Harajuku has become world famous as Japan’s center of street fashion. This square mile area is jam-packed with boutiques, fashion malls and chains. Every single day of the year, tens of thousands of people come here to shop, hang out, and see what the latest trends are.
The area was originally a small village inhabited by low level samurai. Harajuku’s start as a center of fashion and youth culture came after WWII. US Army barracks, called Washington Heights, were built here. Shops that catered to the military families followed. This attracted young people curious about Western culture.
In 1964, the Olympic Games came to Tokyo. Washington Heights became the Olympic Village housing the athletes. People from all over Japan came to Harajuku for a chance to meet the athletes. The crowds of young people persuaded young creators to set up shop here.
In 1978, the Laforet fashion mall was opened. It quickly became Harajuku’s main attraction. Harajuku had now become THE place for fashion businesses to be. It changed from being a place, into being a concept. Harajuku stood for energy, change, newness.
Trends come and go at lightning speed in Harajuku. Decora, Goth-Loli, Cyber-Punk, Mori Girl, the list is endless. Many happen at the same time, and influence each other. Often it’s impossible to determine what gave birth to what. This disconnect and freedom is possible because there is no social message. Harajuku fashion is about fun. It is fashion in its purest form.
Harajuku (原宿) refers to the area around Tokyo’s Harajuku Station, which is between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line. It is the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offers shopping for adults and some historic sights.
The focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.
In order to experience the teenage culture at its most extreme, visit Harajuku on a Sunday, when many young people gather around Harajuku Station and engage in cosplay (“costume play”), dressed up in crazy costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians, etc.
Just south of Takeshita Dori and over twice its length is Omotesando, a broad, tree lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees. Here you can find famous brand name shops, cafes and restaurants for a more adult clientele. The stylish Omotesando Hills complex was opened in 2006 and targets fashion conscious urbanites in their 30s and 40s, while Kiddy Land has hundreds of unique toys for kids of all ages.
Harajuku is not only about teenage culture and shopping. Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s major shrines, is located just west of the railway tracks in a large green oasis shared with the spacious Yoyogi Park. Beautiful ukiyo-e paintings are exhibited in the small Ota Memorial Museum of Art, and the Nezu Museum has an impressive collection of various Asian art as well as a traditional Japanese garden.