The first time I heard about Harajuku girls was from Gwen Stefani in the early 2000s. While as an adult I see the Harajuku-girls-as-props situation as alarmingly problematic, one thing she said is undeniable: Harajuku girls do have some wicked style.
When I visited Tokyo for the first time 11 years ago, seeing this style in person was high on my must-do list. What I learned back then is that Harajuku girls were misfits and outcasts in an otherwise fairly conservative and straight-laced Japan, though popular culture has made their style trendy. I was also surprised to find that Harajuku style wasn’t just a cute Lolita look, but expands to goth, punk, and schoolgirl styles as well.
And I can dig it!
When I went back to Tokyo this time I knew I had to head back to Harajuku and experience more of it. After all, a lot can change in 11 years! Here are all of the colorful, quirky, and delicious things that I found to do in Harajuku:
1. Kawaii Monster Cafe
If you like bright colors, Alice in Wonderland-esque design themes, And macarons bigger than your head, Then you absolutely must pop into the Kawaii (translation: cute) Monster Cafe.
The food, and I use that term lightly, is all colorful and anthropomorphized. Think burgers that look like little monsters and cakes to match.
So how does it taste? Well let’s just say it’s a lot more about the looks.
It’s also a pretty penny. Each person who goes into the café must pay a ¥500 fee and everyone is expected to order at least one dish and one drink. The drink was kind of like a gelatinous Slurpee and the cake was surprisingly dry considering it was swimming in frosting – we’ll leave it at that.
Would I still recommend it for the experience? Hell yeah!
They have special events from time to time too. You can read more on their website.
The colorful crepe shops with glorious Sampuru (fake food – it’s totally a thing in Japan and I am here for it!) dotted along the streets of Takeshita Dori are hard to miss. Crepes may have been invented by the French, but the Japanese have turned them into something all their own. With options including brownies, pudding, ice cream and fresh fruits wrapped generously with whipped cream, as well as savory options, it could be tough to pick just one!
Expect crowds and long lines at pretty much all of the crepe shops along Takeshita Dori. What I’d recommend is to quickly get to the shop front, take a quick photo of the Sampuru, step aside and decide which crepe you want, then get in the line to make your order. If you are able to get there early, the Sampuru displays make beautiful background for photos, too. My personal favorite shop (for the lewk) was the Santa Monica Crepes close to where Kawaii Monster Cafe is located. (For more delicious, savory eats, check out popular Japanese food.)
3. Rainbow Cotton Candy
By now, I hope we have established that food in Harajuku is less about filling you up, and all about being absolutely kawaii! The giant rainbow cotton candy sold by Totti Candy Shop is so ridiculously big, it’s an experience in and of itself. It’s actually quite therapeutic to watch one being made, as the cotton candy master sprinkles layer after layer of colorful powder (yum…) as the cotton candy gets larger and larger. If you are in a group, it’s fun to share one and tear the cotton off. Just be ready for the sugar rush!
The shop is tucked away on the 2nd floor along the busy Takeshita Dori street, but you will see a pop up stall right below with the same cotton candy stuffed inside plastic cups, as well as groups of people holding what seems like rainbow clouds from afar. Just like the crepe shops, it’s hard to miss the Totti Candy Shop thanks to its popularity.
4. Eddy’s Ice Cream
…And the sweet tooth adventures continue! Eddy’s Ice Cream shop is off the main street but easy (and worth the effort) to find. Everything from the interior to the customizable orders makes it clear that the ice cream shop was designed with being photogenic in mind.
It’s tons of fun picking the toppings that you can’t find elsewhere, or you can also order directly from the menu. They also periodically offer a “secret menu” depending on the season. At this time of writing in October, they are offering “Halloween Panda” toppings!
Harajuku opened up the world of Purikura to me and I am both slightly creeped out and delighted by it.
You’ll walk down a set of stairs into an area full of brightly colored, musical booths. Next, pick the one(s) that appeal to you the most based on what they do for you — each one has its own unique value-add to your, um, face — throw in ¥400 and start posing.
The booth will automatically make your eyes bigger, soften your skin, make your hair silkier and redden in those cheeks and lips. Next you get to pick out the decorations for your stickers.
I don’t know if this is what the youth of the world needs to aspire to but I do know that I had fun with it.
6. Shop for Unique Clothes
You can’t go to Harajuku without at least window shopping! Personally I knew that these were my style kindred spirits so I left some space in my suitcase and made a few purchases at W♥C. One was a rainbow sweater and the other was a black and white sweater with the word ‘love’ (爱) stamped all over it.
There are also goth shops, accessory shops that are a lot more cutesy and geared towards younger buyers, and full on costume shops. With unlimited space I would’ve gone bonkers but given I only had so much room in my suitcase I exercised restraint. Though it hurt it was for the best, I know.
7. Thrift Shopping
Fret not if you can’t make it to the capital of thrift stores in Tokyo, Shimokitazawa! Harajuku also houses several thrift stores with cool and unique finds. There’s something for everyone – you can find classic thrift shop items like branded sweaters and jackets, cutesy vintage dresses, and straight-up Harajuku style clothes in places like Kinji, Chicago Jingumae, Brand Shift Kaindooru, and Kilo Shop.
One word about thrift shopping in Tokyo: it’s not cheap, and the price is often comparable to buying brand new. That said, I thought the selection was great and the items are generally in great condition. I am just stating this so you can manage your expectations if you’re a thrift lover like me!
8. Dress like a Harajuku Girl
There are not many places in the world that embrace and celebrate unique personal style the way Harajuku do, so why not let your creativity run wild, pull a When in Rome, and dress like a Harajuku girl?
I think it’s a fun challenge to get a full outfit from Harajuku and flaunt your purchase proudly! There are often street style photographers around Harajuku scouting for models for fashion magazines and blogs, so you really never know what kind of adventure could materialize.
9. Take a Spin at Tokyu Plaza
The Tokyu Plaza, located in Omotesando, is popular for the futuristic design of the entrance. Inside lies a multistory department store, as well as a beautiful rooftop terrace area on the 6th floor, which opens at 8:30AM.
It’s perfect for some quiet time before an intense, sugar-filled day at Harajuku! Of course, it is also good for anytime of the day. Grab a matcha latte from Starbucks, sit back, and enjoy people watching from high above.
10. Picnic at Yoyogi Park
After all that sugar rushing, there’s perhaps nothing better than a relaxing picnic at Yoyogi Park. Head to a convenience store to grab some snacks and drinks, and enjoy a nice afternoon of people watching at the park. The park entrance is located just 200 meters from Harajuku station so it’s a convenient way to end your fun in Harajuku.
While those are just a few of the amazing things to do here as you go, I’m sure you can see the running theme is things that are sweet (so, so sweet!) and fashionable.
Above all, just allow yourself to get into it and be fascinated by the unique Harajuku culture. There’s nothing in the world like it!