Harajuku | Tokyo
Both Harajuku and Aoyama have quietly become the fashion, art, and design center of Tokyo. Harajuku’s main boulevard, Omotesando, is lined with elegant shops and haute couture, while its side streets, most notably Takeshita-dori, teem with teenagers on the hunt for next big thing.
Some of the city’s best art galleries, museums, and design book stores are also found in this area. Because of the sheer density of high-quality art spaces in Harajuku and Aoyama, it is often the case that stellar emerging artists will exhibit here before they showcase their work anywhere else. Let’s start with the area’s most famous highlight, Takeshita Street.
In Takeshita Street, you can find shops specializing in clothes with designs of the Japanese flag, important historical figures, or traditional paintings of the Edo period. On the other hand, there are also shirts with designs based on anime characters or foreign artists and many shops with pranks of jokes with phrases in Japanese for those people who just want to bring back something fun. You can also find several places where you can take the typical Purikura-style photo. This type of photo is something that all young friends like to do during their junior high and high school days and sometimes beyond. It is a type of photo in which the eyes come out a little bigger and brighter, the skin looks like porcelain and it makes you look years younger too. This way the ‘Kawaii effect’ is achieved, which means you will look pretty and innocent.
In Harajuku, fashion tends to be unconventional, and you can sometimes see people dressed in ‘Visual Kei’ style with multi-colored hair and extravagant clothes, as well as see costumes in medieval style or super kawaii style. Many young people travel from their homes with a suitcase, and when they arrive at Harajuku station they change into extravagant clothes to enjoy the area in style. That’s why it’s very normal to see people carrying small suitcases with them. Shops of stockings, shirts, dresses, suits of pink, red, yellow, and other colors that attract attention are the specialty of Harajuku stores.
Harajuku is one of the main areas of Tokyo where the particular fashion styles of Japanese young people come together to form a wonderful area full of colorful places. Takeshita Street is its main street, and because it is narrow and popular it is usually full of people from side to side. Don’t be surprised to see many foreign tourists here, as this is one of the must-visit places in Tokyo. If you also walk around the side streets a bit you will find wonderful pockets of quiet and quirky shops without the throngs of tourists blocking your view. Booking a private guide can also help you find the hidden gems of this area.
For those looking to save a little money when they shop for souvenirs, in Takeshita Street there is a huge Daiso 100 yen store. Daiso is a Japanese company that is responsible for producing and selling everyday objects, small souvenirs from Japan, and even good quality food, at only 100 yen per product.
Everything that can be seen as beautiful, innocent but outside the conventional rules of dress can be found in this street. Even the food is colorful. Recently one of the gastronomic attractions that have been gaining popularity is a croquette stuffed with mozzarella cheese, and this cheese isn’t light yellow but has all colors of the rainbow. There is also rainbow cotton candy or cotton candy in the form of rabbits or kawaii bears. Lately, tapioca drink (bubble tea) shops have popped up everywhere and to distinguish themselves they started creating all kinds of toppings imaginable. New (sweet) food trends very often start in Harajuku, as this is where the kids hang out who are happy to try out all kinds of new snacks as long as it looks good.
Kawaii Monster Cafe -permanently closed-
Kawaii Monster Cafe is a very unique restaurant closed to Takeshita Street. The interior of the restaurant is very special with kawaii or even psychedelic decorations. The foods are also very unique. If you order spaghetti, the noodles have rainbow colors. They have some dance performances, too.
Note: the Kawaii Monster Cafe has unfortunately permanently closed in January 2021.
There are also plenty of stores dedicated to the idols of the Japanese music industry. Stores are full of collectible photographs of all the idols of different idol companies. Followers of these groups come to Takeshita Street to get a picture of their favorite idol.
One of the biggest promoters of the colorful area of Harajuku is singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who since childhood was always connected with the particular fashion of Harajuku and as she became famous she made the fashion that characterizes this place world-famous through her videos and songs. Her presence is so important in Harajuku that she was appointed cultural governor of Harajuku, and in the Harajuku station of the Yamanote line are images of the singer with the phrase ‘From Harajuku for the world’.
Ota Memorial Art museum – Ukiyo-e museum
This cozy museum, which asks that you trade your shoes for a pair of slippers at the door, has an excellent collection of ukiyo-e prints. The original collector, Ota Seizo, former head of the Toho life insurance company, began to buy ukiyo-e when he realized that many important examples of Japanese wood-block prints belonged to foreign museums, making it impossible for Japanese to view many of the genre’s masterpieces. The museum displays from a collection that holds more than 10,000 prints, including those by masters of this art such as Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Before leaving Harajuku, you will probably also want to stroll around the grounds of the Meiji-Jingu, one of Japan’s finest Shinto shrines. Completed in 1920, Meiji-Jingu was built in memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose rule Japan ended its isolation from the outside world. Unfortunately, like much else in Tokyo, the shrine was destroyed in the bombing at the end of WW2. The rebuilding of the shrine was completed in 1958.
Meiji-Jingu might be a reconstruction of the original but, unlike so many of Japan’s post-war reconstructions, it is altogether authentic. The main structure was built with Japanese cypress, except for the huge torii gate that was made from wood imported from Taiwan.