Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Chaotic Calm at Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo)

Chaotic calm!  Yes, I know it sounds like a contradiction of terms.  Nevertheless, it is how I see Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing may very well be Tokyo’s most recognisable place given its inclusion in travel documentaries, photographs and movies such as “Lost in Translation”.  The popular vision of the crossing, where five roads intersect, is of crowds of people crossing in all directions.  All the lights change at once and when the lights change to green it is like observing an old-fashioned infantry charge.  However, rather than clash, the scene becomes one of chaotic calm.  Pedestrians and cyclists plot their course from one side to the other, artfully avoiding each other in a demonstration of humans’ innate ability to move through crowded areas with a minimum of contact.  Watching this human choreography unfold from a vantage point such as the Starbucks (pic 14) overlooking the intersection is wondrous and entertaining.

For those who like statistics, the adjoining Shibuya Station is the third busiest in the Tokyo metropolis, thus ensuring the constant supply of people crossing.  At peak hour it is estimated that approximately 2500 cross at each cycle.

The action is round-the-clock given Shibuya’s popularity as an entertainment and shopping precinct, hence any visit to Tokyo should include at least one walk across this famous crossing.

In this post I have included a few of the traditional wide shots, but have mostly tried to show a sample of the individuals one encounters.  Where have they come from?  Where are they going?  Who are they meeting?  Simple questions underscoring that each person in the frame is an individual story coming randomly together at a point in time.  A random collection that will never again be repeated.

My first photo shows Hachiko’s statue – a famous Shibuya landmark and a popular meeting point.  In brief, the statue commemorates the loyalty of a faithful dog to its owner, very similar to Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Bobby.  Each morning, Hachiko would walk his owner (a college professor) to Shibuya Station and return each evening to greet his owner’s return.  One day his owner did not return, which became the start of Hachiko’s long vigil of faithfully waiting for the impossible.  Local traders and family members cared for him as best they could, but eventually he succumbed to age and the elements.  This bittersweet story has been captured in the movie “Hachiko – A Dog’s Story” starring Richard Gere.  Well worth a look!

The remaining photos are a small sample of whom you might see during a visit to Shibuya Crossing.  If you see yourself in any of the pics, please let me know and I hope I caught you from a good angle haha.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

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Cafés & Coffee

For a country where the tea ceremony is an integral part of its cultural heritage, the Japanese people also appear to enjoy the pleasure of lingering over a coffee – particularly in the major cities where cafés abound.  Currently, the coffee scene is dominated by franchise operators, although one does find interesting independent cafés, which, as the coffee culture becomes more established, are likely to become more popular.

The first three photographs show examples of three popular franchises and I must say I would not be surprised if Tokyo is the Starbucks capital of the world.  They are everywhere!  The Shibuya Crossing Starbucks (pic 1) is probably the most prominent and is a great place for people watching, as is the Café Doutor (pic 2) overlooking the Ginza Crossing.

However, the variety and individuality of independent cafes can be seen from the other photographs such as Kyoto’s Café Yoshiko (pic 4) where customers can enjoy views of autumn colour and cherry blossom in season.  Similarly, the stark white minimalist look of the café in Niigata (pic 6) is so Japanese and The Deck at Harajuku (pic 7) is a great place for a warm snack and coffee.

Other places I remember fondly is Binya café (pic 8) in Ebisu.  I first came across Binya while walking to Tokyo’s magnificent Museum of Photography.  Enjoying coffee served in fine china is relaxing and a nice break from the hectic pace of life so characteristic of Tokyo and the temptation to order “takeaway”.

Wandering through Kiyojima (one of Tokyo’s old areas) led me to MuuMuu Coffee (pics 9 & 10) where I enjoyed lunch and a chat, only to learn that the barista had learnt his skills working in cafés in Melbourne (my home town).  Sometimes it truly is a small world.

My final shots are of Café Mazekoze in Nagano where I was (as usual) wandering the streets after visiting the Zenkoji Temple.  I was at first attracted by the bric-a-brac outside, but upon walking through the door I was immediately allured by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Quite irresistible!  Again, conversation with the owner revealed another “small world” experience in that her sister now lives in Edinburgh – where I was born and grew up.  It is meetings like these that enrich travel and as so often happens, I left with a recommendation to visit another nearby temple.

Coffee breaks not only refresh us, but they can result in lasting memories of places visited.  I hope these photos help you to remember similar experiences.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)