I’m going to have to split these posts up.. Harajuku is surprisingly big, and it takes me three days to shop it all! There are literally hundreds and hundreds of shops, some tucked away, some quite well known.
Before I start this guide I need to make you aware that the turn around of shops in Harajuku is quite rapid. Fashion trends come and go and the stores reflect this, you may find that if you search for a shop I have raved about, it could very well be gone!
I made my last trip to Tokyo in July 2012, so all the shops I will tell you about were still trading in Harajuku at that time.
So let’s begin!
Harajuku Station and Takeshita Dori:
You probably got to Harajuku by train (since Tokyo’s rail and subway systems are some of the most reliable and easy to use in the world!). Harajuku subway station is directly opposite the main shopping street of the area, Takeshita Dori. You will know you are in the right place if you can see this..
(by ‘this’ I mean the signage, not the slightly awkward chubby blonde girl that I used to be)
You want to cross the road towards this signage, which hangs over the ‘top’ of Takeshita Dori. It’s a fairly steep slope, and on a busy Saturday or Sunday this offers a perfect opportunity to look straight down to the end and witness the hundreds of people crammed in this narrow street. You need to take a deep breath, and head on down it!
The top of this street plays host to a number of ice-cream cafe’s, pancake houses and gimmicky shops. It does seem that this part of Harajuku has been marketed towards more of a tourist demographic, especially at the top of the street. Here you will also find the AKB48 store, a whole shop dedicated to merchandise and memorabilia of the Akihabara based all-girl super geek pop group (for more information go here.)
As you head down Takeshita Dori, try not to become too distracted by shops selling wacky, cheap stuff. It’s tempting to buy a glittery trucker cap and eight pairs of frilly knee high socks but all those odd couple hundred yen add up! Instead, drink in the atmosphere here and people watch. Look to others for style inspiration and then go find the items in the many stores that line the street. My absolute number one tip is not to buy anything on this street when you see it straight away. Takeshita Dori is the street that sells all the items that tourists would find ‘quirky’ and ‘unique’ and because of this, practically every shop sells the same things at different prices.
Nearish the top of the street you will come across ‘Daiso’, a sort of Japanese version of the pound shop. Daiso is your go-to for any little cheap gifts, emergency socks and toiletries, stationery, snacks and stuff that you want to buy purely because it has ‘Hello Kitty’ on it. Everything in here is 100yen!!! Give yourself a budget, and get shopping! If you don’t have a budget you end up taking home a lot of junk and having to miss out on buying something you REALLY NEED later on. Trust me… I speak from experience.
As you continue down, don’t forget to look up! A lot of the better shops are on the second and even third floors of the buildings around you, the vintage shops and independent traders often rent out these higher units. Don’t be afraid to climb the stairs and look around. Another tip here: you may find the sales assistants in Harajuku to be what we would call ‘pushy’ with their customer service. This is a common misunderstanding. Sales assistants here and in the rest of Tokyo take great pride in their work, and will literally do ANYTHING to make sure you leave happy. If you feel they are following you around, watching you all the time or just generally being a bit creepy, this is not their intent. Try to see it more as their desire to be your personal shopping assistant from the minute you enter their shop, don’t be afraid to ask for different sizes, colours or styles if you don’t see what you like.
Oh, and if you feel like everyone is shouting at you when you go into a shop, they probably are! It is customary in Japan for the sales assistants to shout ‘Irasshaimase!’, which is basically a short way of saying ‘welcome, please come in and look’.
Quite a bit further down from Daiso, and past many little shops you should have browsed. You will come to a building with stairs on the outside. The store at street level sells all types of awful ‘gangster’ wear, and is probably best avoided. Climb the stairs though and you will find ‘Bodyline‘. Bodyline is a store selling lolita, gothic lolita, sweet lolita and more. As someone who isn’t necessarily a hardcore full-blown ‘loli’, this place is heaven, all the items are affordable.. almost ridiculously so, and still super cute. Bodyline items are not in the same league as more exclusive ‘loli’ brands such as ‘Baby The Stars Shine Bright’, ‘Angelic Pretty’ or ‘Metamophose’ so if you are looking to buy something that will impress any gaggle of full on lolita girls you would be shopping in the wrong place, but if like me, you would like to incorporate a bit of ‘loli’ into your style, Bodyline is the perfect place to start!
