With its colourful cosplayers and flashy fashion, Harajuku has cemented its spot as a mecca for all things cute and trendy.
Known worldwide for its outlandish fashion, Tokyo’s Harajuku district is a people-watcher’s paradise. Girls decked out in frilly dresses, lace and corsets flit through the perpetual crowds of Takeshita Street looking for the latest “goth loli” (Gothic Lolita) or “ama loli” (sweet Lolita) fashions while Harajuku’s legendary cosplayers turn the streets into their personal stage.
The entrance to famous Takeshita Street boasts an arch decorated in a confection of colourful balloons that’s constantly changing. Takeshita’s boutiques reflect their artsy clientele, especially the shops hidden down offshoot alleys. Here Lolita fashionistas can find shiny sky-high boots, ruffled shirts, bonnets, wigs and just about anything else needed to complete their Victorian-inspired looks.
Though goth loli and cosplay are the most visible trends on the streets of Harajuku, they’re by no means the only ones. From hip hop to Bohemian, you’ll find your fashion on Takeshita Street. One of Takeshita’s most well-known shops is Boutique Takenoko. It’s hard to miss, as the shop is crammed full of glittery costumes featuring top hats and feather boas. Though the outfits at Boutique Takenoko have veered off into something closer to the stage costumes of a Victorian circus troupe, the shop is inspired by the popular takenokozoku (literally “bamboo shoot tribe”) disco style rampant in Harajuku during the ’70s and ’80s.
These days it’s the cosplayers who exemplify the Harajuku fashion scene. Maid costumes, cat ears, creepy contact lenses and wigs in every colour imaginable are some of the staples of the cosplayer’s uniform. They’ll often dress up as popular Japanese characters or come out rocking their own anime-inspired look. If you’re looking to snap some photos you’ll find them on the bridge over the JR train line on a Sunday afternoon.
For the fashion-forward older crowd, the shops lining Cat Street and Omotesando Avenue are worth checking out—but for some of the weirdest, most experimental fashion Harajuku has to offer, be sure to visit Dog. A boutique tucked into the basement of an unassuming building on an alley off Meiji Street, Dog can be spotted by the graffiti on its entrance; the relatively tame exterior hides a quintessential example of the Harajuku fashion scene. Expect to see faceplates with spikes, masks, chainmail accents, huge shoulder pads and neon everywhere. Dog counts no less than Lady Gaga among its patrons.
Harajuku is also one of the best places to pick up souvenirs. On Takeshita Street there are trinket shops and T-shirt stalls down the first alley on the right, and a gigantic Daiso store at the top of the street on the left. Daiso is the king of hyakkin (Japanese dollar stores), and at this four-floor megastore you can find Japanese snacks, fans, phone charms, dinnerware and everyday goods you might not necessarily see in your home country, like face rollers: beauty instruments that theoretically reshape the face so that it appears smaller. For something more expensive, Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando has beautiful chopstick holders, mini bonsai trees and more artisanal Japanese goods.
Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Harajuku ©Chiyako Mukai
It’s impossible to set foot in Harajuku without bumping into Kitty Chan, and Kiddy Land on Omotesando draws customers with plush displays of Hello Kitty paraphernalia. The store is stocked with toys and plushies of Japan’s most iconic cartoon mascots like Hello Kitty, Doraemon and Totoro, and has a section dedicated to Snoopy, who has won over the hearts of much of the Japanese populace.
For a healthy dose of Japan’s kawaii culture and world-renowned fashion, make your way to Harajuku. Not sure where to start? Pop by the Moshi Moshi Box, a tourist information centre in the heart of the district, to find sightseeing information and other tourist services.
Harajuku’s streets hold much to discover
Peaceful Meiji Jingu offers a tranquil contrast to the bustle of central Harajuku. It’s also one of the most popular shrines in Japan. ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO
This high-end shopping mall is located in Harajuku’s upscale Omotesando district, and it’s the place to go for designer brands. ©JNTO
Every Sunday this bridge turns into a cosplay runway as teenagers show off their quirkiest and most vibrant looks. ©photo-ac.com
Harajuku’s eats and treats
Pancake houses have long been popular with Tokyo’s ladies who lunch, and Harajuku is home to many of them. Bills and Eggs ’n Things are two of the most popular pancake houses that always have a line out the door, but their gorgeous, fluffy pancakes topped with cloud-like whipped cream are worth the wait.
Crêpes: Delicious desserts and more
As you walk down Takeshita Street, you may smell something heavenly. No trip to Harajuku is complete without a stop at one of the cute crêpe stands common along the district’s streets. There’s such a big selection of crêpes and they all look so pretty—it’s difficult to choose just one. The stands sell dessert crêpes such as strawberry cheesecake and chocolate banana, and most offer savoury crêpes as well, like eggs and bacon.
The Gothic Lolita experience
Finding a place where you can let loose in lace.
©Maison de Julietta
At first glance, Gothic Lolita style might seem identical to cosplay, but don’t get the two mixed up. Under the pink ruffles and lace is a deep political statement. Some say the reserved and feminine style is an act of defiance, a means of reclaiming female sexuality. However you interpret them, Gothic Lolita outfits speak volumes, and their charms aren’t limited to the locals: you can often rent the pieces and see if the look suits you as you stroll through Harajuku.