Already known for its boutiques, bars, restaurants and that famous scramble crossing, Shibuya’s appeal as a destination for foreign visitors has gotten a further boost from its local tourist association: tours introducing the area’s nightlife, from backstreet izakaya pubs to the “love hotel” quarter.
The tours, which give tourists a taste of the famed Tokyo neighborhood after dark, are also aimed at boosting Shibuya’s nighttime economy.
Starting from the popular Hachiko Square meeting place, they take in a number of landmarks, including a local shrine, the Shibuya Hikarie shopping complex and the much filmed and photographed intersection in front of JR Shibuya Station.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Emi Estrada, a 70-year-old solo traveler from the United States, says as she is guided by Shogo Nomura, 24, to Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley).
Nomura explained the history of the narrow, untidy strip of tiny bars and restaurants, decorated with akachōchin red lanterns, which date back to the early postwar period.
“I was able to see a side of Shibuya that I could not have seen on my own,” Estrada says after the tour is complete. “I enjoyed the gleaming buildings and trains and buses passing by.”
While other guided tours of the area are available, what makes this one unique is that it is hosted by Shibuya City Tourism Association Inc., which started the English-language nightlife tour in April. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, it is rare for a local tourism association to conduct night tours.
One of the night tours includes the chance to savor Japanese food and drink, including sushi, takoyaki — balls of diced octopus cooked in batter — and sake.
Participants also walk through a district of love hotels, Japan’s version of the “no-tell motel,” watch live entertainment featuring Japanese “idols” and stop by ¥100 discount stores.
Nomura says he sometimes goes out with his customers once his work is done. “After the tour, there are times when I’ll be invited out for drinks by the foreign tourists.”
Describing what motivated the association to launch these tours, spokeswoman Kyoko Hori said, “People used to say Shibuya is only for taking photos.” The area’s clubs, bars and other nighttime attractions are still relatively unknown to foreign visitors, she added.
The association’s plan to start evening tours were realized when the government relaxed regulations earlier this year and allowed noncertified tour guides to offer paid services.
Japan has noted the economic boost that a thriving night scene brings other countries. When London started operating subway services around the clock on weekends, for example, the positive economic impact on the city’s nightlife was estimated at ¥4 trillion ($36.39 billion), according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
Hori says the Shibuya Tourism Association is considering other measures to boost the local nighttime economy by collaborating with restaurants and other businesses.
“We hope more foreign people will become a part of Shibuya’s nightlife,” she says.
Anyone wanting to go on one of the tours can apply at the tourist information center near Hachiko Square. Prices start at ¥1,000 for a one-hour tour, while a two-hour tour costs ¥3,000.