The Ultimate Guide to Harajuku! What to See, Eat, Buy and Do in Tokyo's Hippest Neighbourhood
Harajuku was probably the neighbourhood I was most excited to visit on my first trip to Tokyo! For as long as I'd read mangas and watched animes, I'd dreamed of strolling down the colourful and cute streets of Harajuku. When we arrived, it was a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon (which is possibly the worst time to see it). There were hundreds of people there, so many in fact that we could barely walk down the street without pushing through the horde. The next time we visited we decided to come down very early in the morning and found the streets practically empty. There are pluses and minuses to both scenarios. While seeing the bright and colourful streets empty is a pleasure to just have it to yourself, when it's busy you can admire all the local kawaii kids even chance at seeing a few Lolitas meandering around. Exploring Harajuku is more than just walking down the famed Takeshita Dori Street. There are so many side alleys and hidden shops you need to explore to get a real sense of what Harajuku is all about and not just the touristy side of things. I’ve tried to make this list an easy to follow walking path from the station so you don’t have to backtrack too much! The map to all the locations listed here is at the bottom of this post!
How to get There
Harajuku is an easy destination to arrive at. The Harajuku Station on the JR East Yamanote Line lets you off right across from Takeshita Dori. You can also get off at the Meiji-jingumae 'Harajuku' Station served by the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line. You can even take the Tokyo Metro on the Fukutoshin Line to get here, so no matter where you are coming from, it's only a train ride away.
Outside the train station on busy days you can see hundreds of teenagers hanging out, listening to cute boys singing K-Pop songs and selling their CDs. Girls giggle and blush as the singers point at them as they sing the next romantic ballad.
Harajuku initially became the hot spot for Japanese fashion back in the 1970's. A large fashion house called "Palais France" was built on Meiji Street near the exit of Takeshita Street and sold fashion-forward clothes, accessories and more. With this one large store drawing people down to this area more popular fashion chains started opened up. Then small independent retailers popped up to take advantage of the fashionable crowds.
Harajuku isn't just one street. It's the name of a general area spreading from Harajuku Station to Omotesando. In this area, you'll find dozens of tiny alleyways and side streets where you can discover the newest in alternative, youth fashion. Although Harajuku has become more of a tourist attraction and has lost some of its original uniqueness, there are still lots of interesting stores if you get away from the main drag. Streets like Cat Alley are where you can still find independent retailers selling the hottest Japanese fashions and lifestyle accessories. In addition to clothes and accessories, you can also find Japanese souvenirs at pretty good prices, so it's a good place to pick up some presents for back home while you're here.
Although the masses of people seem overwhelming, these Sunday crowds have been happening since 1977, when they closed down the street to traffic and turned it into a pedestrian only walkway. On Sundays you'd see local bands gather to play and fashionable Lolitas, punks and creatives modelling their incredible wearable creations. Now a days, more and more people are moving away from the streets and over to the nearby Yoyogi park to gather on Sundays, but you can still see your fair share of uniquely dressed individuals any day of the week, shopping for the perfect accessory to complete their outfit.
In addition to the clothes along the street, there are two other big draws. One is the incredible architecture and design seen on the outsides of these buildings and in their store windows. The other is the inventive food being served up from tiny little nooks and crannies under brightly coloured awnings.
Takeshita Street is the main street you'll enter through. It is a busy pedestrian shopping lane. No cars are allowed after a certain time in the morning and by 11 am you'll see why. The entire street at busy hours can be completely filled with people, crowds so thick you'll barely be able to make out the road below. The entrance to the street is always decorated with a different design made out of balloons. Along this street are many of the most popular shops in Harajuku. While some are worth skipping, others are historic establishments which helped put this street on the map.
Paris Kids was probably my favourite store. Inside are thousands of accessories in amazing kawaii (cute) Japanese designs. Doughnut shaped earrings and cute kitten headbands were plastered all over the walls. Everything was really cheap, most things going at a rate of 3 for $10, 5 for $15, etc., etc. Since it was almost Halloween when we visited most of the specialty items were Halloween themed and seemed the perfect place to visit if you needed a quick Halloween costume or just some random accessories to get you in the spirit.
