The first time I stepped out of Harajuku station and onto the street outside, I felt a wave of disbelief come over me. It didn’t quite seem real. I’d spent so many years dreaming of visiting Harajuku, mostly fuelled by my obsession with Gwen Stefani’s break-out career and her subsequent obsession with being part of the ultimate Harajuku-girl Squad. I was a bit overwhelmed and unprepared when I visited Harajuku and I left feeling like I didn’t really make the most of my time there. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you on your trip to Tokyo, here’s my guide to 21 of the very best things to do in Harajuku!
Pro tip: If you don’t like crowds, don’t visit Harajuku on a weekend (this one’s for you, fellow anxiety-sufferers). If you prefer a bit more peace, I’d recommend visiting on a weekday to avoid the somewhat overwhelming crowds.
But first, watch this…
1. Treat yourself to a little Purikura
WTF is that? Well, the word Purikura is the shortened version of ‘print club’ in Japanese and, basically, it’s in reference to sticker photo booths. You jump in by yourself or with friends, choose a background and other details for your photo, then smile and ham it up for the camera! Once done, you can edit the photos (make your eyes bigger and more sparkly, for example) then print out your stickers. The best place to do this is a place called Shop NOA, the first store in Japan to be dedicated entirely to Purikura and the best place to get amongst it! Find Purikura Shop NOA here.
2. Go thrift shopping
You’ll find Ragtag Harajuku on Takeshita-Dori, selling pre-loved high-end clothes. The space provides three floors of designer finds, waiting to be scoured by your bargain-loving hands. The ground floor is all about casual and street wear, with brands like A Bathing Ape on offer. Floor two is fancier, where you’ll find Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs waiting for you. The third floor is where you go to hand over your own pre-loved goods. I wonder if they consider Kmart designer? Find Ragtag Harajuku here.
3. Eat incredible Gyoza
What is life even about if you aren’t stuffing gyoza into your mouth?! Be sure to eat at least one meal at Harajuku Gyoza Lou, where your only decision for the day is whether fried or steamed. It isn’t fancy, but it does serve delicious food and nice cold beers to boot. You’ll find the dumplings here delicious AND affordable (yay!) Find Harajuku Gyoza Lou here.
4. Immerse yourself in the quirky cute fashion
Let’s be honest, you go to Harajuku to see and experience the incredible fashion of trendy Harajuku Girls and Lolitas! Make sure you don’t miss a single thing by stepping inside the doors of Closet Child. This incredible store sells all kinds of dresses and accessories for the Lolita girls. Another must-visit spot is the famous Maison de Julietta, where you can see and even dress up as a Lolita! So cool! Find Closet Child here and Maison Julietta here.
5. Grab breakfast at Bills
You’ll need to get up early and queue for your spot, but the food and coffee at Bills are well worth it. Fans of Bill Granger’s insanely good ricotta hotcakes, made famous at his Sydney cafes, will know what all the fuss is about. We’re talking perfectly cooked, plump, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth ricotta hotcakes served with fresh banana and that famous honeycomb butter. Bills is also a top spot for lunch and dinner. Find Bills here.
6. Go photography mad!
I’m telling you now, make sure you’ve brushed up on your photography skills and have your camera with you when you visit Harajuku. There are so many great things to photograph and you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice when it comes to great street photography opportunities!
7. Go shopping at Paris Kids
When I think of Tokyo and Harajuku, I think of really cute accessories. The must-visit destination for adorable accessories is a bright little shop named Paris Kids. You’ll find this place stocked to the hilt with gorgeous, weird and wonderful things like flower crowns, scrunchies, hair ties, clips, jewellery and so much more! It’s also one of the more affordable accessories shops in the area. Find Paris Kids here.
8. Check out the Meiji Jingu Shrine
You’ll find the Meiji Jingu Shrine a short walk from Harajuku Station. This beautiful, peaceful place is a must-visit. It’s visited by locals and visitors alike, offering up a sacred space where you have one of those ‘Wow, I’m actually in Japan’ moments. The shrine is where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken are enshrined. If you’re lucky, you’ll see traditional robes being worn for a wedding ceremony. Be sure to write a wish, hope or dream on a piece of wood and hang it up (You’ll know what I mean when you get there….) Find the Meiji Jingu Shrine here.
9. Eat beautiful crepes
You’ll see a lot of beautiful and cute things in Harajuku, some of these are edible. One such delight is the crepe craze, where famous shop Marion Crepes reigns supreme. The well-loved and well-known store serve up beautiful and delicious bites, which you may just have to queue for. Yum! If you don’t like the look of Marion, you’ll find a tonne of other crepe stores in surrounding streets, so go with your gut. Find Marion Crepes here.
