The Takeshita-dori is where I imagine Rainbow Brite and the Colour Kids would hang out once they hit their experimental teen years.
It’s a high-octane, sugar-fuelled, people-packed warren of independent stall owners, tower malls, cafes and restaurants. The rabbit-hole goes deep, Alice.
Harajuku: History and Culture
Distressingly Harajuku’s modern history starts when it was literally flattened by the 1945 Great Tokyo Air Raid. Rebuilt as US Army Barracks – ‘Washington Heights’ – stores catering to the appetites of stationed marines stocked goods that attracted Tokyo’s novelty-hungry youth. Later, when the 1964 Olympics were held in neighbouring Yogogi, Washington Heights was used as the Olympic village and thousands of people came from across Japan to meet the athletes.
Harajuku blossomed into a style mecca during the 1970s when the fashion-obsessed youth culture of Tokyo transitioned from Shibuya to Harajuku. In 1971 and 1978 two major shopping malls (Palais France and Laforet Harajuku) were constructed and the area became widely regarded as a hub for the aesthetically minded.
In 1977 a pedestrian paradise known as ‘Din Street’ was created and quickly became the heart of Harajuku’s culture. During it’s peak, literally tens of thousands of young people would gather to watch an array of radical amateur performers and admire street fashion devotees. One such example was the takenoko-zuko whose style is said to have influenced today’s Gyaru Girls.
But by the mid 90s the area was plagued with problems. There was an influx of illegal drugs, sold by migrant workers who were hit hard when the ‘bubble economy’ collapsed, and increasing complaints of noise pollution and littering. In 1996 police stormed the area and Din street was suspended permanently.
Today Harajuku remains a thriving cultural precinct pulsing with fashions that are gone almost as soon as they arrive.
And at the heart of this pulse is the Takeshita-dori.
Monique and I are excited to visit Harajuku. We’re keen to splurge on the unique gifts and treasures yet to be found in this kawaii wonderland. And the Takeshita-dori is the embodiment of the word ‘splurge’: extravagant, indulgent, showy and unrestrained.
Trotting down the stairs at Harajuku station, I remark to Monique, ‘this station’s so much smaller than the others,’ as hundreds of people jostle past me. Walking through the exit the first thing we see is the entrance to Takeshita:
Here and there are dainty teen girls in luxurious Victorian ruffles, their faces painted white and irises round and heavy like dolls. They chat to their friends and smoke while answering their phones, their countenance cute but cool. Passing by are men with partially shaved and dyed hair fixed into elaborate styles that speak of casual indifference.
The crowd flowing into the Takeshita-dori is large and incredibly diverse. To my right, an elderly Indian couple laugh together and rifle through clothes next to German backpackers, dressed so lightly in weather that I consider cold. To my left, African-American men speak broken Japanese and flash suave smiles at passing women.
There’s hundreds and hundreds of teenagers and young adults, all dressed as though they just discovered colour. They talk urgently and laugh with each other as they pass a waffle bar packed with gleeful children. And there are couples who, perhaps, have been travelling together too long, scowling. Their body language speaks of irritation and tiredness.
The aroma of Takeshita street tickles my nostrils. It’s a waft you would expect from Wonka’s chocolate factory – cupcakes and icecream linger in the air, accentuated by milkshake and syrup. Here you will find a decidedly Western smorgasbord.
The sound is an overwhelming assault on my ears; the collective conversation of thousands of different people speaking dozens of different languages – a strange rhythm to wander by. The specifics of each language – inflection and beat – a tiny solo from strangers who pass close. Interspersed in this messy symphony is the sharp aggressive trumpeting of the shop hawkers, all attempting to charm and seduce.
And in the seemingly endless shops there is a bounty of textures: soft lace dresses, scratchy netted underskirts, durable cotton and wool cardigans, slick polyester jumpers, metallic buckles, and sandy, coarse glitter.
The shopkeepers are friendly and generous. One offers me my choice of two free stickers. Another gives me a badge, “A gift, for you. So cuuuute,” she says.
And then there’s the madness of it.
So many fashion genres and sub-genres smashed together. A higgelty-piggelty mishmash of Visual Kei, Lolita, Gyaru-Kei, Ganguro/Kogal, Cosplay, Kawaii and Decora and everything in between.As we wander, time vanishes. Abandoned to exploring every item and every store, the enigmatic Cheshire Cat guides us:
`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ said Alice.
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
Harajuku intoxicates us.
Hours later when we finally surface, exhausted, I giggle at the cliche we’ve become – two girls struggling with their many shopping bags giddy from the thrill of purchase.
We step onto the Yamanote train and, like Alice emerging from the rabbit-hole, look back on our adventure with wonder. As I watch the Takeshita-dori sign disappear into the distance I feel that pang of bitter-sweet parting:
I already want to go back.
So when you visit Harajuku make sure to grab yourself a red bull and strap yourself in. It’s going to be a wild ride, kids.
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
Finding the Takeshita-dori
As I already mentioned, it’s kind of hard to miss it if you’re arriving on the Yamanote circle line. But just in case, here’s a map!
If you’re arriving on the Tokyo Metro you can also alight at Omotesando or Meijijingumae on the Tokyo Metro line to visit.
[Feature Image Credit: Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (2,3,4,5,6): Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (1): Cool Japan Journal]
[Image Credit (7): Disney Friends Club]
Have you visited Harajuku? Are there any other hidden fashion gems there we should know about?