Purikura are the Japanese version of photobooths. Except, like with everything in Japan, it is taken to the next level. Down the stairs, just off Takeshita Street, you'll find the greatest selection of purikura photobooths. Purikura is where you can get those classic Japanese printed photos where you can add text, stickers and give your face the "anime" treatment. The Purikura experience costs 500 yen ($5 US). Once you finish your photoshoot, you'll get to decorate, alter, add filters and text to all the photos you took. This location in Harajuku definitely has the best selection in terms of decorations you can add to the photos. They even have a dressing and makeup area where you can make sure you look picture perfect.
Daiso was one of my favourite shops in Harajuku. Daiso has now also found its way into the US, but we still don't have it in Canada. Inside this massive four-story building is one of the largest 100 Yen shops in Tokyo. You'll find anything from clothes to kitchenware, food and best of all - stationary. Unlike dollar stores in North America, everything is actually 100 yen ($1), and you'll find some absolute bargains for items you'd never believe are only $1. This is a GREAT place to grab some souvenirs. You’ll find so many awesome gifts for only $1 which you’ll also see in touristy locations but for at least three times the price.
Etude House, a Korean makeup company, have installed a dollhouse inspired storefront right here in the centre of Harajuku. Korean makeup is known the world over as one of the best, and even local Japanese girls will travel down here to get their hands on some of these goods. The packaging design on their products is phenomenal and a gift in itself. Makeup makes for such a unique souvenir and something people will really enjoy using.
If you've ever spent some time cruising the #Harajuku hashtag you're bound to have seen dozens of pictures of cute girls smiling with GIANT cones of rainbow cotton candy. These amazing candy creations are found at Totti Candy Factory. While there is often a line-up, it moves quickly and while waiting in line you can observe the candy creators inside molding these amazing sweet treats. They are gorgeous to look at and even better to eat!
Located just off the Takeshita Street, you'll step away from the main crush of people and suddenly just one street over you'll find yourself in a much more peaceful side alley. Down the alley you'll find Panama Boy. It easy to spot since there are piles of clothing simply pouring off the side of this building. Panama Boy is a vintage and thrift store with a collection of custom made as well. They have perfectly curated sections and nothing feels used at all, it's so lovingly cared for and feels like a bespoke custom brand. This shop does a great job in finding bright and colourful pieces and doesn’t just focus on brand names.
Crepes have had a surge in popularity in Japan. It might seem like a recent phenomenon since the creation of Instagram and "food selfies", but crepes have been a Japanese fascination for over 40 years. Marion Crepes has stood in the same spot since 1976. They brought pancakes to Japan, but instead of the traditional savoury crepes you found in Europe, they added brightly coloured fruits and ice cream to their desserts. Now, you'll pass many different crepe shops, each with dozens of flavours showcased by intricately designed plastic models. You don't even need a knife and fork; they come folded into a cone for a portable sweet treat to enjoy while pursuing the local shops.
Passing by this rainbow coloured shop, you'll smell the flavours of fried potatoes emanating from the doorway beckoning you to come inside. Poterico is a popular snack in Japan made of flavoured potato sticks. This shop serves up custom versions of the snack along with freshly fried potato chips served with rich chocolate on top. Sounds strange but the combination of sweet and salty is absolute perfection.
One of the most popular food trends to hit the streets of Harajuku in the last few years has been Zaku Zaku and their famous croquant chou (crispy cream puffs). These delicate pastries are covered in toffee crunch and then filled with fresh cream from Hokkaido. Hokkaido cream is world famous and is what a lot of ice cream here in Japan is made of. This treat is wonderfully decadent but if you have room for it you must give it a try!
This candy shop is not only a feast for your mouth but also for your eyes! I came in here solely to look at the awesome designs and decorations covering the walls but left with a bag full of candies which were almost too pretty to eat...almost.
Although Lolitas were once always seen walking the streets of Harajuku, their popularities has shrunk over the years. They do like the attention, but it became too overwhelming, and often it's almost impossible for a Lolita to walk down the streets of Harajuku without being hounded for hundreds of selfies. But, there are still many Lolita fashion shops in Harajuku selling darling, victorian and gothic inspired dresses. Closet Child and Bodyline are two popular shops located right beside each other along Takeshita Street. Closet Child has amazing prices for Lolita style clothing which usually is pretty expensive. Even if you're not a Lolita yourself, visiting these stores is a lot of fun. This type of clothing is so fantastical and a joy to behold. Bodyline features a lot of wigs and costumes for anime cosplay. If you've ever wanted an anime costume for Halloween this is the place to pick it up!
