Things to Do in Harajuku
When people think of Harajuku, images of brightly dressed teens in outrageous fashion tend to spring to mind. Whilst tourists today may be upset that the number of alternative fashion groups meeting on the Jingu Bashi bridge has dwindled in the last decade, Harajuku is still a vibrant and fascinating area where the pop culture and colour of youth meets the traditions and architecture of old.
I live a short walk away, and enjoy visiting the every changing and evolving area.
Here are some places to go whilst visiting.
Shopping is of course, the main reason for visitors in one of Tokyo's most well known fashion districts. Harajuku has many streets and alleys filled with both independent stores and big brands.
Most well known is Takeshita Dori; a straight street lined with shops catering to fashionistas.
Everything from underwear and accessories to statement bags and quirky clothes are sold here, with some shops foreign visitors may recognize such as The Disney Store and Claire's Accessories. Once you are suitably attired as the next fashion leader, the army of Purikura (photo sticker) machines are waiting down the stairs for you and your friends to take commemorative snaps.
For those wishing to save a bit of money, there is a large Daiso (a 100 yen chain) with four floors of items. It's a great place to stock up on snacks, gifts and novelties.
Harajuku street is similar with plenty of interesting wares for sale, but is slightly quieter than its boisterous neighbour. To avoid crushing crowds, visit early on a weekday.
Those interested in trying out one of Harajuku's most iconic fashions, Lolita, should check out Bodyline for reasonably priced starter pieces, and Closet Child for discounted and second hand brand items.
A perpendicular street houses La Foret. This department store has many floors of trendy shops for the fashion conscious, as well as noteworthy sales in January and July (some prices drop as much as 90%). A few brand stores also make their home here, including plenty of Lolita and Aymmy And The Batty Girls.
Omotesando is a tree lined avenue where high end stores like Prada and Dior are situated, along with a few cheaper, fast fashion shops like Zara and Gap. Magazine street snap photographers like to find the fashionable who wander up the street, and even if you aren't quite ready to spend the bulk of your paycheck on luxury goods, The Oriental Bazaar is a decent place for Japan themed souvenirs and crafts. Also here is Kiddyland, which contains joys for adults and children alike.
A few of my favourite shops from the above areas are:
• Spinns – affordable fashion for men and women that can be worn anywhere. Show your passport at the till to get a percentage off!
• Wonder Rocket – a wide range of very feminine clothes.
• Listen Flavor – Cool apparel that's popular even back in my home country.
• WE GO – comfortable, casual wear for both genders.
• 6% Dokidoki – expensive, but just looking inside is a visual treat.
• Paris Kids – affordable accessories, and often, foreigners get a discount.
• Chicago – buying second hand is super popular! There is also a large collection of kimono available.
Please note: whilst some shops have a market style feel, do not haggle prices. It is considered very rude. Also, please also respect shops if they ask you not to take photos (often there are signs up).
Conveniently located behind the station, yet quiet and otherworldly, Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine who is home to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. After their deaths (1912 and 1914 respectively), people wanted to venerate them and so the shrines construction began. Over 100,000 trees were donated from all over Japan and other countries to create the surrounding forest, and construction was completed in 1920 (despite being damaged and later reconstructed during World War 2).
Nowadays, it's well worth a visit. You enter under massive torii arches and cleanse yourself with the water and ladles provided (instructions are there also) and can enjoy the shrine itself, which is host to many special events. Weddings are common, and watching a procession of well dressed bride, groom and guests is a wonderful sight. On new years eve the shrine is open late for everyone to gather and welcome in the new year.
Miko (shrine maidens) sell charms for everything from road safety to exam success as well as wooden tablets where you can write your own wishes to hang up on the structure provided, and later be burnt as an offering.
Meiji Shrine Gardens
The gardens cost 500 yen to enter (a reasonable maintenance fee), and within are some very noticeable features. The nature is very diverse; sparrows fly to the palms of visitors hoping for a snack, and a large lake is home to gigantic koi and many turtles.
I was shocked the first time I visited as a praying mantis was snuggled into the rafters of the rest hut I was sat under. In June, the iris garden is a beautiful place to enjoy the flowers the Emperor and Empress loved (so much so that this is what decided the placement of the shrine).
Tucked away at the very back of the Meiji Shrine Gardens is Kiyomasa Ido; a freshwater spring said to be a 'power spot' for positive energy. It has become especially popular in recent years when celebrities have said their luck has increased when they used a picture of the well for their mobile phone's background. Lucky or not, you can queue to touch the crystal clear water, which feeds into the iris garden and lake.
