Harajuku is a district in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. It is known for its Harajuku Girls and trendy street fashions that have become part of an international youth subculture that is making inroads into mainstream fashion. As in the Ginza District, Sundays provide the perfect time to visit and take a stroll down pedestrian only Takeshita-Dori (dori means avenue or street) to get the full experience.
Since the end of World War II when occupying soldiers from the United States and their families settled here, Harajuku has been a place where the city’s young people would come to experience a different culture. This was the area where the 1964 Summer Olympic Games were centered, and it became an even more popular place for youth at that time. Coffee shops, cafes, and bars sprang up to provide nightlife, and the young revelers developed their own unique style and sub culture. The origination of the term Harajuku Girls was coined to describe the teenagers (primarily girls) who would dress up for cosplay, which means costume play.
In the beginning, the costumes were usually innocent, but provocative, schoolgirl outfits. Soon French maid outfits began to appear; you can see these now in the maid cafes of Akihabara. The popularity of anime animation in Japanese film led Harajuku fashion becoming even more stylized. You will even see girls dressed in Hello Kitty style, which can also be enjoyed at the Sanrio Puroland theme park.
The Harajuku syle is a hard-to-define, but very specific layered look that is ultimately cute. It takes elements of cyber punk, Goth, Victorian fashion, and many other styles. The culture and the look have gained international stature because of the pop icon Gwen Stefani and her line of clothing and cosmetics. Harajuku Girls is the name for the group of women who provide backup singing and dancing on several of her albums and who have a following in their own right.
Takeshita-Dori is a great place to experience this fashion and culture. This is a narrow pedestrian-only street lined with boutiques, shops, fashion galleries, and cafes. Numerous side streets make it a fascinating place to explore. You will also find many groups of Harajuku youth gathered on Jingu Bridge, which connects Yoyogi Park to the district. This is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, and while it does not have traditional gardens like other parks, it is a very popular park. Here also is one of the loveliest of the shrines and temples in the city, Meiji Shrine. Many visitors will combine shopping and a stroll along Takeshita-Dori with a visit to the park and shrine.
For those who are intent on spending some money, other things to do in Harajuku include shopping on Omotesando-Dori. This is a graciously wide and tree-lined avenue often compared to the Champs Elysees in Paris. Here are several large department stores and some of the same iconic name brand flagships you can find in Ginza, as well as more affordable shops such as the Oriental Bazaar. One of the city’s best museums is also located in Harajuku District. The Ukiyo-e Ota Museum showcases one of the most impressive private collections of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) in the world. This exquisite art form is part of the history and tradition of Japan.