Harajuku is located in the northern portion of Shibuya ward and even though I don’t care for fashion or shopping, this is still is one of my favorite districts in all of Tokyo. Two things I appreciate most while traveling are uniqueness and art. If you had to describe Harajuku in any two words except for the obligatory ‘fashion’ and ‘shopping,’ well it would undoubtedly be those.
The district, its’ spirit, and of course its’ original and indescribable street fashion is why the area is known worldwide as being not only the fashion capital of Tokyo but also the world. Countless ideas have sprung from Harajuku and numerous now-prominent designers proudly trace their inspiration to this humble little district. With Harajuku, you’re talking about level 99999 fashion. It’s not limited to the fun stuff you see on Kigurumi.co. You’re in for more, and you’ll be wanting more.
Given the district’s obvious status as a fashion-Mecca, it should be no surprise that Harajuku is also renowned for its clothes shopping. The area has two main shopping streets, Takeshita-dōri (Takeshita Street) and Omotesandō. Takeshita-dōri caters to youth fashions and has lots of small stores selling Gothic Lolita, visual kei, rockabilly, hip-hop, and punk outfits.
Disembark at Harajuku Station — you can’t miss the iconic entrance to Takeshita-dōri
During my first visit to the district I arrived relatively early in the morning, anticipating a brief trip. The plan was to have a quick look around and then continue on to Yoyogi for more explorations there. As it turned out I was so impressed by the area and its unique spirit that I completely lost track of time. It was only when noticing shadows start to creep up the buildings that I realized the sun was setting and had spent my entire day in Harajuku.
While the vast majority of clothing and accessories here may not be a perfect fit to your style, that does not diminish the enjoyment of strolling the streets and browsing the stores. Everything little thing is incredibly interesting and so appealing that each second can only be described as a gift to your eyes.
Harajuku is a fantastic area for capturing great photographs. When walking down Takeshita-dōri it is important to be polite and focus your pictures more on the street as a whole and not single out any of the individual clothing stores. A vast majority of these stores have prominent English signs which read “No Fucking Pictures” and “Want Pics? Fuck Off!” and other colorful variations along the same theme.
Progressing south from Takeshita towards Omotesandō the shops begin to transition from the gothic and youth-trendy independent shops into more upscale places aimed at the slightly older — or at least wealthier — shoppers also wandering the district. It begins gradually with Puma and Adidas and other brands along that tier but quickly becomes exclusively luxury stores. All the big names you would expect are there, such as Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton to please all you ladies, but I was happy to see my personal favorite was also here: Burberry. (That is my scent after all.)
Although the prices along Takeshita-dōri were reasonable, the same cannot be said about the luxury stores of Omotesandō, which had clearly been built to satisfy local demand rather than entice tourists. None of these brands stock any extra merchandise that is unique to Harajuku. Instead their shelves are piled high with the same items found in their Western counterparts except at inflated prices, to reflect Tokyo’s high cost of living. Keep that fact in mind as you shop and explore throughout the rest of this metropolis and be sure not to purchase anything that can be found at home for cheaper..
Turning down Omotesandō street the area steps up its level of quality by adding a small but soothing stream that runs lengthwise underneath the sidewalk and features regularly-spaced openings to highlight the flowing water. Following it will lead towards Omotesandō Hills, a mall with a decidedly unique and almost triangular shaped architecture. Inside the building several floors line the outer walls at a slight angle, allowing you to slowly circle your way up or down the structure, still passing each and every store along the way but without ever being obligated to transverse the optional staircases located in the middle of the structure. Although the architecture of this mall is quite intriguing, it is a shame that the same cannot be said about its’ stores. The majority were aimed towards women yet none seemed to have anything really exciting.
Another notable section of Harajuku to explore is called “Ura-Hara” and its located off the main streets, in the alleys of the northeast. Ura-Hara is essentially just a collection of small, independent clothing shops with much more reasonable prices then the stores along the more prominent parts of the district. I found myself stopping in nearly every one of the shops I passed, mostly because everything was from Japanese manufacturers and no two had the same items.
The majority were fairly small — not quite as small as the bars in Nonbei Yokocho though — and they were definitely directed at a more youthful crowd then the shops of Omotesandō. The bulk of items for sale were still clothing, as with all of Harajuku, but this specific area was decidedly more about trendy t-shirts and other hip items more suitable for college students.
Regardless of which subsection you may be wandering, the shops of Harajuku are a wealth of clothing possibilities, even to those who may initially be skeptical of the style or worried items might clash with their wardrobe back home and never get worn. Given the large number of one-of-a-kind stores and their wide assortment of clothing, accessories and jewelery, finding a few fresh items to compliment your style is just a matter of recognizing the underlying potential of what you see. Being open to new ideas never hurts either.
Worth pointing out is that despite Harajuku’s notoriety outside of Japan, the clothing sold here is targeted towards the locals and sizes offered are much better suited for people of a slightly smaller frame and stature than myself. Here is an easy rule of thumb: If you notice while walking the crowded Tokyo streets that you are significantly taller or wider than the folks which surround you, well I apologize for being the bearer of bad news but that unique Harajuku clothing just was not designed to fit you.
What I Learned Clothes Shopping Along Takeshita-Dōri
Female visitors will have a much easier time and more successful shopping experience thanks to the high number of stores specializing in ladies apparel. They also fare better at being able to fit into the limited range of sizes found here.
Guys hoping to pick up some new clothes here will have a slightly tougher time, primarily due to their restrictive size. I would advise individuals taller than six feet (183cm) or with a waist size larger than a 32 not to get your hopes up. Same goes for anyone with large biceps. Japanese shirts feature very narrow sleeves, several of mine became unwearable after the first wash.
Even if the clothing hunt is not a complete success, everyone will still get immense pleasure and enjoyment from the scenery and sights while strolling through Harajuku.
The near-endless supply of jewelry and accessories also sold in these shops is a great source of souvenirs for friends back home.
This is a district where crazy costumes, extreme hair and strange accessories are all just part of daily norm here, making the simple task of people-watching here unlike anywhere else. Local residents have long been recognized as possessing a great sense of style but that alone is not enough to stand out in Harajuku anymore. Individuals must also be highly-creative and fresh-thinker if they hope to stand any chance at designing a look that is worthy of representing Harajuku. And finally they must be able to pull it off. You never see anyone out here bring anything less than their A-game, especially on Sundays.
It has become a kind of routine for local youths and cosplayers to come out every Sunday dressed to impress. Some outsiders may consider this gathering to be a simple or even silly social event and escape from reality, but to those involved it is often much more than that. Most are also quite proud of their costumes and treat these Sundays as an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and bold sense of style. After all, in a metropolis of nearly 37 million its no surprise than so many strive to be unique.
Do you like people-watching? Perfect, Harajuku is one of the best places in the world to do it!
Visitors taking photographs of the weekly gathering and its participants are acceptable, although its advised to ask permission first (either verbally or with hand gestures) prior to snapping close-up shots of individuals or couples, as not all are comfortable being the center of attention. This is especially important with individuals encountered along the streets on normal weekdays.
The “Harajuku Girls” have always been my favorite and while most love posing for pictures, a few are still too shy. I’ve always been curious how many hours some of the have to spend getting all dressed up. Some of the hairstyles alone appear to have required hours of preparation!