“Tokyo Review 049” Shibuya area-3
Non-grid Urban Structure
“Shibuya” in Japanese means bitter valley and there are various theories about the origin of its name. However, you can be convinced that it is a basin-shaped valley once you walk around Shibuya. There is the Shibuya River, the source of which is said to be the spring water from Shinjuku Gyoen Park, and Uda River that flows from Yoyogi Hachiman. These two rivers merge near Miyashita Park and they had formed a Y-shaped valley.
Topographic maps obviously show that there are three plateaus around Shibuya Station, such as Yoyogi Plateau including Yoyogi Park, Shibuya East Plateau including Hiroo and Omote-Sando, and Shibuya West Plateau including Shoutou and Daikanyama. The road that crossed this valley from east to west was an important route for the movement of people and goods like the Kamakura Kaido in the old days, and the Oyama Kaido that leads to the Oyama Aburi Shrine in Tanzawa in the Edo period. Now, this road is called Miyamasu-Zaka in the east of Shibuya River and Dogen-Zaka in the west.
I was looking at the map and noticed that the road network around Shibuya Station does not form a grid system. We generally know that roads which had constructed in an inclined area are often winding, not forming a grid. However, in Shibuya, we can often see partings of the roads such as Dogen-Zaka and Bunkamura Street diverged at SHIBUYA109, Park Avenue and Jingu Street diverged at Marui City, Meiji Street and Cat Street diverged at the Pink Dragon.
In urban planning theories, the grid system is the best way to increase the land use efficiency, the typical example of which is the perfect grid system of land subdivision in ancient Japan on flat land like Kyoto or Sapporo. In Shibuya, Shibuya River and Uda River had undulated terrain and naturally formed a non-grid road network. As a result, a certain part of facade along a curving street naturally comes in sight of people who are walking.
In a city with grid-system, you may not be able to reach your destination without the help from maps and names of streets. But if you have come to Shibuya several times, you would be able to visually recognize your location seeing how the road curves or how it goes up and down. This fact may be one of the reasons why Shibuya has come to have such characters and commercial facilities agglomeration.