Along Takeshita Street, you'll see dozens of shops selling shoes. But a lot of these are cheap knock-offs and won't last you long enough to make the purchase worth it. There are however a few shops which are worth your time and feature some truly incredible designs. Chapter World is reliably the best place to find kicks in the city. They're a chain outlet but the store with the best selection is here in Harajuku. If you can't afford a new pair or don't have room in your suitcase, you should definitely check out their selection of rainbow laces to jazz up even the most casual pair of shoes.
My FAVOURITE store in Harajuku is WEGO! There are various WEGO's in Harajuku but I like this one the best since it has a great selection and is further away from the main entrance to Harajuku. Because it’s a little more hidden, this means the shop is often less crowded and therefore more relaxed. WEGO is a trendy fashion brand which blends Japanese pop and American vintage influences into their designs. Their prices are super cheap and if you buy more than $75 US you can use your passport to get a tax free exemption. I honestly had to stop myself from buying up the entire store but came home with a few choices pieces. Every time I put them on I get to remember this fantastic trip and all these memories from Japan.
Santa Monica Crepes has some of the best signage and I loved visiting their shop. But since I enjoy Marion Crepes more I always opt for Santa Monica’s decadent bubble tea parfaits. These sweet drinks are topped off with whipped cream, fresh fruit, ice cream and even sometimes a bit of cake. They're as beautiful as the plastic models and taste even better.
Moshi Moshi Box
At the end of Taskieshitadori, you'll find an enormous clock. Bright pink and covered in retro, neon toys. This is the Moshi Moshi Box. The Moshi Moshi Box provides tourists with sightseeing information, free wifi and a currency exchange. The piece was designed by kawaii artisan Sebastian Masuda. Stand beside it and look at all the different bits of ephemera used to create this visual sensation. This is one of the most iconic sights in Harajuku but since it's so far from the entrance to Taskieshitadori you’ll sometimes find that people miss it altogether. Don't make that mistake!
This "cafe" is more of a theme park than a restaurant. As soon as you walk in the doors, it's sensory overload. Rainbow lights dance across the ceiling, tables are nestled away under spotted toadstools and in the centre of the room is a spinning carousel in the shape of a giant iced birthday cake! The waitresses are all dressed up as Strawberry Shortcake-like characters, each one themed to a certain kind of sweet treat. The food is just as wild, and while it is not “haute” cuisine, it is indeed a joy to behold. It's become a super popular joint, so reservations are recommended!
Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku
As you walk towards the intersection between Omotesando and Harajuku you’ll find it's hard to miss Tokyu Plaza. This incredible building houses all the high-end fashion brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci and Chanel. As you approach your eye will be immediately caught by the dazzling kaleidoscope of mirrors that serves as the entrance to the mall. They call this the stargate. And with good reason. The building was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura. He wanted it to reflect, "the time and the season, for an ever-changing view,". Standing outside or in, you can see all around the crossing. The people, the landscape and the colours that change within it.
The Starbucks Rooftop Patio
In the Tokyu Plaza, take the elevator straight to the top and head to the Starbucks. I know, I know, I should be telling you to try more international places than just Starbucks, but trust me, we're not here for the coffee. Opposite the Starbucks on the top floor is a pair of double doors that lead you out onto this enormous outdoor patio. There are hundreds of seats, both at tables and along these beautiful wooden benches and staggered stairs steps which serve as more places to sit. From here you have an amazing view across Harajuku and the stunning garden spread across the rooftop. You absolutely do not have to buy a coffee to stay up here. I even decided to run to the conbini before I arrived and had my own little picnic up here on the cheap while enjoying this priceless view!
Chicago is one of my favourite vintage outlets in the city. They have a seemingly unending assortment of vintage finds and their selection of designer goods is truly impeccable. But my favourite part of their shop are the vintage silk kimonos. I found such beautiful designs, every single one of which I put on made me feel like Japanese royalty. Kimonos are such a traditional piece of Japanese history and one which I always recommend people pick up as a souvenir. But getting a vintage one feel that much more special, like you're buying a piece of history.