10. Stroll the Jingu Bridge
You’ll find the Jingu Bridge connecting Harajuku Station with Meiji Jingu. This place is a great spot to find locals taking part in all kinds of dress-up. We saw some beautiful Lolitas and Harajuku Girls here as well as a number of people taking part in Cosplay. It was awesome! No guarantees, but it’s a great spot to start. Find the Jingu Bridge here.
11. Check out Yoyogi Park
Please make sure you visit Yoyogi Park on a Sunday! This place absolutely goes off! You’ll find it buzzing with life each and every Sunday as thousands flock to the beautiful gardens to do, well, just about everything. You’ll find people singing, dancing, practicing their catwalk skills, dressed up, dressed down, playing with their dogs and doing whatever it is they love to do! Be sure to visit the dog park too and gaze lovingly at all the cute, well-loved dogs inside (most are wearing cute outfits). Find Yoyogi Park here.
12. Go shopping along Takeshita-Dori
The famous Takeshita-Dori fashion street is a fantastic place to go to see a host of lovely boutiques and stores selling up the typically cute and wonderful things you’d hope to find in Tokyo. You’ll find stores stocked with the weird, wonderful and incredibly trendy too. You’ll find it right near Harajuku Station.
13. Explore Daiso
It’s well worth stepping inside Japan’s beloved 100-Yen shop, Daiso. Inside you’ll find them selling a whole treasure trove of things you never knew you needed (or existed). It’s a great place to pick up a potentially weird and wonderful gift for someone you love or spoil yourself. Find Daiso here.
14. Don’t take Harajuku Station for granted
There’s a good chance you’ll make your way to Harajuku via Tokyo’s rail system. When you arrive at Harajuku Station, take note of the station’s exterior. It’s actually the oldest wooden building in Tokyo, dating back to 1924!
15. Eat at Eco Farm Cafe 632
For a healthy and delicious lunch, pop into Eco Farm Cafe 632. These guys roast their own organically grown beans, on-site! So you know the coffee is fresh. They’re all about serving food that’s healthy, fresh and organic (where possible). Oddly enough, there’s also a cigar bar on-site so you can have your steamed vegetables with a side of cigars. Find Eco Farm Cafe 632 here.
16. Get your karaoke on
I can’t stress this enough; whenever you have time to burn in Tokyo, stop in for a quick karaoke. This became a favourite past-time of Matt and mine (and we can’t sing and usually can’t stand karaoke!) Somehow, it’s just so much more fun in Japan. Be sure to pop in for a few cold drinks and to blow off some steam by singing or rapping your heart out in a karaoke bar. You’ll find Karaoke Kan in Harajuku here.
17. Snack attack at Calbee Plus
Another one of those ‘must try’ experiences, you just gotta grab an afternoon snack from Calbee Plus. The big thing here is the most delicious, fresh, hot potato crisps your mouth has ever encountered. They specialise in serving up fresh chips straight from the cooker to your greedy little hands, topped with yummy (and slightly odd) things like chocolate and soft-serve ice cream. Find Calbee Plus here.
18. Drink a lot of craft beer
Escape the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and seek refuge at the Harajuku Taproom. Here, you’ll find yourself in a craft beer bar! Woohoo! It’s a great place to try a whole range of beers you just wouldn’t get the chance to in any other place. There are around 15 microbrews available on tap as well a host of year-round staples and seasonal brews too. Find the Harajuku Taproom here.
19. Take a guided tour
Explore the most entertaining spots in the most efficient way, accompanied by a local guide! You’ll visit shops recommended by locals without getting lost in translation, and you needn’t worry about getting confused about where to go and what to try. Best of all, you’ll experience the traditional and stunning Meiji shrine contrasted with trendy pop culture, all in only three hours! Find Magical Trip’s Harajuku tour here.
20. Wander along Omotesando
If you’ve been to Paris and strolled along the Champs Elysees, you’ll feel a slight sense of familiarity as you wander Omotesando. This beautiful, tree-lined street is home to leading fashion brands so you’ll be treated to some very beautiful shopfronts, high-end boutiques and more fancy stuff. Even if you’re broke (me) it’s still worth a look, even just briefly, to see the other side of Harajuku. Find Omotesando here.
21. Do some nerdy, arty, history things
I love visiting beautiful temples, historical sites and art galleries. Luckily, there are quite a few of these awesome spots to be found in Harajuku too, so don’t let all that youth and cute food distract you too much. In Harajuku, you can visit the Togo Shrine, dedicated to Admiral Togo who defeated the Russian Fleet in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. You can also scope out the Nezu Museum and check out their collection of East Asian artwork, with some beautiful pieces from Japan, China and Korea (there’s also a really beautiful traditional Japanese garden too). Be sure to take a peek at the Ota Memorial Museum of Art for their rotating exhibitions, which change each month.
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