With multiple corridors, Tokyo’s shopping district has something for everyone.
TOKYO – With its cutting edge fashionistas, Harajuku has become a world-famous district and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Tokyo. However, while the district and its landmarks are world-renowned, the district fails to be understood by many outsiders to the region.
Amateur photographers and tourists, who have a habit of being drawn to the exotic and easily accessible attractions, don’t always get the true feel for Harajuku.
Harajuku isn’t a ward on its own but is actually a part of the Shibuya ward. The name refers to the area around the Japan Rail East train station that bears the same name.
While many different aspects of Harajuku exist, the four that most people should concern themselves with are Omotesando, Ura-Harajuku, Yellow House and Yoyogi Park.
Omotesando is a wide avenue that runs perpendicular to the JR station. The interestingly designed buildings hold many upscale restaurants and global brand shops, such as Louis Vuitton. Centers, such as the massive Omotesando Hills mall and the cutting-edge fashion department store Laforet, also stand in Omotesando.
Japanese fashion magazines have photographers stalk this area to catch glimpses of the latest and best youth fashion trends.
The next area of Harajuku you should know about is Ura-Harajuku, easily the least crowded of the four main Harajuku areas but by no means the least interesting. Many small shops line these streets, and while they aren’t as flashy as Omotesando’s, they are usually more original – one shop has a tree house.
The brick-paved shopping street, Takeshita Street, which is next to Omostesando and across from Ura-Harajuku, is known for catering to punks, goths and rockers. There are also stores selling such clothes in Shinjuku, Ura-Harajuku and in Laforet on Omotesando.
Most shops on Takeshita Street sell clothes for normal people, and sadly there are two Claire’s locations on the street (yes, that pink explosion from your local mall). While you will definitely see a lot of alternative fashion worn on Takeshita, it’s not so much the center of the culture as just a place to shop
Legendary for its history, Yellow House Harajuku has been outfitting rock bands and their fans for 29 years. With walls lined with autographs and backstage passes from nearly every important Japanese visual kei/glam band, entering this tiny shop is as much a shopping experience as a trip to a Japanese rock Mecca.
Shoppers can expect to be personally fitted by the designer herself if you manage to come off as a true rocker instead of a tourist or a fan-girl/boy. Other must-shops include Closet Child and JIMSINN, but some only require a quick peak into the store.
Finally there is the large landmass called Yoyogi Park. Yoyogi gained a reputation for its thriving culture of street performers: dancers, bands and various artists line the street on the edge of the park on Sundays.
They advertise concerts, sell CDs or just play or dance for the fun of it. It was magical to see dozens of young, optimistic artists lining the streets looking for their break.
One I saw in 2008 later received a record contract. That time has passed, as the police now prohibit such performances.
Now it’s mostly only the rockabilly dancers that are left, but occasionally you’ll see a musician there flouting the rules, and I have nothing but respect for those daring souls.
Lee Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.