Regardless of whether you spent time looking at the shops, and shoppers, in Takeshita Dori and Omotesando or plonked around with a can of something in your hand in Yoyogi Park, you really ought to skip the train for the next station, Shibuya, and walk instead.
the Cat Street Route
If you are doing the “shops and fashion” option, you’re best path is to take a walk down Cat Street, a walking street linking Harajuku and Shibuya which the latest Rough Guide Tokyo edition refers to as ‘hip’ and ‘bohemian’. Cat Street actually runs across Omotesando, but to head to Shibuya you’ll need to turn right at the Bulgari corner.
Now ‘bohemian’ and ‘Bulgari’ may not strike you as quite a natural pairing. And it should be noted that the signs are mostly facing plush Omotesando. However, on my first walk through this street, it struck me that this wasn’t exactly the retail equivalent of a Hollywood A-lister putting in a stint behind bars or slumming it in an avant garde directors latest or putting to appear real. ‘Hip’ it may well be, but this street struck me as pretty high end, as you might be able to glean from the photos below. There were certainly more multinational brands than the felines for which the street was named after.
That said the real disappointment of the Rough Guide’s review was not for being, well overly rough, but for the missed opportunity for one of those pithy lines lamenting how yet another unique and organic local culture had fallen foul of the maw of the large multinationals. Such laments are one of the minor pleasures of reading travel guides, which made it deeply worrying that Lonely Planet, the other travel guide who often wheel these kind of lines out, did not see fit to include a few lines on Cat Street in their latest Tokyo edition.
But to give the Rough Guide its due, there are some cutesy littlish shops on this southern side. And if you did have the time or inclination to duck over to the northern end they are in abundance (ignore the A-listers on the corner this time).
In addition to the Bulgari Cafe at the top of the street there are a few other more reasonable dining options on the street, with the cheapest earthiest option appearing to be the tacoyaki stand, which looks rather big and factory like compared to tacoyaki stands you’ll find in other less hip and bohemian parts of town but best to get in quickly before it keeps growing and morphs into Burger King or a Lady Gaga costume.
And just when you thought the big designer labels were done, you’ll come across another one, which does offer another dining option. Cross the road, before the footbridge and head under the railway bridge and start heading up the hill. You’re now really in Shibuya.
At the next intersection you will come to Tower Records, which is well-regarded among foreigners for it’s foreign book section, located on the seventh floor. As with temples and shrines, I wouldn’t normally recommend this given the presumption of alcohol consumption, however it is a good place for books on Japan, if you need something to read on Japan (and at the risk of showing you how limited and boringly blokeish my literary interests are I recommend – Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting – I promise you these books are far more interesting and eye opening than my range of reading) . Alternatively, there’s a healthy range of Japanese manga them translated into English here which would no doubt make a good present back home for someone somewhere.
Once you have finished there go up the hill past the TGI Friday’s (which represents another dining or drinking option) until you come to Parco, as you can see in the photo on the right. It is here you would have linked up with the hypotheticals who would have taken the Yoyogi Park route so I will move onto that and onto Shibuya proper.