Friday, October 27, 2006

Japan - Harajuku, Tokyo

While Akihabara may have fallen off its game a bit, one Tokyo neighborhood that does still live up to its notorious reputation is Harajuku. Made annoyingly famous in the west by that idiot Gwen Stefani and her merry band of Americanized pseudo-"Harajuku girls", this area is the center of Tokyo street fashion, and it plays host on Sundays to a parade of what amounts to cosplay as young people dress up in the most outlandish DIY styles possible. It has spawned several fashion magazines, including the famous FRUiTS founded by photographer Shoichi Aoki to show off some of the styles coming out of the area. That in turn has influenced a whole generation of young people across Japan.

Harajuku is technically a part of Shibuya ward, which is probably still more well-known in the west. Shibuya is home to the busiest intersection in the world (as well as the busiest Starbucks) and was known generally as the center of Tokyo street fashion throughout the 1990's - though that always included Harajuku. We didn't go to other parts of Shibuya on this trip - we've seen it before and just didn't have a lot of time. But Harajuku was enough, and as it's also home to the Meiji Shrine, we made a good half-day out of it.

We also didn't go on a Sunday - I wanted to, but we didn't have a free one while we were there. Still, there's plenty of good people-watching to do on any day of the week, and lots of other fun stuff too.

This is Takeshita Street, really the main street in Harajuku. (It's pedestrian-only and there are bigger avenues, but this is the street you walk if you go to Harajuku.) Note the hipster on the right - he thinks he's way cool. Probably thinks he's got the prime spot for attracting the ladies too.

A couple of real Harajuku girls. The fashions worn on regular weekdays are not the outrageous gothic lolita cosplay type stuff you see on Sundays - different groups of people going for different things. On weekdays, Harajuku is the equivalent of New York's East Village, and most of the people you see hanging around like this live in or around the area. This is the way they dress every day of the week.

By the way, Japan as a whole takes its fashion seriously. Harajuku is one aesthetic, but nearly everybody in Japan is absolutely freakin' stylish, whatever style they choose. They really put a lot of effort into it. Coming back to America, it's like this entire country got hit in the head with an ugly stick by comparison.

One of the many specialty boutiques on Takeshita Street. Now, I lived in NYC's East Village for a long time (on 1st Ave, one block from the namesake title of this here blog). I've walked down St. Marks Place - the East Village equivalent of Takeshita Street - many times. This stuff is even crazier than anything I saw for sale there. And there are probably 100 stores just like this on Takeshita Street.

Halloween, Harajuku style. (That skull cap is actually a Halloween decoration - there were a bunch more decorations just out of the shot.) The Japanese don't go trick-or-treating or anything, but they do love to dress up and Halloween was pretty much everywhere there, including and maybe especially in Harajuku.

Now that I've been there, I consider this area pretty much essential for any visit to Tokyo. Tokyo is a city for young people and this is the area that caters to their every whim. It is a microcosm of modern Japanese pop culture, and certainly Japanese street fashion. I'm getting old - I'm in my 30's now - but as a former long-term East Village resident, I totally "get" places like Harajuku, and Harajuku's the East Village times ten. And the fashions are just fun to look at, even if you've got no eye for fashion at all. It's just pure eye candy.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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