Down the street a little bit is a tiny doorway which leads you into a fairytale world. Alice On Wednesday is one of a few different Alice in Wonderland themed stores and restaurants in Tokyo. Inside this shop you'll uncover three floors, each one designed to reflect aspects of the famed story. You'll come upon the White Room where Alice drinks the shrinking potion, the Queen of Hearts’ room and the Mad Hatter’s room. The shop sells various accessories in the 'wonderland' style as well as bottled beverages with "drink me" labels. It's a great place to go if you're a big Alice fan!
On the East side of Harajuku, you'll find the famed 'Cat Street'. This pedestrian street is where you'll find the majority of the alternative brands, vintage shops and hip restaurants and cafes. Cat Street is where the original Harajuku hipsters have now fled with the onset of so many tourists along Takeshita Street. These pedestrianised roads have a different feel to them, greenery seems to pour over the edges of buildings and there is a more peaceful, laid back feeling to the stores and laneways.
RAGTAG both looks and feels more like a department store than a second-hand designer clothing store. The Japanese are very passionate about reducing waste and you really do see less fast fashion here in lieu of stores like RAGTAG which have branches all over Japan. They verify every piece of clothing they sell so you know you're getting the real deal. While the more rare pieces are pretty costly, this is a great opportunity to nab yourself some designer pieces for a great price!
If you need somewhere to replenish after all that walking and shopping, look no further! Harajuku Gyozaro is a cheap and delicious option offering steamed and fried gyoza. The gyoza costs only 290 yen ($2.50 US), which is an absolute steal! Try to avoid the lunch and dinner rush, because this is a popular spot and it gets PACKED. Going on off hours is a great way to sneak in without too long of a line up. There isn’t much selection so it’s easy to order, just try to figure out how many orders of these delicious treats you’ll want!
Right along the main road as you exit the quiet Cat Street you'll find the candy apple red storefront which is Kiddy Land. Despite the word 'kid' in the name of the store, this place is for everyone. It's multiple floors of delightful toys, clothing, home goods and stationary are themed after popular cartoon characters or nostalgic anime figures. My favourite was all the amazing Sailor Moon goods and My Little Pony retro items. The entire place as a joy to peruse and we even discovered 'Gudetama' here which soon became our favourite Sanrio character.
6% DokiDoki is one of Harajuku's most iconic shops. Selling crazy coloured clothing and accessories, their unique designs became the origin of the term ‘decora’ fashion. The store looks like a Lisa Frank sticker book exploded! All their items are made just for those adults who never grew up. Hearts, stars and sparkles are mandatory in everything you see, and neon is the base layer for almost everything. I had a great time exploring the store, everything is created with such love, and even just a small piece would brighten up any outfit. The cost of these clothes was pretty high, but for such unique items, it is something worth picking up.
The craze for impossibly fluffy and jiggly pancakes is one still going strong in Japan and one of the best places to eat them is at Rainbow Pancake cafe. The line up can get pretty long here so the earlier you arrive the better chance you'll have at getting a table more easily. And obviously, weekdays are less busy than on the weekends. These pancakes are made with a lot of eggs (to give them that fluffy texture) so the taste is both savoury and sweet. Top it off with over a dozens different toppings and you’ll find yourself in food heaven!
If you didn't get your fill of sweetness at Rainbow Pancake then head down the winding alleyways towards Eddy's Ice Cream. This place can be found easily by the amazing pastel painted exteriors and generally long line up outside the door. The interior is miniature but its neon pink painted walls and brightky coloured ice creams are more than enough to make it feel larger than life. Their ice creams are perfectly Instagram worthy but also super delicious. You can either choose one of their designs or build your own custom creation!
Santa Monica Vintage
Santa Monica Vintage feels like it should belong on the west coast of California and not in the crowded centre of Tokyo. Those white walls and peaceful music playing throughout transports you away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In here you'll find some really unique pieces of clothing all with a a definite bohemian vibe.
To finish your day in Harajuku, head over to the Airstream Garden. This coffee shop is located inside an old 1930s Airstream trailer but has a cute little sitting area outside, made out of staggered wooden steps. Here you can both enjoy the delicious coffee made inside and soak in the last little bits of Harajuku. While it might get the reputation of being a very touristy place, Harajuku is popular for a reason. Don’t let the crowds scare you off! This magical neighbourhood is worth your time and you’ll find so many more places other than the ones listed here to make your trip to Harajuku all that more special but I hope this list gets you started!
Have you been to Harajuku? What was your favourite thing you found there? If you’re planning your trip what are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!