Between the two large commercial districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya lies Harajuku, a place that looks so unlike the former two, despite their close proximity. Coming out of the Harajuku Station, the first thing you will notice is clusters of kids in their teens, gathering together and forming a crowd in some areas. Harajuku is the centre of “youth culture” in Japan. It’s the favorite hangout of Tokyo’s adolescents, where they can put their eccentricities on full display, without reservation or inhibition. The area exudes such an abundance of youth that if you are in your twenties or older, you might feel a bit old, while walking along its streets.
Along with Harajuku’s youthful atmosphere is a distinct fashion sense observed by those who hang out there. They call it “Harajuku Fashion”, and in my own words (and I’m absolutely no fashion authority by the way), it combines youthful, with cute, with eccentric, to come up with a distinct look that would seem ridiculous if worn elsewhere. But such is the culture of Harajuku, that if you go there wearing “normal” clothes, you’ll be the one sticking out like a sore thumb.
Takeshita Dori is Harujuku’s liveliest and busiest street. The street stretches for almost half a kilometer, starting from the Harajuku Station and heading East. It is densely lined with boutiques on both sides, catering mainly to the fashion sense of Tokyo’s young ones. The street looks like an interesting stroll, but unfortunately for us, the crowd was just too thick while we were there.
While one side of Harajuku (the east side of Harajuku Station) feels all bright and spunky and youthful, the other side (to the west of the station) is all serious. Here you will find the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified Emperor Meiji. The actual shrine itself is in the middle of one very large park and can be accessed via a 10-15 minute walk through unpaved roads. The park itself looks like a forest, with tall trees and dense shrubs covering its expanse, and I would never have thought that the only unpaved road I would find in Japan, is in the middle of Tokyo.
Emperor Meiji brought Japan to the industrial age after the rule of the shoguns, and he is highly revered by the people. Hence, the Meiji shrine is a very culturally important and solemn place. It’s also very quiet, and seemingly isolated despite being in the middle of the world’s largest metropolis. It is a good place to forget about Tokyo, while you are in the middle of Tokyo.
A couple of kilometers east of Harajuku is the Minami-Aoyama (South Aoyama) area. Unlike youthful Harajuku, Minami-Aoyama is all about high end shopping and snobbish brand names. The streets surrounding the Omotesando station is posh shopping area, but unlike expensive places elsewhere (eg. Singapore’s Orchard Road or Hong Kong’s Central), Omotesando doesn’t flaunt at first glance. It’s a mixed residential and commercial area, with shops scattered among the apartments. You might think it’s just another upscale neighbourhood if you just pass along, until you look closer and see the shops and the brand names. Watch for Prada’s flagship store in the area, which is an interesting piece of architecture.
* Photos taken from our visit last April 2015.