, a project for next weekend is definitely to take her back so it will imprint on her memory. In the meantime, I’ll just let her remember her shock and awe for a few more days.