Posted by: patriciamar | November 5, 2018



As Shinagawa is the train station of my dreams, Shibuya is the station of my nightmares.  If someone even says the word, “Shibuya,” I lose all sense of direction and start gravitating unintentionally the wrong way.

Trying to get somewhere in Shibuya frequently makes me want to punch myself in the face.  Ask my visitors. I will plan a place to meet them, and they will arrive 30 minutes before me, because that’s how easily and quickly I get lost in Shibuya.   I made the plan!

I now have to convert my timing so that I know I can make it on time:

Google says 12 minute walk?  

That will take me 70 minutes.

Google says I have arrived?

See you in 20.

I am really starting to develop anxiety about walking around this particular Tokyo neighborhood.  Now, after almost two months of weekly, bikweekly or triweekly visits, I can– no.

I still can’t. This week, I got lost in Shibuya on Saturday and on Monday (it’s already Monday night in Japan, remember).  The total amount of time I spent lost was 150 minutes. I spent two and a half hours wandering around ½ square miles.

You might think I’m talking about Shibuya crossing, probably the most famous intersection in Japan (The above photo is Shibuya crossing on Halloween)  But one big intersection causes me no problems. I can cross a street with several thousand other people.

But once I turn right or left, once I have  a destination in mind.  I immediately walk circles.  

On Saturday night, I referred to my gps and noted the cafe I was standing in front of.  I turned down the correct street and walked in the correct direction. 25 minutes later I was standing in front of the SAME cafe.  How did I do that!?  I don’t even know how I managed it.  If I tried to trick you, I couldn’t have recreated the fantastical stroll around that piece of Shibuya.

Actually, I did bring one couple around the area to show them the ropes and get dinner.  We walked slowly and calmly. We stopped for yakitori (chicken skewers), and one of my guests even noticed my strategy.  “We’re walking in circles, you know.”

Yes, I did know.  

You see, I try to be very careful so as not to get my guests as lost as I am willing to get myself.   That evening, I was making tiny one block circles around the main intersection. If the Starbucks is in sight, I’m alright.  That should be the Shibuya Crossing slogan.

A Haiku:

Shibuya crossing

Keep Starbucks in sight and you’ll

surely be alright.

Now that I’m writing this quickly, stream of consciousness, NaNoWriMo style, I realize that it’s not only Shibuya.  Shinjuku causes me the same trouble. I always pick the wrong direction.  I have to go there to pay my rent each month and I have to plan a full afternoon to get to the rental office and back to the train station (Google says this is a 7-minute walk).

Once, on my way to Shinjuku, I just suddenly got off the train in Shibuya.  I just did it.

I have developed some strategies for combating this type of complete and utter loss of self.  I spend a full day–two days in a row is better. I start with a strong coffee in the morning, and I walk in the daytime, looking keenly around to notice landmarks and memorable signs. It’s not really possible to use the streets; they are angled and winding and I have no idea what the names of them are. I make note of the biggest store on each street (obviously, I’m a visual person, directionally).  I take breaks to add fun spots to my google maps as I go, marking writing spots, beer spots, and spots for my upcoming visitors (Vegetarian! Sushi!). When I have had my fill of training for the day, I stop for lunch, usually yakitori (again) or ramen.

It is at this point that I realize I am eating lunch in the SAME BUILDING where I drank coffee that morning.  

Damn it!

Oh, Shinjuku.

I mean Shibuya.



  1. ISA used to be in Shibuya … lucky for you it moved to Shinagawa! I love your down-to-earth tellings of your days in Tokyo, making them so vivid for your readers. Thank you for sharing!


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