The river in Shibuya is not normally noticed as it has been largely built upon, concreted around and most importantly flushed with clean water to take away the once potent smell.
The origins of the the place name Shibuya have a number of tales, but one that is considered to carry some weight is that Shibuya was named after the iron-ore reddish river that flowed through it. The phrase “シブ色の川” shibu-iro no kawa, is the explanation for how the place became known as Shibu-ya （渋谷）.
Whatever the true origins of the name, there is no doubt that the Shibuya name has some connection with flowing water as can be seen the first character 渋. The second character means valley (谷). Shibuya station is located in a valley and when it rains with the river flowing under the station it can often cause flooding.
The river used to be seen quite easily but by building roads on top of it, concreting it to change its course and then in the 1930’s by Tokyu Department store being built over the top of it, the Shibuya river has largely disappeared from site.
It is worth noting that Tokyu Department store (East building) is one of the few department stores in Japan not to have a basement food area. This is because the Shibuya river flows under the store and station.
I came across this clean up crew today trying to keep the river in good condition.
You can see from the above photos the river looks like a man made watercourse. It used to be a natural flowing grassy river bed, but now has to settle for the concrete look.
Most of the water comes down from Shunjuku-Gyoen （新宿御苑） area and the river goes down beyond Ebisu (恵比寿) station towards Tengenji-bashi (天現寺橋) where the name changes to Furukawa and then flows further down out into Tokyo Bay.
Thanks to @socialpreneur for finding a great video on YouTube of a historical Japanese song, which is sung in schools, reflecting on the river that runs near Yoyogi Hachima in Shibuya-ku （渋谷区代々木５丁目を流れている川）
Old photos of Shibuya (including river) [Japanese language]
Thanks also to Luke via JapanSoc.com for this great link to some old photos of Shibuya (site in Japanese) showing the river. http://www.kasetatsuya.com/norivernolife/noriver_nolife_04_01.html
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