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10 Secrets of Japan’s “Scramble” Crossings!

10 Secrets of Japan’s “Scramble” Crossings!

Date published: 15 September 2018
Last updated: 5 October 2018

The moment the signal turns green, you will see it. People from all walks of life walking from all directions into the center of the intersection. Many may be familiar with it from images seen on the television and Internet. The famous crossing in Shibuya, Japan, simply known as "The Scramble," is one of Japan's biggest tourist attractions, however the story behind it is even deeper than that. Here, a native Japanese will introduce to you the true secrets of The Scramble!

Secret #1: What You Should Know About Scramble Intersections

Secret #1: What You Should Know About Scramble Intersections
Sukiyabashi Crossing, another scramble intersection located in Ginza, Tokyo

When speaking about scramble intersections, the larger kinds such as the one in front of Tokyo and Shibuya Station may come to mind first. However, those are just the main representatives of a type of intersection, as there are actually many other cases of such crossings with tons of foot traffic. To get across to a diagonally opposite corner, you used to have to cross twice. But by simple stopping all cars at the same time at the intersection, pedestrians can cross safely and efficiently no matter which direction they want to go. Globally, it is said that the first appearance of such an intersection started in Canada and the United States in the 1940s. In Japan, the first scramble was established in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1968. Currently, there are many more such intersections in Japan besides the Shibuya Scramble, said to be as much as 300 locations now.

Secret #2: How Do People Not Clash At The Scrambles?

Secret #2: How Do People Not Clash At The Scrambles?

How can all these people cross from all directions at once without colliding with each other? Even people who have never visited Japan and only seen The Scramble in action on TV may find this fascinating. The answer may just simply be that those who are accustomed to the city are used to it. The trick is to walk following the pace of the person ahead of you, while being aware of the direction and pace of the people on either side of you. By being aware of this you can adjust your own pace to skillfully weave through people while you cross. If you really want to experience the difficulty of doing this, try walking out into the intersection first, with no one ahead of you. Walking blindly can create a sense of confusion, so those who aren't confident enough to cross safely may be better off walking behind someone else.

Secret #3: How Many Thousands of People Cross the Shibuya Scramble Daily?

Secret #3: How Many Thousands of People Cross the Shibuya Scramble Daily?

This crowded Shibuya Scramble intersection gets even busier as the evening approaches, but how many people actually cross here in an entire day? According to a commercial news source, "Shibuya Center-gai," it is said that as many as 3,000 people can cross the scramble at a single time. So how much does that translate to in an entire day? Although it is difficult to obtain accurate information, according to the average number of passengers who use the Shibuya Station daily as measured in 2016, approximately 370,000 passengers use the JR Shibuya Station. The Tokyu Shibuya Station, which connects Shibuya to West Tokyo, boasts about 1.15 million passengers, and the Keio Inokashira Line Shibuya Station, connecting the same area, boasts about 360,000. Finally, the Tokyo Metro Shibuya Station serves about 220,000 passengers. By analogy, one can guess that the minimum number of people crossing on any given day might average 220,000 people, and max about 500,000 people on crowded days, so you can see just how many people are using this crossing.

Secret #4: The Busiest Time is in the Evening

Secret #4: The Busiest Time is in the Evening
There are less people on mornings and holidays

If you really want to capture a powerful photo or video of The Scramble in action, it is recommended to visit at a time that is more likely to get crowded. The busiest time is between 3:00-6:00PM on weekdays. This is because students are out and going shopping and office workers are heading home via the Shibuya Station. This is the best time to see all kinds of people indeed. The peak time during holidays is usually around 4:00PM, when people who do go out on those days are on the way home. So you can see the flow of people will vary depending on the time of day. On weekday mornings it is common to see an overwhelming amount of people heading from Shibuya Station to downtown areas such as the center town and the shopping streets. However there are a surprisingly few amount of people to be seen between 8:00-9:30AM weekday mornings, which is the general commute rush hour.

Secret #5: Discover New Things Depending On the Time

Secret #5: Discover New Things Depending On the Time
The Scramble at around 1:00PM weekday. Not so many people yet.

There are many people who get excitement from watching the flow of people crossing The Scramble, however there are more than one way to enjoy this view. Of course, the easiest way is to just cross! Just by crossing the street you will notice a difference in the impression you get depending on the day and time. So it is recommended to visit and cross the intersection at various times and in various situations. If you're feeling adventurous, you may even want to challenge crossing the street at peak hours.

Secret #6: Top Recommended Spot to Watch From Above As Recommended By Japanese Natives!

Secret #6: Top Recommended Spot to Watch From Above As Recommended By Japanese Natives!
Watching The Scramble from Starbucks Coffee in Shibuya Tsutaya Store

Another way to enjoy the scramble is to just observe it without crossing. Depending on your location, you can get a good view of the flow of people and see how they weave through eachother with skill. To view in a calm environment while enjoying a meal, L'Occitane Cafe is recommended. Located on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the Shibuya Ekimae Building on the west side, you can watch the people come and go from above through a large window. Another well-know viewpoint is the Starbucks in QFRONT at the northwest of the intersection. Place your order on the first floor and head up to the seating space on the second floor where you can enjoy a coffee while watching The Scramble at any time, from early morning until late at night. To view from directly above, go to the roof of Magnet By Shibuya 109, which just opened this year. You can capture a pretty powerful photo from their paid designated photo spot, the "CROSSING VIEW."

