Bright lights illuminate the dark, lining every street, rooftop and otherwise dark alley. Cartoon characters dance across giant screens on every corner, and in every shop window. Their nasal, childlike voices fill the air above the sounds of their accompanying jingles. Neon signs announce big-name clothing brands, electronics and gaming centers. For me, the spirit of Tokyo comes alive in the streets of Shibuya by night.
The endless fascination with the West fits nicely with the traditions of their culture to form the perfect juxtaposition. Restaurants with traditional bamboo seating, use touch screens at the table for self-serve ordering. Big name stores like H&M and Zara are flanked by traditional little shopping arcades. And of course, their fascination with technology, which could almost be considered token when, to make a seat reservation on the train, they look up your train time in a giant ‘phone’ book.
As the sun begins to set, Harajuku, in the northern part of Shibuya, has a magical feel about it. Omotesando, the main street, is lit up with fairy lights in the gentle dusk. The place is immaculate, and despite the noticeable lack of bins, I am yet to see one piece of litter on the street. Queues of Japanese, up to 100m long, line the pavements, in anticipation of popcorn, pop memorabilia and numerous other items of popular interest. If it’s in vogue, these guys have to have it.
The infamous Takeshita Street, leaves the magic behind and a journey down the narrow laneway is like diving head long into a torrent and being swept through a passage. The stalls flanking the sea of people sell anything left of normal: cartoon suits for dogs, outrageously patterned stockings, piercings and S & M gear. The nasal buzz of ‘Maz-ay Maz-ay’ hangs in the air and I find myself ducking into every third store, just to be able to take a breath. Eventually, we are spat out in yet another peaceful laneway and left to ponder where on earth all those people disappeared to.
The crazy streets of Harajuku fade past the national Yoyogi stadium where some kind of singing or beauty contest is being held. The streets are lined with glitz mobiles, trophies and figurines embellishing the dashboards, before they finally slip away to a sleepy tree lined road.
But as quickly as the street slips away to darkness, it is engulfed again by the bright lights of central Shibuya and the endless jingles, cartoon characters and gaming arcades begin calling us again.
Nothing like the Timezones we know from home, the gaming centres are another whole level of mayhem within the mayhem. Wide eyed and mesmerised, we can’t help but be drawn in by their bizarre uniqueness. Every hall seems to be multilevel, a cross between Sideshow Alley and a casino. And like all things Japan, games are categorised. On a Friday night, it is not unusual to see the entire ground floor full of glammed up women queuing for no end of photo booths. The roar from an upper level trickles down the stairs and the crescendo hurts my ears as we reach a smoke filled upper floor. People catapult $100’s of ¥100 coins and handfuls of ball bearings into random coin shuffle games. The tiny silver orbs scurry through their obstacles to God knows where, and coins and balls bounce across the floor as the odd person hits the jackpot. In the middle of it all, some bloke in a business suite cuts it up on Dance Revolution. A bar in the corner sells souvenirs and Yakult.
Gasping for air, we roll back out into the bright lights of the street, and set out in search of food. Colby and I have refined our maddening “If you want to . . . ” routine when it comes to finding somewhere to eat these days, but it barely matters. With the wealth of variety Shibuya has to offer, it is easy to find something to satisfy both of us.
Tepanyaki quickly becomes a favorite, and although I struggle to fit my legs between my butt, and the hot barbeque in the middle of the Japanese-sized table, cook-your-own completely upholds my value of knowing what is in the food I am eating. As much as I have the utmost confidence in Japanese food hygiene, I still appreciate the opportunity to pass on the chicken sashimi and octopus innards!
The illustrated menus, complete with English instructions and helpful staff make ‘cooking-your-own’ a pleasurable experience, and with a few sneaky observations of surrounding tables we manage to cook ourselves up a feast. It may not look exactly as it is supposed to but it always tastes delicious, and is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing in Tokyo.