Sep 15, 2017

Omotesando, Shibuya, Ebisu combine in a Tokyo walk to make the eyes pop

Tokyo is a city that lends itself to exploration on foot. This despite having a transport system that puts many people movers around the world to shame. Maybe it’s the safety element - this expat has never felt uneasy in any neighborhood in Tokyo at any time of day, or night. And even on foot the transport system comes into play - the wanderer can get as lost as they want in the capital as they are never far away from a train station via which they can get back to familiar territory. Added to this, the people watching, sign reading, and shop-front gawping are truly world class.

One of my favorite “walks” in Tokyo is that which pounds the pavements between Omotesando and Ebisu, or the other way round. I typically take it the former way though, as it has the feeling of being mostly down hill. More than anything, it’s the people watching that these Tokyo neighborhoods provide that gives me the biggest kick. Together they do a sterling job of displaying Tokyoites in their maddest, cutest, sexiest, most stylish and most bonkers form. Everyone on these Tokyo streets is putting on some kind of show. If this all sounds a bit voyeuristic I make no apology for it. When you’ve grown up in the middle of middle-class, middle England a place like Tokyo can’t help but make the eyes pop.

First up is Omotesando’s major thoroughfare, Omotesando-Dori. It’s not just the people that are dressed up here, the buildings are too with the brand stores in a constant battle to out “brand” each other. On a weekend this main street is a veritable river of high-end shoppers and cute snack seekers. I like to sneak off down some of the side streets where things become much quieter, especially on those to the southwest. The footbridges that straddle Omotesando-Dori can give you a chance to assess the scene from a more lofty perch.  

(Omotesando's Volcom store - a personal favorite)

Omotesando-Dori dips and heads up past Harajuku and onwards to Yoyogi Park. As fond as I am of the park, on this walk I tend to give it miss, (The legs like to keep things linear.) just skirting it as I head towards the Yoyogi stage and the NHK building. At the very least there will be some food stalls set up here and people loitering about, maybe cracking open some cans. Quite often though, this area is the setting for festivals celebrating the capital’s myriad ethnic communities.  

(Graffiti around the Yoyogi stage)

(Peeking into Yoyogi Park)

Passing between the grim 1970s form of the NHK building and the bonkers Yoyogi National Gymnasium takes you to the upper reaches of Shibuya proper. You could take the main street down into the melee but I prefer to hang a left and plod down the vertiginous side streets staring into the funky cafes and boutiques. (Keep a look out for the DayGlo pink plastic pig that furnishes one shop front.) There’s a place around here with a sign boasting of “Nude Trump”, words which have likely taken on a quite different nuance in recent years (whatever they were intended to mean in the first place).  

At some point, the weekend stroller in these parts is going to have to tackle the Shibuya crowds. And what crowds; never has a typical-weekend throbbing collection of humanity looked so … colorful? Mad? Weird? Whatever the descriptor, I love them, in small doses.

(Shibuya in small doses)

Crossing “the” Shibuya crossing going south you come to a network of footbridges in front of the Gotham City-esque Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel (it even has that kind of a name). Going up and over these bridges I always spot a young(ish) Eric Clapton staring out from the wall of a guitar shop, the guitar “God” guiding me onto the much quieter and somewhat “beat” streets that run alongside the tracks of the Yamanote Line. I used to walk these streets a lot heading to a language class that I used to take at a school in Ebisu.  

It’s kind of sheltered around here and at times marks an odd contrast between sophisticated / trendy Daikanyama (taking form on your right) and the kind of scrub industrial scene that often grows around train tracks. After the Shibuya crossing area though, it’s nice to be able to open up the stride a bit. What shops there are around here don’t seem to make much sense as a collective - a fancy barbers, a bicycle shop, what looks like a very expensive French restaurant, and an open-fronted place where guys in wellies seems to be tearing the shreds out of cardboard boxes, but it’s a good place to spot some graffiti.

 (Daikanyama roof tops)

(The approach to Ebisu)

The Yamanote Line tracks take the walker all the way into Ebisu, a part of Tokyo where if you’re dressed for a robust stroll you’ll look out of place - I always feel underdressed here. Clothing insecurities aside though, Ebisu should be celebrated for its ability to balance trend, a bit of hustle and bustle, and fancy bars and restaurants with something that kind of feels relaxed and everyday. As stunning as the people around here are, there doesn’t seem to be anything forced about it. Maybe it’s an age thing. Being in, what, the early afternoon of my life, Ebisu feels more “me” than crawling-up-the-walls Shibuya. I just need to get my fashion game up to scratch, and a bit more money in the bank account! For now though, I’m just passing through.



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.


  • genkidesu

    on Sep 17

    I love all the street art that you captured! I can't believe that I didn't notice more of it when I lived around that area...I'll have to pay more attention next time I'm nearby.

  • Tomuu

    on Sep 18

    @genkidesu Thanks. To be honest I've walked this route a hundred times before or after a language class I was taking in Ebisu. I haven't done it recently though (don't go to the class anymore) so it was nice to go back and take some pics.