My family joined a package tour to Japan way back in 2010. On the last night of our tour, our group was given some free time. My sister suggested taking the train to Shibuya, a popular shopping district in Tokyo. None of us knew how to take the train, but due to my sister's insistence, we relented.

We soon realized that we had underestimated Japan's railway system. We did not expect it to be so complicated. As if that wasn't bad enough, we went there during rush hour. We were overwhelmed by the confusing signs and the crowd. We looked like lost little kids. Here is an account of my family's misadventures in Shibuya.

The Oh! Tokyo TV Show

Years ago, I used to be an avid watcher of Oh! Tokyo, a program about Japan hosted by a Filipina named Ellen. She would show us some fabulous places in Japan and would interview some Japanese passersby while translating their answers to Filipino. Although she could speak Japanese, her hosting skills were far from superb, and that made the show somewhat hilarious. She made a lot of bloopers which she was not even aware of. I loved watching the show anyway. I would always imagine myself being there as I watched. One of the many places she’d visited was Japan’s famous fashion center – Shibuya. According to Ellen, “If you haven’t visited Shibuya, you haven’t been to Tokyo.”

Shibuya at Night

Shibuya at night.

Our Stay in Tokyo

To tell you the truth, I’ve already forgotten that line. It was my sister who remembered it.

In 2010, we joined a tour to Japan for the very first time. In the last few days of our one-week trip, we stayed in Tokyo. One night, we were given a free time and the whole group was brought to Shinjuku station. There were some malls in the vicinity. Our tour guide gave us a short introduction to the shopping centers nearby. She told us that we could also take the train if we wanted, but we should return within a few hours to catch the last shuttle bus back to our hotel

Shinjuku Station

Shinjuku station.

Remembering Ellen's Words

Most of my travel companions went to the malls near the station. My sister, who had engraved Ellen’s words in her heart since childhood, insisted on taking the train to Shibuya. My parents and I were a bit scared. We were on our own and we couldn’t speak Nihonggo. We were worried that we’d get lost in the middle of the night and would miss the last bus.

My brave sister ignored our worries. She dragged us into the train station and said she’d be our tour guide from then on. She bravely walked in front of us and led us to one of the ticket vending machines. There were Japanese words all over the screen. My sister and I could read just a bit, so all four of us huddled around the machine as my sister and I read the words aloud like little kids learning to read. I found out later on that there’s an English option for non-Japanese speakers. I couldn’t believe we didn’t see that! Anyway, we couldn’t figure out how to purchase a ticket. We looked around trying to seek some guidance from the locals. Everyone looked busy. I realized it was rush hour. People were running in different directions. We went there at the wrong time. Luckily, a nice Japanese lady assisted us. She tried her best to communicate with us using hand gestures. She touched the screen a few times until all our tickets came out. At last, we got our tickets!

Ticket Vending Machines

The ticket vending machines in Shinjuku station.

Doing Cha-Cha in front of the Ticket Gates

Rainy at the Ticket GatesCredit: Rainy Kua

After we’d said our thanks, we blamed my sister for all the troubles we’d been through. We went to the entrance and let my dear sister, our tour guide, walk ahead of us. We saw a man swipe his ticket over the card reader. The man got in. While the barriers were still open, my sister quickly followed and got through the gate after doing the same procedure. So did my mom on the other side. My dad and I tried to follow. We swiped our tickets, but the barriers had already closed and wouldn’t open! We waited for someone else to pass through, after which we would swipe our tickets, run to the barriers, get blocked, and then run back to the card reader again. After doing what seemed like cha-cha at the ticket gates (we were running back and forth from the card reader to the barriers), I noticed that we were causing some traffic. We stopped “dancing” and moved aside to let the irritated crowd pass through. I tried to observe the people some more. They swiped their wallets and got in. What did we do wrong? My mom and my sister were waiting on the other side. I shouted to my sister, “Do something! You’re the tour guide!” But she simply stood there helplessly. My mom approached a staff to tell him that our tickets were defective. Once the staff saw our faces, he said something like, “Ah!” and opened a gate to the far right as he waved us to get in. That was how Dad and I got in.

Strolling Around Shibuya

Back then, I hadn't heard about the famous dog Hachiko. If only I’d known him, we would have visited his monument outside Shibuya station! I don’t remember which side we exited. We walked aimlessly until we reached a bridge. We took some pictures and walked some more. I caught a glimpse of some locals dressed like anime characters. These people looked like dolls! Though their clothes were not as fancy as in cosplays, I felt like walking in the anime world. We went to Shibuya 109, a shopping mall that is hard to miss. Many young people had flocked into the mall. I saw a lot of clothes that I like, but they were too fancy. We went out empty-handed. Next, we reached a building that sells gadgets and electronics. We spent several minutes there. I saw a lot of cool items that were not available in my country. I wanted to buy everything! But again, we left without buying anything. That pretty much concluded our trip to Shibuya. It was getting late. Time to leave.

Hachiko Statue

Hachiko statue.

Shibuya Scramble Crossing

The famous Scramble Crossing.

Shibuya 109

The Shibuya 109 is hard to miss.

The Right Way of Using the Tickets

We went back to the train station. We had successfully brought our tickets but we still didn’t know how to get into the ticket gates. We approached two ladies who didn’t look as busy as the others. We showed them our tickets hoping they would understand what we were asking. They seemed to understand. In broken English, they told us to insert the tickets into the slot of the ticket gate. So that was why we couldn’t get in (we were swiping the tickets)! We were so used to Hong Kong’s Octopus Card that we forgot the existence of tickets of this sort. The tickets that we saw people swiping were probably smart cards. The silly thing is none of us had figured it out. We were too anxious to figure out anything.

At last, we walked confidently to the gates. We inserted our tickets, walked triumphantly through the opening barriers, and looked back to see if everyone had got in. We did it!

Telling Our Story to Others

When we got back to our hotel, we met some people from our group. We asked about each other’s adventure. They said they went to the shopping malls near the station. My mom – the talker of our family – proudly told them about our trip to Shibuya. They were amazed and asked us how we were able to get that “far”. My mom went on to explain every detail of our “great” escapade (minus the bloopers, of course). I looked at my mom and at her listeners’ amazed expressions. I smiled to myself. You just didn’t know what we’d been through.

Thank You Sister

Thank YouCredit:

My family would laugh every time we remember our experience in the train station. Whenever we see Shibuya on TV, my sister would proudly proclaim that it was her to thank for. Anyway, “If we haven’t been to Shibuya, we haven’t been to Tokyo.”

Thank you, sis!


© Rainy Kua 2016