  • L'Occitane Cafe
    L'Occitane Cafe(ロクシタンカフェ)
    • Address 2-3-1 Dogenzaka Shibuya, Tokyo, Shibuya Ekimae Building 2-3F

    Access: Cross Westward at The Scramble from JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit

  • Starbucks Coffee Shibuya Tsutaya
    スターバックス コーヒー SHIBUYA TSUTAYA店
    • Address 21-6 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya, Tokyo, 1500042, Japan

    Access: Cross Northwest at The Scramble from JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit

  • Magnet by Shibuya 109
    Magnet by Shibuya 109
    • Address 1-23-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo, 1500041, Japan

    Access: Cross North at The Scramble from JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit

Secret #7: Japanese Secret! Rainy Day Recommendation!

Secret #7: Japanese Secret! Rainy Day Recommendation!

It may be nice to visit the scramble intersections, what about the unfortunate case of rainy days? While you might not be able to take great photos or videos, there are still other elements you can enjoy on a rainy day. For example, the various colors of the pedestrians' umbrellas. Unlike Western countries, Japanese are more likely to use umbrellas even for the slightest amount of rain, so you can observe the interesting sight of people moving through the crowd, colorful umbrellas in hand, somehow avoiding collisions. If you want to see the most colorful display of the rainy day intersection, it is recommended to aim for a forecasted rainy morning. Everyone brings out their favorite colorful umbrellas when the rain is predicted rather than in sudden downpours. Note that the rainfall in Tokyo is particularly high from mid-June to mid-July, during rainy season. While it is a generally difficult time to travel because of the rainy season, it is one option to keep in mind to experience the scramble at least once.

Secret #8: How to Capture and Expert Level Scramble Photo

Secret #8: How to Capture and Expert Level Scramble Photo
Hold the camera low and shoot from interesting angles!
Many tourists enjoy taking selfies at the center of The Scramble

One thing you will notice when you come to view The Scramble is the variety of ways people will find to shoot their photos or videos. Some people will just take a video while walking. In this case, just hold the camera out at chest level, record, and begin walking. If you walk out from the front of the crowd heading towards the station at peak hours, you can capture a pretty powerful shot. The next way to get a stand-out image is by using selfie-sticks. You can get a good shot overlooking the crossing from a high angle. And if you hold it down at ground level, you can get a pretty amazing foot shot showing everyone’s feet walking in perfect synchronicity. You will also probably notice many people trying to get a shot from the central reservation of the crossing, or by hanging behind in the center during peak hours, but please be aware that both are violations of Japanese manners and follow the rules when snapping photos.

Secret #9: The Photos You Often See Are Taken From TV Cameras Installed at the Subway Exits

Secret #9: The Photos You Often See Are Taken From TV Cameras Installed at the Subway Exits
Here you can see 3 TV cameras installed on the roof of the subway exit
It is a common sight to see people waving at the cameras

The Shibuya Scramble is also frequently seen on TV, especially during the weather forecast on the Japanese morning news. From where do they capture that shot of the crossing? The answer to that would be, at the upper part of the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line 6-2 Exit. That is the exit located at the top front of the Starbucks Coffee Shibuya Tsutaya Store. There are three TV cameras installed there, so look out for them next time. It is also to find several live cameras on the Internet, should you want to build excitement before your visit.

Secret #10: The Longest Distance Across The Scramble is 44 meters... So Cross Quickly!

Secret #10: The Longest Distance Across The Scramble is 44 meters... So Cross Quickly!
At the left of the photo is JR Shibuya Station. You can see that from the top right (north-east corner) to the bottom of the photo (southwest corner), there is no crosswalk pattern.

The Shibuya Scramble is an intersection of the roads running north-south and east-west. The longest walking distance across is from the northeast corner to the southwest corner, at a length of about 44 meters. The time of the pedestrian crossing light varies and is calculated according to the level of congestion and the time of day, but is said to average about 40-50 seconds. In that time, you will have to cross 44 meters. At the average Japanese walking speed of about 4 km per hour, it will take an average of about 40 seconds to cross 44 meters, so if you do not begin walking from the exact moment the light turns green, there is a chance you might not be able to make it in time. Additionally, along with the time constraint you also have to take into consideration the amount of people crossing you may have to push past, especially diagonally from the southeast-northwest direction. However because there are no crosswalk patterns drawn on the ground in this spot, it might not be the best direction to cross in, so please be fully aware of that.

Bonus #1: Scramble Excitement During Events!

Bonus #1: Scramble Excitement During Events!
Enjoy the exciting different costumes and make-up on Halloween Night!

The Shibuya Scramble is also an exciting place for people during special events. For example, October 31, Halloween, people in costume from all over love to gather here in the evening, and enjoy looking at everyone else's outfits. Because of this, it tends to hold up traffic, and in some cases traffic may be regulated at this time. The same may occur during other events such as the popular World Cup soccer match which attracts a huge Japanese crowd, and the New Year's Countdown. During those events traffic cops will be around to maintain order, and also sometimes what they call "DJ Police," who use a microphone and provide spoken guidance, similar to a DJ's speaking technique. These are just another example of special features of this Scramble Intersection.

Bonus #2: How to Access the Scramble Intersection

Bonus #2: How to Access the Scramble Intersection

JR: The southeast corner of the intersection is located at Hachiko Square, marked by the Hachiko Dog Statue outside the JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit. Approx 50 meters away.
Keio: Exit the Central Gate at the front end of the Inokashira Line and proceed down the connecting passage until you see the JR ticket gates. Take the stairway on the left where you will come to the Hachiko Exit.
Tokyu & Tokyo Metro: Exit 8 directly connects to Hachiko Square. Exits 5-1, 5-2, 6-1, 6-2, and 7-1 lead adjacent to the crossing.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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