Visiting Harajuku: What to expect from the kawaii capital of Japan
I’ve been bee bopping along to Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls” since before I knew Harajuku was a place. When I found the “pedestrian paradise” she describes, I can only lament that it took me 15 years to visit this quirky neighborhood in Japan.
Harajuku as we know it today evolved post-war when shops catering to US military personnel opened in the area, infusing the area with American and European influences still visible today. I was “just an American girl in the Tokyo streets,” but I loved visiting Harajuku and experiencing the food, the shopping and the fashion of this famous district! If you’re visiting Harajuku for the first time, get ready, there’s so much to see, do, buy and eat!
Food in Harajuku
The food on Takeshita Street is some of the most Instagrammable in the world! Some people visit Harajuku just to take photos of the food. You can order a mountain of rainbow cotton candy bigger than your head at Totti Candy Factory or a bespoke ice cream cone in a pink house that was made for Instagram at Edy’s Ice Cream. Pay a visit to Long! Longer! Longest! if you’re a fan of food that’s the biggest in the world! Check out their 55cm churros or their 60cm rainbow cotton candy. And even vegetarians will agree, the adorable animal-themed ice cream cones at Dobutsuen and Eiswelt Gelato are loved by everyone!
One of the most visible European influences in Harajuku is the Harajuku crepe. The thin pancakes are the same as the famed French dessert, but Harajuku crepes are folded into easy-to-carry cones. Harajuku crepe vendors line Takeshita Street… which will be your favorite?
If your sweet tooth is satisfied, pay a visit to Sakura Tei in Ura-hara (the backstreets of Harajuku) where the diner becomes the chef! Slip through the narrow, street-art covered entrance and make your way to the restaurant for the Japanese classic, okonomikayi. Okonomi translates to “as you like” and yaki means “cook.” As the name describes, this flour-based savory pancake is cooked by the diner on a hot plate at the table with the ingredients of their choosing.
Shopping in Harajuku
With a full belly, it’s time to shop for some souvenirs, and there’s no better place than Harajuku to bring home some gifts for friends!
If you’re looking for quirky inexpensive souvenirs, look no further than Daiso. No matter what you’re looking for, this ¥100 yen shop (most items here are 100 yen+tax which is about 1 US dollar) is bound to have it! From Japanese snacks to kitchen utensils and beauty products to school supplies, this shop is a veritable gold mine of gifts.
When I first visited Harajuku, I arrived around 9am– before most shops were open. The queue outside WEGO before the shop opened intrigued me, and I joined the excited shoppers when it opened. WEGO offers modern fashion and gifts bearing the latest fad. They stock glittery purses, unicorn convertible gloves, avocado keychains and dozens of other gifts you never knew you needed.
Fashion in Harajuku
While fast fashion is changing the look of Harajuku, you can still catch glimpses into the Harajuku of yesteryear as you stroll down Takeshita Street.
In the past, metal and goth were the kawaii of the day, and some shops still carry original studded cuffs, platform boots and leather accessories. Fashion changed from goth to girly as Lolita fashion became the new trend. Frilly frocks inspired by Victorian and Edwardian children’s clothing were the choice of many young girls in this area of town in the not-too-distant past.
With fast fashion like H&M and Forever 21, Lolita and goth sightings are rare as most teens choose rainbow and unicorn accessories and giant food or character-themed cell phone covers over the more expensive and intricate fashion of the past.
Whether you’re interested in kawaii food, unique souvenirs or catching a glimpse of the next big fashion trend, Gwen Stefani said it best– Harajuku really is “a ping-pong match between eastern and western.”
And this is one game you don’t want to miss!
Contributor: Brittany Kulick
Brittany is the founder of The Sweet Wanderlust, a food and travel blog for people with a sweet tooth and a taste for adventure. She’s visited more than 60 countries and Japan is one of her favorites!
web: The Sweet Wanderlust