If you are visiting Tokyo for the first time and prefer being in the center of things, you will probably be deciding between the neighborhoods of Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Though they are only three stops apart on the metro, there is a definite difference in the feel of each neighborhood. I myself stayed in Shibuya, and though I visited Shinjuku, I’m happy with the choice I made. In fact, if I visited Tokyo again, Shibuya would definitely be my neighborhood.
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Both places are definitely must-go areas in Tokyo though, so don’t let my personal choice sway you. Here is what both Shibuya and Shinjuku have in common:
- Easy access to transportation
- Incredible nightlife
- Great choice of restaurants
- Almost always crowded, mostly with people in the 18-35 range
But today, I’m going to dive into the neighborhood I fell in love with (and give you some advice on where to go), and leave Shinjuku for tomorrow. Shibuya is the first and last place I saw in Tokyo, and it has stuck with me ever since I left. Why?
Shibuya: Tokyo’s Mini-City
If you’ve spent any time online or on Instagram, you have probably come across a photo/video of the famous Shibuya crossing. It is the largest intersection in the world, and it looks like this in action:
It was the first place I saw when I arrived in Tokyo proper from Narita Airport as the aiport bus dropped me right off the intersection. After an 11 hour flight, no sleep, and a 2 hour busride thanks to Friday night traffic, I disembarked from the bus and started to make my way through the crowds with an 18 kg suitcase in tow.
You should know that addresses in Japan do not at all function like those in the Western world, so finding the Airbnb felt like the last step in an obstacle challenge. In fact, my host told me from the beginning to ignore the address because there was no way I would figure it out, and instead she e-mailed me a list of pictures of streets I should turn on to.
You thought I was joking, didn’t you?
Nevertheless, the first impression of Shibuya, especially on a packed Friday night, was still mesmerizing.
What is Shibuya Like?
So what should you expect in Shibuya, besides plenty of bars, restaurants, love hotels, and karaoke megaplexes all crammed up against each other?
First of all, even though Shibuya is a crowded central Tokyo neighborhood, you can easily find peace and quiet by turning off the main streets and heading into alleys, exploring the bars and restaurants in areas like Dogenzaka. Dogenzaka is nicknamed “Love Hotel Hill”, but don’t let the name fool you because it’s not just love hotels that dot the streets here; there are plenty of great clubs, bars, and izakaya (Japanese pubs).
Second, the further you walk from the Shibuya Crossing, the less likely you are to run into non-Japanese people. I ran into a total of two American-looking people in Shibuya, and they turned out to be transplants. As you will find out, this is not the case in Shinjuku, where I saw tour group after tour group being led through the area.
Overall, for all its flashing lights and signs, Shibuya seemed a little less kitsch-y, less of a tourist magnet, more diverse in terms of types of streets and areas, and more “authentic” Tokyo than Shinjuku. But this does not mean Shinjuku is without its charms, especially Golden Gai – tune back in tomorrow for that!
Where to Go in Shibuya
Below is a list of some of the places I explored in Shibuya, plus a couple of other suggestions from locals. Enjoy!
- Excelsior Caffe: This two-floor coffee shop was a great place to start my day. I would order an iced latte and snacks, then look out onto the crowds starting to pour into Shibuya in the morning while preparing myself for a day of walking and exploring.
- Goodbeer Faucets: This bar is just a short walk away from Shibuya station, with a HUGE selection of beers on tap (and bottled). It’s a must-stop in a country obsessed with its beer.
- Fujiya Honten: Fujiya Honten is cheap, fun and always busy. Do I need to say anything else? OK, fine. It’s a Japanese standing bar, that has great beers, a cool selection of wines, and delicious, affordable bar food. Just go.
- Ishino Hana Bar: This is for the folks who want to feel a little bit classier. There’s a 500 Yen cover charge, but everyone is dressed up, there’s a lot of brassy accents and dark wood, and fancy cocktails are served by fancy people. That’s what classy is, right?
- Dougenzaka Kanamori: If you’re into small, cozy restaurants with authentic, local food, Dougenzaka Kanamori is definitely the place for you.
- Sakana-Tei: Delicious food cooked right in front of you, paired with incredible sake from the collections of dozens of sakes the restaurant has.
- Sagatani: Great Japanese noodle dishes for as low as 300 Yen ($2.50). You have to order from the vending machine outside, as you will find is the case in some other Japanese restaurants.
- Club Asia: Club Asia is one of the largest dance clubs in Shibuya. The warehouse-like club has few non-Japanese visitors, and you can keep partying until 5 AM here. On the weekends, get there early to avoid long lines and waits.
The point is, Shibuya has everything you could possibly need to have a great time in Tokyo.
Want to Visit Shibuya Yourself?
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If you want to explore Shibuya next year, book Contiki Travels in Japan to see the country now.
First time in Japan? Check out my First Impression of a Gaijin to see what you can expect!
What’s your favorite Tokyo neighborhood? Are there any other places in Shibuya you would recommend? Comment below! If you liked the post, Pin away!