Sightseeing and People Watching in Tokyo
Japan’s historical and modern beauty never ceases to beguile visitors. But despite its picturesque sceneries and bucolic abundance, the real attraction of this island country is the Japanese people and their culture.
In fact, tourists who limit their sightseeing to the historical grandeurs and modern-day façade of high-rise buildings, bullet trains, interconnecting bridges and tunnels, and shops that make Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills look dowdy, are only short-changing themselves.
To get a real feel of Japan and thereby get the most out of a visit, the key is to rub elbows with the people themselves and to “people watch,” or to notice the locals in public as they go to and fro.
There are thousands of outstanding people-watching spots in Tokyo. To make things easier for visitors, I’ve chose several, each with a personality of its own. These, in my opinion, would most likely be regarded as the least in the top-10 locations in the city by the most experienced people watchers.
Three of the locations are a short walk from each other. They are the main Ginza intersection, where the Hibiya-Harumi and Chuo Streets intersect at Ginza 4-chome. Then there’s the Sukiyabashi intersection about 200 yards west of the Ginza intersection, where Hibiya intersects with Sotobori Street, and then the Hibiya theatre and restaurant district located another 200 yards further west.
Since the late 1800s, most of Tokyo’s residents have considered the Ginza 4-chome intersection as the uno cial city center. The famous Mitsukoshi and Wako department stores are two of its historical icons.
Real old-timers may recall that the Mitsukoshi Department Store building on the northeast corner of the intersection was the main Post Exchange for the U.S. military during the 1945-1952 occupation of Japan. A U.S.-run hamburger and milkshake cafeteria was in the basement of the Wako Department Store building, located on the northwest corner of the intersection. In recent years, the first McDonald’s in Japan was in the foyer of the Mitsukoshi Department Store.
The nearby Hibiya restaurant and shopping district is home to the Tokyo branch of the famous Takarazuka Theater, which features all-female revues on the scale of Paris and Las Vegas. Hundreds of young girls regularly flock to the stage to see their favorite stars come and go.
The Roppongi district, a few minutes away by subway from the Ginza/Hibiya areas, is a people-watching place with its own peculiar image. In addition to the huge high-rise complexes that boast restaurants, shops and observation decks, the district features a maze of narrow streets that are home to dozens of bars, nightclubs and restaurants that run the gamut from plush to dives. The district is a major draw for foreign residents, film stars, fashion models and others wanting to make some kind of statement.
Shibuya, a few minutes further away on a southwesterly direction (on the Yamanote commuter loop line encircling central Tokyo), is a night-time and weekend mecca for young people. The area is known for its plethora of apparel and accessory shops, restaurants, bars, bookstores and record stores. The statue of the dog, Hachiko, in front of Shibuya Station, is the ultimate meeting point for friends, and also for people to see and be seen.
Omotesando (one station north of Shibuya in Harajuku) competes with Chuo Avenue (the main Ginza thoroughfare) as the city’s most popular strolling street.
In addition to the upscale fashion boutiques and restaurants on Omotesando, the district’s maze of side streets is chock-full of shops carrying the kinds of clothing favored by the far-out young. In fact, it is the dresses, makeup and behaviors of the thousands of young people who ock to Harajuku on holidays and weekends that attract hordes of sightseers.
One could easily add well-known locations as Akasaka, Asakusa, Aoyama and others down through the alphabet, all with their own special appeal. But the few noted here should be enough to satiate the most avid people watchers. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.