The Scramble: Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo 🇯🇵

It’s considered to be the busiest crossing in the world… reportedly having up to 2,500 people crossing every time the signal changes.

I’m unsure as to how accurate the above statistics is, but I was able to witness first hand the bustling vibe in this world renowned intersection.

We were there on our second day in Japan. We had just spent the entire day ticking away as many places as we could on our “Tokyo to do” list (we we were leaving for Kyoto the next day) and this was our last stop.

We were already a bit worn out after walking around the whole day and our phone and portable wifi batteries were already running very low.

We briefly contemplated on whether we would carry on and check out the crossing or call it a night and go back to our hotel instead. We now know what we decided in the end, don’t we?

It was already 8pm but the area still looked very busy.

Initially the plan was for us to grab a drink at Starbucks and take photos from the shop’s window overlooking the crossing,however, we still needed to find where exactly Starbucks was located; and with our phones and portable wifi having low batteries, we didn’t want to keep on using them for GPS and risk them completely turning off before we can find our way back to our hotel.

So instead, we opted to watch the organized chaos that is “The Scramble” from the sidelines.

It started with everyone waiting for the pedestrian lights to turn green.

When it did, the intersection was then flooded by a sea of people.

As time ticked by the crowd started to slowly thin out until there was only a couple of people left rushing to cross while there was still a bit of time.

Then the lights turned red and the vehicles started moving in and people were back to waiting idly by until the next change of lights signalled another round of bustling activity.

I stood at the sides fascinated with what I was seeing — so many people crossing from different directions (all at the same time) without hitting or jostling each other… quite impressive, really.

Also, people watching has always been one of my favorite past times and this was a perfect time to do just that. Not in a creepy-psycho-stalker sense okay?

Just a little harmless and quiet observation of people walking past, thinking of made up stories about them in my head.

‘Where are they going?’ ‘What are they thinking?’ — ‘This one’s off to have a drink after a long day at work.’, These two are friends but the girl is in love with the boy’, ‘These two lovebirds are on a date’… But I digress.

All in all this was a pretty good experience. I know it’s nothing grand like seeing the Eiffel tower all lit up at night or looking at the breathtaking view of the sea at the Amalfi coast on a bright summer day, but it was good all the same.

I’ve always been a bit curious about “the scramble” so it was nice ticking it off the Japan bucketlist among many other things during this trip.

Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo 🇯🇵

We visited quite a number of shrines when we were in Japan. I remember Jan saying “again?!” when I mentioned to him that we were going to check out another shrine when we were already in the middle of our trip. Haha! Meiji Jingu, however, holds a bit of a special place, as it was the very first shrine we visited during our trip. Our very first shrine experience in Japan! 

There are two ways to get into Meiji-Jingu shrine — the Northern entrance near Yoyogi station (photo below) or from the Southern entrance near Harajuku station (photo above). A towering torrii gate (about 40 ft. high) marks each entrance.

We entered from the southern entrance as it was closer to where we were at the time (Takeshita Dori). It was hard to miss due to the towering torrii gate that marked it. From there, we then walked the forested walkway leading to the main shrine which took us about 10 minutes.

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“when you pass through (under), you are symbolically entering a sacred place and leaving behind the everyday.” – japanvisitor.com (About passing through the torii gate entrance.)

As soon as we entered the shrine grounds, the hustle and bustle of city life faded away. Despite there being other visitors present, our walk still felt pretty calm and pleasant and the area still gave an aura of peace and tranquility.

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How to pay respect at Meiji-jingu at a torii (shrine archway):

  • Bow once when entering
  • Bow once when leaving

At the time of our visit, the shrine was undergoing some renovations in preparation for it’s 100th anniversary. At the main grounds, they were offering to have people’s names written on the roof pieces in exchange for a donation. It wasn’t very expensive, and Jan was trying to talk to me about it… Unfortunately, at the time I was too busy buying charms at the shrine store that I somewhat ignored what he was trying to say (Waaaaaah) In hindsight, I now think it’s such a shame… renovations finish in 2020 (which is when we’re planning to go visit the country again) and it would have been cool to visit Meiji Shrine again knowing we’ve somehow donated for a part of it.

