Shibuya – Tokyo’s beating heart

On arrival by Qantas at Narita Airport, we went directly to the Limousine Bus Ticket Counter in the Arrivals Hall to buy tickets for the two hour coach ride to Tokyo. The other option was a fast train, but in fear of confusion about how to exit the massive Shibuya station at night at our destination, meant the bus direct to our hotel, was the best for us.

Shibuya is one of many Tokyo districts famed for its fashion and music. The district is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. It’s also near to where the main stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is under construction.

Never mind the Olympic games, Shibuya is teeming with people already.

Its most famous landmark is the Shibuya Crossing. On any evening when the traffic signals stop cars from all directions, more than a 1000 people make their way across the “scramble” over one of the five very wide painted crosswalks. Just another zebra crossing you might think, but it truly is a sight to behold.

This intersection is also home to a monument to loyalty in the form of a dog that faithfully waited there every afternoon for nine years.  His owner had died at work without ever returning home to the train station at which Hachikō would wait.

The busiest Starbucks in Japan is also located above one side of the scramble and five superjumbo TV screens promote the newest and most coveted tech gadgets and fashion brands.

Eateries in Shibuya range from casual izakaya which are informal cafes with traditional Japanese dishes, to fine dining.

Wafu Dining Bar near the Grand Cerulean Toku Hotel is a good casual option with an English menu. Its specialties are yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) offering beef, pork and fish at about AUD$20 per person. Sashimi and prawn and vegetable tempura were also on the menu. The food was good and the service efficient, with a table buzzer to call for more food or drinks.  Wine, at about $15 for a very small glass, was overpriced.

In similar style but upmarket of Wafu, is Gonpachi of which there are a number a locations throughout Tokyo. Gonpachi Shibuya is on level 7 of a non-descript office building and is famous for hosting former US President George Bush and as the inspiration for the set of one of the fight scenes in the Kill Bill series.

We sat in the main restaurant with the yakitori, tempura and soba menu.  A separate section offers sushi but if you sit on the sushi side you can only order from the sushi menu. The food – especially my favourites tuna tartare and miso glazed black cod – was excellent

With servings on the small side (like in much of Japan) complimentary dishes like edamame, assorted tempura, and a salad are a wise addition.

The Tokyu Food Show – a bustling food hall under the Shibuya train station itself – operates from 9am to 9pm. It has every style of Japanese food of the best quality to eat in or take out. The freshest of sushi and sashimi, whole fish, marbled beef, breads and pastries, fruit, cheeses and beautifully packaged omiyage. From about 8pm all the fresh items are marked down for a quick sale – lots of yummy bargains to be found!

For grab ‘n go, convenience stores are at least one to each side of every city block in Tokyo. They offer everything from a full bento style meals to pastries, beer and sake.

In Dogenzaka – Shibuya’s nightlife hub and home to numerous pay-by-the hour “love hotels” -we stumbled upon the tiny and authentic Izakaya Tamagawa. Typical of many such restaurants, it had just 3 tables and a small wrap around sushi bar. The English speaking chef kept busy creating melt in your mouth sashimi, beef and fried whole mini-shrimp, seasoned and crisped to perfection.

Our hosts were especially welcoming. The elderly waiter (he was well into his 90s) even ran up the hill to a convenience store to buy our 3-yr-old son an ice cream for dessert.

Numerous eateries can also be found in the vast walkways of Mark City that connect to the Shibuya train station.  We tried Nana Shibuya where all patrons remove their shoes before entry and place them in shoe lockers. Nana specializes in Kyoto style Obanzai charcoal grilled dishes with the salmon and freshly made house tofu the real stand outs.

We were seated at tatami mat booth at floor level: very comfortable but next to a table of two smokers, something that is still common in Japanese restaurants.  Lots of dimers were lighting up and there was no non-smoking section!

Great food is not hard to find anywhere in the city. The offerings in Asakusa, Shinjuku, Shinagawa and Akihabara were equally tempting.

In Akihabara we found Kakoiya which served lunch sets with a main (meat or grilled fish) and sides of vegetables, tofu and rice for only $10.  Juice and tea were included in the price and beer would set you back about $5. This was one of the best deals we found in Tokyo.

Tokyo has fast food of course – Mos Burger which has now arrived in Australia and Wolfgang Puck. We tried this for the novelty in the very fashionable Harjuku. The burgers and spaghetti bolognese were unfortunately not of the quality promised by reputation of the chef that lent his name to the eatery.

I did more than eat in Tokyo. The Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View occupy the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower in Rapongi Hills.

The tower offers 360 degree views of the city from a 250m vantage point.  Admission to both is about $20 per adult and $7 for children with the option to go out onto the rooftop Sky Deck for an additional $8 per person.  The Universe and Art exhibition at the Mori art museum captivated our son with its focus on outer space.  A walk through the City View provided a sweeping aspect of Japan’s capital city with views of Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and even Mt Fuji.

The return trip to the airport after five days of fabulous Japanese food, temples and museums was aboard a 75 min fast train, the Narita Express. A comfortable and convenient way to arrive to join a pleasant overnight flight back to Brisbane.

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