Fashion is a statement of self-expression. When you do it right, it is just endless fun. Harajuku district in Tokyo lives by this motto throughout the year. Goth make-up, manga-inspired baby-doll dresses, kimonos, pigtails, platform shoes–Japanese street style is famous the world over for its uninhibited creativity and outlandish styles. And Harajuku district in Tokyo is ground zero, the place where it all began. From kawaii to fairy kei, this tiny Tokyo neighbourhood has wielded a huge influence on global fashion. Take a stroll around the area and you are sure to get a cue for your wardrobe revamp–from gothic Lolita looks to layered hyper-coloured styles (with every spectrum of the rainbow), futuristic cyberpunk styles, and loads of kawaii (or uber cute) motifs.
But how did this come to be? In the 1970s, a shift of style preferences from Shibuya, coupled with impromptu rock performances, made this area a youth fashion hub. Fame came soon enough with international pop culture features by celebrities like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj (an award-winning video was inspired by Harajuku), Gwen Stefani (who styled an entire album and a clothing line on the lines of Harajuku style) and Bella Hadid (she has a Harajuku alter ego on Instagram–Rebekka).
The main shopping areas in Harajuku are Takeshita-Dori, Ura-Harajuku and Cat Street. The bloodline of the district, Takeshita-Dori is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare spread across 400 metres and lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Larger-than-life sized rainbow cotton candy, and bursts of colourful accessories and clothes lend the street its character. The smaller and cosier Cat Street connecting Harajuku to Shibuya is much more hipster with stylish cafes, vintage clothing stores and street art. Some say the name comes from its past–it was once home to many stray cats. Others believe that it is derived from the Japanese idiom “a cat’s forehead”, which is often used to describe something small.
Not just funky clothes and accessories, Harajuku is also a must-visit if you are looking for a new pair of sneakers. They have mainstream brands but for those on a budget, resale stores are not hard to find.
Many international chains, including H&M and TopShop have come into the area, but we encourage you to explore the local stores. You won’t find them anywhere else in the world.
Fashion apart, Harajuku offers incredible food options. Crepes are big here. They are a must-have, no excuses. There is a huge palette of options to go with, both sweet and savoury. Opt for the classic strawberry and cream, or take the opportunity to try something more decadent like a cheesecake-filled wrap. The oldest crepe vendors in the area are Angel’s Heart and Marion Crepes. Nestled side-by-side, you might take a minute to make a choice. You must visit the Totti Candy Factory to amp up your Insta with pictures of giant rainbow fairy floss.
Something unusual to engage in are the purikura photo booths where you can customise images. Glam up your look or fill in the pictures with lashings of kawaii–cute motifs, sparkles and phrases.
Fashion that defies definition–it is this confidence that has made Harajuku a legendary tourist spot. It has not only influenced Tokyo style, but also international catwalks and markets. Whether you are worshipping Yves Saint Laurent, or are not even sure who that is, you can be assured that a trip to Harajuku will be a unique one.