Harajuku is one of the most recognized and name-dropped areas of Tokyo. It’s like Shibuya’s younger and cooler sister. A riot of shops and colors and fashion tribes it’s a cultural melting pot where hip hop meets My Little Pony and nobody really cares. Stretching from Harajuku station to Omotesando and towards Shibuya, Harajuku is a great place to walk around aimlessly and find some hidden spots where you could perceivably rub shoulders with pop stars and actors from the global arena. Lady Gaga, Rhianna and Gwen Stefani are said to be regular visitors to boutiques such as the legendary Dog.
After the war Harajuku became known as an American district due to a military housing complex which was built there. Stores and restaurants opened catering mainly for the troops and their families and the area still has a close affinity with American vintage clothing culture. The area’s main street and most famous is ”Takeshita dori” but the center of Harajuku is still La Foret – the huge department store located on Meiji dori which acts as a landmark and symbol of the district. In the 80s and 90s Harajuku became internationally known as the starting point and center of global youth culture due to brands such as BAPE and Undercover. However the area is a real melting pot of American streetwear, goth-lolita, fairy style and several other style subcultures which originate from there.
It’s frenetic and exciting and the Takeshita dori area is mainly for school age children interested in dressing up and eating crepes and sweets from the numerous junk food shops which line the street. Across Meiji dori and into Harajuku Street and Cat Street there is a noticeable change in ambience. It’s slightly more adult and fashionable with A.P.C., Marc Jacobs and N. Hoolywood boutiques and mini art spaces like the underground Blank Gallery. The backstreets, known as Ura-Hara, are maze like and filled with small eateries, cafes and used clothing stores filled with the local trendsetters and style influencers.
What To Expect
Expect to see some incredible sights. Harajuku is the home of cosplay so don’t be surprised to see grown men dressed as Little Bo Peep, pre-pubescent girls dressed as Vampires and various takes on 19th century Romanian fairies. Harajuku has an unbelievable vibrancy to it and it’s easy to get caught up in it. It has great vintage stores, cool cafes with great views such as Wired Cafe, fast food outlets and even a craft beer bar – Baird Harajuku Taproom. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes due to the amount of giggling schoolgirls but it’s a trip and it’s best to get into the backstreets and explore with your eyes open and your camera at the ready.
What Not To Expect
Like neighboring Omotesando, Harajuku is very quiet after dark. When the stores shut after 9 the streets are almost empty. There are a few bars but it’s best to experience the area during the day in all its technicolor glory. Due the focus on youth it’s not the most sophisticated of areas and if you’re looking for book stores, high-end cafes and bars then it’s best to walk up Omotesando to the Aoyama area which caters for the more elegant and
If you’re an extrovert and into dressing up then Harajuku is perfect for you. It’s brash and in your face but it’s fun and frivolous and you can take your time whilst trawling through vintage stores for some very rare Americana. La Foret still dominates the area and it’s definitely worth a visit. The department store, like the area as a whole, is a real mixture of genres and cultures from Vivienne Westwood Anglomania and Store by Nigo to Nile Perch (a fairy style store) and Né-net (cutesy brand from the A-net group – home of other labels such as Tsumori Chisato).
You’ll Fall In Love With
When you come out of Harajuku station and you look up to see the Takeshita dori banner you know that you’ve arrived. Look down the street into the packed throngs and you’ll realise that the Tokyo you’ve read about or seen in the movies is the scene you are seeing right there and then. Harajuku can be cliched but it’s always stayed true to its nature. It’s a place anyone can come to and be themselves. So dress up, put on a costume, let your hair down. Harajuku will always make you feel welcome.