Shibuya and Harajuku are no doubt two districts on your Tokyo to-do list, but how are you supposed to figure out where to go and what to do there without flattening your wallet? Us cheapo insiders are here to help. Our DIY walking tour will take you from the shopping hub of Shibuya to Harajuku, the fashion center of Asia, before ending off the day by stepping into the serenity of Meiji Jingu Shrine. Let’s go!
Prefer a guided tour? This Harajuku–Shibuya Private Walking Tour (which can be customized) and the one that allows you to Dress in Kimono and Take Pictures at Shibuya Crossing, are both good bets and come highly recommended.
1. Find Hachiko and photograph Scramble 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 hubs in Japan, as well as the 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 11 am, so you can sleep in.
Shibuya Station is served by pretty much all the train lines ever: the JR Saikyo and Yamanote Lines, Keio Inokashira, Tokyo Den-en-toshi, Tokyu Toyoko, Ginza, Hanzomon and Fukutoshin Lines. When you get to the labyrinth-like station, just look for the Hachiko Exit, which is the one nearest “Scramble Crossing”. As you might know from the movie, Hachiko was an extremely loyal dog who kept up his daily routine of waiting for his owner, one Professor Ueno, in front of Shibuya Station even after the Professor’s death. Hachiko was honored with a statue, which you can see just outside the exit. Once you’ve taken your selfie with Hachiko, try your hand at photographing the madness of the giant pedestrian crossing.
2. Explore the stores in Shibuya
There are endless possibilities for things to do in Shibuya, but if you like shopping, a visit to 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. It’s just one minute from Scramble Crossing—you can’t miss the giant “109” sign. If Japanese fashion isn’t your thing, just up the hill from the 109 building is a big H&M, and there are other Western brands 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 all over the country, and they sell everything from stuffed animals to sex toys, electronics and luggage—plus basic groceries and anti-aging face rollers. Donki is one of the best places to shop for quirky Japanese souvenirs. From Shibuya 109, head up the right-side hill and keep walking until you see H&M. Donki is in front of it.
3. Stop for a quick sushi lunch
Unlike dinner, which can easily cost a small fortune, special lunch sets are available all over Shibuya, allowing you to have a filling meal at a decent price. We recommend grabbing lunch at popular chain restaurant Genki Sushi. In Shibuya, Genki Sushi is located at the very center of all the hubbub, so you won’t need to walk far to find it. Once you leave Donki, simply go back to Scramble Crossing. 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 the Genki Sushi sign on your right.
The awesome thing about Genki Sushi is that you can order without struggling with the language barrier, since there is an English menu. That also means you’ll always know what you’re eating!
4. Head from Shibuya to Harajuku and brace for sensory overload
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 over to Harajuku—it will set you back 140 yen. Anime cosplayers, punk musicians, ganguro, everything you imagined Japanese teenagers to look like and were disappointed not to see in Shibuya, you can find hanging around Takeshita-Dori (Takeshita Street) and the bridge outside Harajuku Station on weekends and holidays.
Once you arrive at Harajuku Station, go straight out of the Takeshita-Dori Exit and you will find yourself at the entrance of the world-famous street. Although the unique fashion in the shops here is worth a look, pink tutus and lolita headbands are not all that Harajuku has to offer. Just two 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 108 yen.
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5. Grab a Harajuku crepe
Walking down Takeshita-Dori, you will come across at least eight crepe stores. Go ahead and try one—it’s the thing to do here. The crepes are priced between 400 yen and 700 yen, and most sellers punt a similar range of flavors. One of our favorite stores is “Marion Crepes,” which has been serving up sugary treats since 1976. Have a look at our Harajuku Crepes Guide for other options.
6. Browse the shops at Laforet
Once you hit the end of Takeshita-Dori, turn right. Keep walking until you are greeted by a street junction, and you will see the shopper’s paradise that is Laforet. Being right in the heart of Harajuku, the entire building is chock full of unusual items.
During summer, there are 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 10,000 yen, you might be able to get the consumption tax back. Some stores in Laforet allow this; you just need to show them your passport.
With four stories of shopping, you can easily spend a couple of hours at Laforet. When you’re finished, it will probably be tea time. Just across the road you will see Jonathan’s, a family restaurant where the prices are relatively cheap by Tokyo standards, and the drinks are refillable (for a couple hundred yen). They’ve got everything from cake to steak, making it a good refueling station.
7. Embrace your inner child/actual child at Kiddy Land
After exiting Jonathan’s, turn right and walk for five minutes, and you will see the big “Kiddy Land” sign. This toy store has five stories dedicated to hundreds of characters, covering everything from Totoro to Star Wars, Hello Kitty and good ol’ Ultraman. The stuff is seasonal, so if you come during summer, you might find a Hello Kitty plushy sporting a yukata (light summer kimono), or watermelon keyrings.
Not quite ready to leave the area yet? Have a look at these other things to do in Harajuku.
8. Enjoy the peace at Meiji Jingu Shrine
Before rushing back to your room, familiarize yourself with the roots of Japan by exploring Meiji Jingu Shrine, which is only a minute’s walk from Harajuku Station. 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 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 built in 1920, primarily to honor the spirits of the Emperor and Empress of the Meiji era. For 500 yen, you can enter the Treasure House and view many of their belongings, including their personal carriage.
If you continue 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 thought 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 plants, for another entrance fee of 500 yen.
On the way to the main shrine there is a teahouse, cultural hall, and large stacks of sake and wine barrel offerings to the royal deities. When you get to the shrine proper, 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.
While touring, it is not uncommon to come across traditional Shinto weddings, especially on weekends. Also—if you’re planning to visit at the end of the year, bear in mind that on New Years day, you’ll be joining an estimated three million visitors waiting to pray for a good year.
For more information on the shrine, read our comprehensive Meiji Jingu guide. When visiting, be sure to get there before sunset, or you’ll be sent home and asked to return when it re-opens the next day.
This article was updated by Carey Finn in June 2017.