If you enjoy Meiji Shrine, Togo shrine is a lot smaller and quieter, but is next to a peaceful Japanese garden.
Built in 1940, this shrine is dedicated to the Marquis Togo Heihachiro and also contains a small bookshop and museum.
It would be incredibly lax of me not to mention the multitude of gourmet options available.
On Takeshita Dori alone, there are over six crepe stores, with hundreds of combinations, both sweet and savoury. Each store features plastic replicas of what's on offer, and the sweet snack has become as synonymous with Harajuku as any store.
Totti Candy Factory
Also on Takeshita Dori is an amazing candyfloss store where sugary confections are literally works of art. The coloured candy strands are spun in heart shapes and rainbows and are a feast for both eyes and stomach.
If you want a 'proper' meal however, Italian restaurants, a cheap sushi store, and udon bar and an all you can eat pasta buffet are located on the same stretch, so don't worry if you lack a sweet tooth.
Animal cafes including owl, cat and even snake are a short walk away from the station, and are a wonderful way of getting up close and personal with animals you wouldn't usually see in a relaxed setting. Just make sure to obey the rules if you are handling/petting them so the creatures don't receive any undue stress.
My absolute favourite snack to get is on Omotesando, in a shop called Ice Monster which sells kakigori (shaved ice). If you want to try it be careful to arrive before peak times – the queue can go right up the street.
Kawaii Monster Cafe
Whilst there is no shortage of eateries, one place in particular takes its location of Harajuku very seriously. The Kawaii Monster Café is the creation of Sebastian Matsuada (the man behind 6% Dokidoki and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's style). Despite it's seemingly odd location (in the middle of what looks like an office building), once you get in past the rotating eyeballs, the decor could be described as Alice In Wonderland meets a neon rave. With four uniquely themed areas (I was in "Mushroom Disco" and got a great view of the rotating merry go round) and 'Monster Girls' who put on mini shows, there is not another place like it. Modern and impressive (the menus are electronic tablets) with food that is surprisingly tasty despite its rather extreme and loud colours, the venue is also host to parties and music events.
Cherry blossoms in the spring, picnics in the summer – there are a lot of ways to enjoy yourself here. A lovely, natural area complete with dog park, cycle route and lots and lots of crows, Yoyogi Park is a popular place for both tourists and locals to relax.
On Sundays, catching a look at dance groups practicing or idols performing is not uncommon – after all, mega successful pop group Momoiro Clover Z started practicing and performing in Yoyogi Park. A rockabilly group (think lots of denim and 50s music) appear each week to boogie by the main entrance, and clubs practicing circus skills swing poi balls and spin plates.
The cherry blossoms which bloom every Spring attract flocks of visitors looking to relax with hanami (flower viewing) parties. In the Summer when the flowers are in full bloom and butterflies are numerous, sitting by the ponds and fountains are a great way to cool off, and there is something very peaceful seeing said fountains lit up at dusk, with pipistrelle bats skimming the waters surface looking for bugs.
Design Festa Gallery
Not exactly what Harajuku is known for, but good for a change of pace.
Design Festa is an bianual event in Tokyo, and the Design Festa Gallery is host to many mediums of art such as sculpture, photography, paintings and even video installations. The gallery rents out rooms so that anyone can display and sell, whether they be amateur, students or professionals. Exhibits change so often that there is always something refreshing and impressive to see.
Ukiyo-e Ota Museum Of Memorial Art
If you prefer older styles, then the Ukiyo-e Ota Museum Of Memorial Art may be more your vibe. Ukiyo-e are woodblock prints and paintings (a genre which flourished between 17th to 19th century Japan). Subjects range from nature, fantasy, female and male forms and even erotica. "Great Wave Off Kanagawa" is of this genre, and is a piece known worldwide.
The musuem has a large collection (around 12,000) and 70 are carefully curated and put on display each month.
The Moshi Moshi Nippon Booth
If you are stuck, there is always the Moshi Moshi Nippon booth, a tourist information centre where multi lingual staff can help you with free maps, two weeks WiFi and more. It's located at one end of Takeshita Dori, and like many things in Harajuku, is so brightly coloured you just can't miss it.
Whilst Harajuku is a mecha of fun, I find it's the little things that make me enjoy the place to its fullest. Watching a TV recording from outside the glass windows, watching a group of hip hop dancers dressed as zombies advertise their YouTube channel (they later reinacted the Star Wars movies) and seeing a man take his pet rabbit for a walk are little sights that add to the experience of the surreal and enjoyable place that is Harajuku.