The shrine is dedicated to the venerated souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. This is not to be confused for their actual burial sites, which can be found in Kyoto.

Emperor Meiji, real name Mutsuhito, was emperor of Japan from 1867-1912. He is the 122nd ruler of Japan according to traditional order of succession, who ascended to the throne when he was only about 14-15 years old. Under his reign, Japan went through massive political, economic, military and educational modernization which dramatically transformed the country into one of the great powers of the modern world — famously known as the Meiji restoration period of Japan.

Empress Shoken, who adopted the name Haruko upon marrying the emperor, was the first imperial consort to receive the titles nyōgō and kōgō (literally, the emperor’s wife, translated as ‘empress consort’), in several hundred years. She was known during her reign for her support for charity work and was the patron of the Japanese Red Cross.

How to pay respect at the main shrine:

  • You may put some coins in the offertory box
  • Bow twice
  • Clap your hands twice
  • Make a wish
  • Bow again

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To the right of the main shrine is a covered writing area where you can write down your personal wishes to be offered to the shrine deities. Pen, paper, and envelopes are provided free of charge.

I can no longer remember what I wrote down and wished for, but I’m hoping that whatever it was, it would have been heard and granted.

Another option for writing down your wishes or prayers is to buy an ema tablet from the shop. Ema tablets are small wooden plaques in which Shinto Buddhist worshippers write their prayers and wishes. In Meiji shrine, they cost about Y500.

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Past this torrii gate (by the ema tablet shop counter) is another forested pathway, this time leading to the northern entrance of the shrine which is by Yoyogi park. It is by this entrance that you can find the Treasury museum (Homotsuden) and the Dojo (Shiseikan).

When we were there, the treasury museum was closed. As for the dojo, we weren’t even aware that there was one in the first place (yes.. yes.. not enough research)… so we ended up not being able to explore the two. We still, however, walked the pathway all the way up to the northern entrance and once there we debated on whether we would just continue on to explore Yoyogi Park; but it was getting quite later in the day and Jan didn’t think we would have enough time so we just took a couple of photos while there, then backtracked all the way to the Southern entrance where we started.

For reference purposes, the Homotsuden (treasury museum) continues to remain closed as it is undergoing construction for earthquake proofing. For more information about the Shiseikan (martial arts hall/dojo) you can click this link here.

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On the walk back to the Southern entrance, we got to check out these sake barrels on display at a certain area of the walkway. We passed them earlier on, but since we were in a hurry to get to the main shrine, we didn’t really have a proper look at them then.

The sake barrels are called sakedaru and their display as decoration is known as kazaridaru. They have been donated by sake brewers around Japan to be used in ceremonies and festivals.

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Across the display of sake barrels, we saw it’s western counterpart — wooden barrels of french wine. The signage beside the display said that these have been offered by celebrated wineries of Bourgogne France and are to be consecrated in Meiji Jingu with the earnest prayer that France and Japan will enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship. 

Another part of the shrine that we did not get to explore was the inner garden, also known as Meiji Jingu Gyoen. I initially wanted to check it out… but with us running out of time, Jan suggested otherwise. 

Meiji Jingu Gyoen was once part of a family owned land before it was taken under the control of the Japanese government during the Meiji period. It is said that Emperor Meiji designed the garden himself specifically for Empress Shoken. The garden is famous for it’s Iris blooms during the summer season ( specifically in June). Entrance fee to get into the inner garden is 500 yen.

Overall we had a nice time strolling around the huge shrine complex and it was a pretty good experience for our first (of many) shrine visits while in the country. I think it warrants a second visit as there were still a lot we were not able to see when we were there, but maybe we’ll wait until the construction of the treasury museum is done so then we don’t get to miss anything the second time around.