Near to Bodyline is a store that doesn’t seem to have a name but to which I refer to as the ‘Sequin Drag Shop’. This store is dedicated solely to selling super glitzy costumes COVERED in sequins and gemstones. Perfect for showmen and women, performance artists, drag superstars and sparkle enthusiasts, this place ain’t cheap, but it seems to be THE place to get your bum skimming sequin American flag hotpants and feather headdress. If you don’t have any use for these things, it is definitely well worth looking. Shop assistants really don’t mind, just try not to manhandle the stuff in here too much… It’s crammed in pretty tight and you don’t want to be crushed by an avalanche of diamante bustiers.
On a side road opposite Bodyline and just off Takeshita Dori you will come across a second hand Vivienne Westwood store. I don’t *think* the store is official Westwood, but they take great care to ensure all items are genuine and come with all relevant boxes, packaging and labels. Although still pricey, some items here can be a lot less than if they were bought new as many Japanese people dislike buying second hand clothing. Saying that though, if you are after something super rare for super cheap you won’t get it here.. These shop assistants do know their stuff and rare gems could end up double or triple the original price. It is still a joy to look at, as the staff treat the stock with an almost museum like respect, you get the feeling everything here is ‘curated’.
Further down this side street you will stumble across a strange building that looks like an apartment block. It is two storey and these levels connect with thin, rickety looking metal staircases. As with most shops in Harajuku, ignore the ground floor level (yet more gangster streetwear) and trot on up to the first floor. Here you will discover the ever evolving ‘Jack’s Vintage’ (sometimes referred to as Jumpin’ Jacks). This vintage store gem is owned by Tokyo mini-celeb Elovis ‘Jack’ Sato, a vintage and retro loving rockabilly extrovert who has appeared on Japanese MTV, popular films and on stage at various rockin’ gigs and events across Tokyo. He’s a dear friend and a joy to be around, but unfortunately doesn’t appear in the shop very often. You should still call in here though, as Jacks staff are just as friendly and interesting as he is! If you have an interest in going to burlesque gigs, rockin’ nights, rockabilly events and Japanese rock’n’roll CD releases, they will pile you up with flyers for a plethora of gigs and events you could only usually dream of discovering! The store itself sells expertly hand picked vintage items. Incredibly rare bags, original bowling shirts, american baseball jackets, college sweaters from the 1950’s, and beautiful costume jewellery nestle amongst Jack’s own merchandise, modern rockabilly inspired labels and novelty mid century style gifts. It can be pricey in here but I can tell you this is categorically THE BEST vintage store in all of Harajuku.
Head back the way you came, and onto Takeshita Dori again. Keep heading down it… towards the main road that cuts it off at the bottom. You won’t have to go far before you notice ‘Pink Latte’, and trust me, you WILL notice it! Though Pink Latte sells fairly tame teeny bopper style accessories and gifts, the store itself is impressive in design. From the outside you notice why, at least 60% of the inside of this store is made up of a full reconstruction of an aeroplane. This makes for a great photo and a surreal experience! The items however are a little bit of a disappointment, covered in branding and not amazing quality.
That’s it for my picks on the stores on Takeshita Dori and the immediate surrounding area. Next time I will take you over the road to what I call the more ‘niche’ area of Harajuku and where the real treasures are! Don’t forget… I have only told you about the stores that stuck in my memory… you should definitely look in EVERY SINGLE SHOP that takes your fancy. Now, why don’t you head back up to the station and buy all that crap you resisted on the way?!