One of Tokyo’s most iconic sights is the famous Shibuya crossing, a pedestrian scramble through a huge neon-lit intersection, where up to 3000 people all cross at the same time. When the lights turn green and two opposing sides approach each other, it feels like a battle scene from Braveheart is about to take place – but it’s actually a surprisingly organised, silent exchange as people slip past each other. We crossed three or four times for no reason, just to revel in the atmosphere. In a matter of seconds, the cars are passing through again, and the crowd re-forms patiently at the curb all over again, ready to go for the next round.
Shibuya crossing isn’t just a giant crowd magnet for no reason; it is actually a major nightlife and entertainment district in Tokyo. Just outside Shibuya station is the statue of the akita dog, Hachikō. In 1925, when his master died suddenly whilst out at work, loyal Hachikō returned to Shibuya station every single day for almost 10 years to meet him, and waited patiently for his return. On the other side of the crossing is Centre Gai, the main pedestrian street running up through Shibuya. It’s packed full of fast food, noodle bars, brand-name shopping and a plenty of neon lights. Here you can find the famous capsule hotels, karaoke, and a red light district.
We ordered our first ‘vending machine ramen’ in Shibuya. It wasn’t a true vending machine (a bowl of hot noodles wasn’t lowered down to the collection tray by a cool robot arm), but rather an automated ordering system, where you choose, pay, and print your ticket. We took a seat at the long wooden bench and handed the ticket to the chef, who started slicing pork and boiling noodles. The gyoza went into the pan, frying and spitting oil as our stomachs rumbled. A few minutes later, the ramen arrived, piled high with an absurd amount of bean sprouts. Nothing beats a Japanese noodle soup on a cold winter night!