Shibuya and Harajuku are no doubt two districts on the top of your to-do list, but how do you know where to go and how to start without flattening your wallet in a day? With a little help from us cheapo insiders you’ll know just what to do with your ‘Day One’ in Tokyo. We’ll start you at shopping ground zero – Shibuya, loop around to cute and fashion oriented Harajuku and ending off with a visit to the serenity of Meiji Jingu Shrine. Below is our recommended one day tour of Shibuya & Harajuku for you.
(Or if you prefer to be spoon fed, here’s a couple of private guided tours of the area we suggest: Harajuku – Shibuya Private Walking Tour (can be customized), Dress in Kimono & take pictures at the Shibuya crossing.)
You wake up in Tokyo and all you want to do is explore the city. Well, Shibuya is the place to start! It’s one of the main shopping centers in Japan, as well as home of the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world (the one from Lost in Translation). But don’t bother getting up early – the stores only open around 11am, so you can sleep in.
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Shibuya Station is served by many lines: JR Saikyo Line, Yamanote Line, Keio Inokashira Line, Tokyo Den-en-toshi- Line, Tokyo Toyoku Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Lne, Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line and Fukutoshin Line. When you get to the crazy labyrinth-like station, just look for the Hachiko Exit, which is the one nearest the “Shibuya scramble” (that crowded crossing above). As you might know, Hachiko was an extremely loyal dog who kept up his daily routine of waiting for his owner, a Professor Ueno, in front of Shibuya Station even after the Professor’s death. So make sure to take a snap of the pooch’s statue, which is near the exit.
There are endless possibilities for things to do in Shibuya, but if you like shopping, Shibuya 109 is a must. Shibuya 109 (usually pronounced Shibuya ichi maru kyu) is a 10-floor-high fashion complex housing more than 100 boutiques. The complex is just 1 minute from the station. Once you see the crazy Shibuya crossing (although you’ll probably be tempted to follow the crowd) make a right and keep walking until you see the giant “109” sign. If Japanese fashion isn’t your thing, however, up the hill of the 109 building there is an H&M and there are other Western stores like Forever 21, Zara and Bershka nearby too.
You know when you tell people you’re going to Japan and all they can think of is strange stuff? Shibuya is where a lot of that strangeness is sold. Don Quijote (“Donki”) is a giant discount chain store found in a variety of places in Japan, and it sells everything: from stuffed animals to sex toys to electronics to luggage – plus anti-aging face rollers! It is certainly a good place to get odd souvenirs. From Shibuya 109 go up the right-side hill and keep walking until you see an H&M. Don Quijote is in front of it.
This whole getting to know Shibuya and walking around and taking pictures part will most likely take two to three hours, which likely leads us to lunch. Unlike dinner, which can easily cost a small fortune, special lunch sets are available everywhere, allowing you to have a good meal for a good price. We recommend grabbing lunch at Genki Sushi. This is a chain sushi restaurant found pretty much everywhere in Tokyo. In Shibuya, Genki Sushi is located at the very center of all the madness, so you won’t need to walk much to find it. Once you leave Don Quijote, simply go back to where you came from, that crazy Shibuya crossing. This time you should follow the crowd and cross the street towards the Starbucks. Follow that street until you see a Forever 21, then take the first right. A few more steps and you’ll see Genki Sushi on your right.
We’ve written quite a bit about this sushi joint, so if you want more info check this out. The awesome thing about Genki Sushi is that not only you can tell everyone that you had the real thing (because soon you’ll find out sushi in the West is very different from sushi in Japan), but you can also order it without struggling with the language barrier, since Genki Sushi has an English menu. It also means you’ll always know what you’re eating!
2. Walk around Harajuku
If Shibuya is too mainstream for you, don’t worry, we’ve got your cheapo hipster back. Hop onto the Yamanote line from Shibuya Station, and travel one stop to Harajuku – it will set you back 120 yen. Anime cosplayers, punk musicians, ganguro, everything you imagined Japanese teengers to look like and were disappointed to not see in Shibuya, you can find hanging around Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street) and the bridge outside the station on the weekends.
Once you arrive at Harajuku Station, go straight out of the Takeshita-dori Exit and you will find yourself at the entrance of the famous street. Although the shops’ unique fashion styles are worth a look, pink tutus and lolita headbands are not all that Harajuku has to offer. Just five minutes into the street, you will see a big Daiso signboard. This place sells everything. Home decor, stationery, kitchenware, even cosmetics, you name it, Daiso has it. And, wait for it – everything is 105 yen.
