(This post comes to you from our good friends at TokyoCheapo.com, who once tried to convince us that if you tear a 10,000 yen note exactly in half, it totally doubles your money.)
by Selena Hoy
It may seem like Shibuya only loves you for your money, with shiny shops and enticing restaurants beckoning from every nook and cranny. But it is possible to be in ‘Buya without blowing big bucks! Here are some ideas for a fee-free jaunt to Tokyo’s youth mecca.
1. People watch at Scramble Crossing
We can’t talk about Shibuya without mentioning the crossing, so let’s get it over with. At this famous intersection, bursting with neon and noise, every few minutes all the lights turn red to let pedestrians swarm every which way to get to their desired corner. This is the shot you see in every movie and social media post about Tokyo. When you’re not gawping at the folks weaving and dodging, you can watch the huge TVs playing ads and music videos of the latest Jpop sensations.
2. Peep Some Art
Want to see some contemporary art without paying museum prices? A couple of galleries are only minutes from the station. On the north side of the station, Diesel Art Gallery exhibits both domestic and international artists. At the new(ish) Hikarie shopping center, a free gallery on the 8th floor (called “Hachi”) displays modern, contemporary, and Japanese craft art. And at Parco Gallery X in the Parco building, you can see the works of contemporary Japanese artists (be sure to go to the gallery on B1F and not the museum on 3F; the gallery is free, the museum is not).
3. Park Life
Yoyogi Park’s margins extend into Shibuya and the park is always chockablock with festivals, performers, picnickers, and sun worshipers. It’s especially hopping on the weekends. This is a great place to find a pick-up game of futsal or hacky sack, a tai chi or yoga gathering, a frisbee match, or an interpretive dance-walking group. Let your freak flag fly! There are several routes to the park, but walking north from the station about six blocks along Inokashira-dori will get you there in a jiffy. *Editor’s note: Until the dengue fever outbreak subsides, it’s probably best to avoid the park.
While it’s more than common to spend all afternoon standing in front of the magazine rack at 7-11 reading the latest Brutus, elbow to elbow with a sweaty bespectacled guy looking at weakly disguised porn, if you want to browse without the guilt and perhaps fewer otaku, why not try the library? Even if you’re not a cardholder, you can while away the hours reading bookoo books in a space meant for exactly that. You may even be able to score a chair. There are two branches within 10 minutes’ walk of the station – the Komorebi Owada branch at 23-2 Sakuragaoka is near the south exit of the station, just across the street from the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, and the Ward Shibuya Library at 1-6-6 Higashi is about ten minutes’ walk to the southeast of the station, near Jissenjoshi Gakuen High School.
5. That Dog Statue
It’s practically required that you snap a pic of loyal dog Hachiko at least once when you visit Shibuya, or perhaps dress him in a hand-knitted sweater, or offer him a cappuccino. Hachiko, Shibuya station’s mascot, is the dog that waited faithfully at the station every day for his guardian, a professor, to come home from work. After the professor died, Hachiko continued to wait in the same spot every day until his own death. Today, the statue is probably the most popular meeting spot in Japan (good luck finding your date in a sea of people trying to do the same). He’s not the only gig in town, though. Other cool sculptures in the area include the Moyai Heads on the south side of the station (bonus: this is a favorite spot for buskers), the naked children playing on an iron globe near the west exit, or the girl holding a fruit in Dogenzaka.
Once only a hobby for dedicated geo-nerds, this pastime used to require the possession of a GPS receiver. With the ubiquity of smart phones, however, now even a dilettante cacher can try out their sleuthing skills, playing a global game that is not only a treasure hunt and a measure of your detective ability, but also a way for locals to show off points of interest that may otherwise be overlooked. There are over a dozen caches in the immediate Shibuya station area. Note: if keychains and doo-dads are your thing, be sure to bring along something to trade and follow the other rules of the game.
7. Love Hotel Hill
If you’re interested in wacky architecture or just some titillation by osmosis, take a walk around the famed Love Hotel Hill in the Dogenzaka area. Comparison shop, dodge the guys trying to attract customers to peep shows and “soap lands” (aka sexy massage parlors), and marvel at the cool old coffee shops and bars that are stuck back there in between. One thing though – if you’re actually looking to partake of a room, cheapos will be better served hitting up the rabuho district at another station – Shibuya has some of the highest rates around.
8. Groove Thang
A few bars have DJs and live music most nights with no cover. If you’re really too cheap to buy a drink, you could probably get away with it at Coins Bar (but most things on the menu, food and drink, are 300 yen), which tends toward hip hop, and Oath, which has more techno and house. Be advised that Coins does sometimes charge a cover later in the evening if they have a particularly popular DJ, so go early for free entry.
9. Mini Live
If live music’s your thing but the 3000 yen door charge for a dodgy garage band chafes, give Tower Records a visit. The store is still going strong in Japan and offers a line up of “mini lives” – free short concerts – almost every day of the week. These range from acoustic strumming in between the CD racks to classical piano concertos, to full-on concerts complete with stage and strobe lights in the basement.
Getting hungry after all that wandering without spending a single yenny? Duck into a depachika – a department store basement, where the food hall is found. Bakeries, sushi shops, wine sellers, takoyakigrillers… the temptations are endless. Luckily, some stalls offer samples, and with a little perseverance you can graze your way to a hearty snack, if not a full meal. A few spots to try are Tokyu Food Show right under Shibuya station, Seibu’s Food Hall, and Hikarie’s ShinQs Food.