Harajuku(原宿) is a stone’s throw away from Shibuya, Tokyo’s centre for youth culture and home to Japan’s legendary self-expression. Conveniently located on the main JR Yamanote line(山手線), Harajuku Tokyo is easily reached from the main stations of Ikebukuro(池袋), Shinjuku(新宿) and Shibuya(渋谷). It is of course where Harajuku Girls found their name.
Where to spot Harajuku Girls
Harajuku girls are known throughout the world for their eccentric fashion. Although you can spot them in fabulous outfits most days in Harajuku, the best time to visit is Sunday afternoons. Turning right out of the subway station you will come to Jingu bridge which is a pedestrian bridge that connects Harajuku to Meiji Shrine area. It is here that Harajuku girls, and boys, gather in amazing outfits to socialise, and be seen.
Crossing over the bridge will lead you to the Meiji Jingu Shrine(明治神宮) at the entrance of Yoyogi Park(代々木公園). Individuals and groups come here to engage in all manner of dance, sports, music and self-expression, from an elderly man with goldfish in bowls for earrings to drumming circles, rappers, saxophonists and large groups rockabillies dancing to old rock’n’roll music. Grab a bento box (Japanese lunch box filled with assorted sushi, vegetables and pickles) and head to the park for a Sunday afternoon you won’t forget.
Omotesando – Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées
For those interested in some serious Harajuku shopping, crossing the main junction opposite the station will lead you down Omotesando (表参道) all the way to Shibuya. This Tokyo’s top fashion street is lined with hundreds of stores, many of them rather upmarket, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Prada. Also located on this street is the famous department store La Foret Harajuku (ラフォーレ原宿) which houses five large floors of boutique shops, selling beautiful clothing and accessories. And the best time to shop at La foret Tokyo is during its big summer bargain sales in July.
Harajuku Street Style – Takeshitadori
Heading left from the subway and crossing the road after 100 metres will lead you down Harajuku’s other main street, Takeshitadori (竹下通り). You can’t miss it, it has an arched entrance and carnival-like atmosphere. This is where the individuals and trend-setters of Tokyo come to buy their clothes and people-watching is just as interesting as the shopping! The street is home to a great variety of stores, from a large 100 Yen shop (Daiso Harajuku ダイソー原宿), a great place to pick up cheap useful items, to shops selling unique clothes, jewelley, shoes and homewares. These shops are far more affordable than those on Omotesando hills and you can find great one-of-a-kind items here without breaking the bank.
BAPE in Harajuku
There is also a rabbit warren of backstreets in Harajuku, collectively dubbed Ura-Hara (literally means “back gate” or ‘wrong side” of Harajuku). These also cater to Tokyo’s youth but are slightly more reserved than the stores on Takeshitadori and instead focus more on skater, hip-hop culture, with brands such as A Bathing Ape (or BAPE) having outlets here. There are also a number of small, independent galleries in the area, many of them with attached gallery shops selling beautiful books, stationery and home accessories.
All of Harajuku’s stores remain open on Sundays and with the park, as well as various cafes, restaurants and bars in the area it makes for a fascinating, eye-opening day exploring Tokyo’s youth and alternative scene.