Walking down that narrow street, you will come across at least eight crepe stores. Go ahead and grab yourself one – it’s the thing to do here. The crepes around this area have a pretty similar price range, around 400 yen to 700 yen. They taste pretty comparably too. One of our favourite stores is “Marion Crepes,” which has been operating since 1976.
Once you hit the end of Takeshita-dori, turn right. You should see a Forever 21 store there. Keep walking until you are greeted by a street junction, and you will se La Foret.
Being right in the heart of Harajuku, the entire building holds quirky items. During summer La Foret has major sales, so it’s a good chance to get discounted stuff. If you decide to go on a shopping spree, as long as your purchases for the day cost more than 10,001 yen, you can be exempt from tax. However, only some stores in La Foret allow this, and note that you will have to show them your passport.
With four stories of shopping, you can easily spend a couple of hours here. By now your feet are probably sore and it’s probably tea/dinner time. Just across the street you will see Jonathan’s, a “family restaurant” where the prices are relatively cheap by Tokyo standards (1,500 yen for a steak) and the drinks are refillable for 200 yen. They’ve got a wide variety of food, such as spaghetti for 700 yen, and a set of Japanese rice and fish combo for 800 yen.
Although she originated in Sweden, Hello Kitty is easily one of the most distinctive characters of Japan. That means you can’t walk past Hello Kitty-laden Kiddy Land without going in!
After exiting Jonathan’s, turn right and walk for five minutes, and you will see that big colour “Kiddy Land” sign. Even if you don’t like Hello Kitty all that much, don’t worry. Kiddy Land has five stories dedicated to hundreds of characters, covering everything from Totoro to Star Wars, and good ol’ Ultraman.
The stuff is seasonal, so if you come during summer, you can find a Hello Kitty soft toy wearing a yukata (light summer kimono), something that you won’t be able to find in other seasons.
3. Chill at Meiji Jingu Shrine
Before marching off down the swanky streets of Omotesando or rushing back to your room, why not take a break and familiarize yourself with the roots of Japan by exploring Meiji Jingu Shrine, which is only a minute’s walk from Harajuku Station? This is one of the most interesting things you can see on your one day tour of Tokyo. Head back towards the station, cross over the bridge and head straight and right. The sight of this large wooden torii gate will guide you straight into the shrine.
As you walk along the main path, on your left you will see a gift shop and an exhibition area. Meiji Jingu Shrine was created in 1920 primarily to honor the spirits of the Emperor and Empress of the Meiji era, who passed away 6-8 years before the shrine’s establishment. For 500 yen, you can enter the ‘Treasure House’, and view many of the Emperor and Empress’ belongings, including their personal carriage.
If you continue farther up the road, you will see another torii gate to your left. The Inner Garden is hidden in the forest beyond the gate and is known to be a ‘power spot’, so you can upgrade your spiritual status (or something like that) while enjoying the view of a wide range of flowers, for an entrance fee of 500 yen.
On the way to the main shrine up the hill, there is a teahouse, a cultural hall, and large stacks of sake and wine barrel offerings to the royal deities. When you do get to the shrine, it is important to respect the Shinto religion. You can do this by bowing at the entrance torii gate each time you enter and leave, rinsing your hands and mouth at the temizuya (see the pic), and offering coins at the shrine. All of these actions have a specific order and way to do them, but they are all fairly simple, so you can learn them by either looking them up, or even just by observing others.
There are charms and amulets such as omamori and ofuda for sale that are very popular among Japanese visitors and fairly cheap. You can also write a wish on an ema, a small wooden board on a string, and hang it along with the many others.
While touring, it is not uncommon to come across traditional Shinto weddings, especially on the weekends. Also – if you’re planning to visit at the end of the year, bear in mind that on New Years day, 3 million visitors go to Meiji Jingu Shrine, forming an incredibly long line of bunched-up people waiting to pray to their Shinto gods for a desirable year.
The shrine is divided into the outer area and the inner area, but because even just the inner area takes up more than 700,000m2, we recommend sticking to the main attractions!
Editor’s note: Until the dengue fever outbreak subsides, it might be best to skip the Meiji Jingu/Yoyogi Park part of this itinerary. Also, if you have any questions about your trip to Tokyo feel free to ask us here.