Monday, October 08, 2007

Tokyo Day 5 - Harajuku on a Sunday Afternoon

Hard to believe it was more than 2 weeks ago now, but on our last and busiest day in Tokyo, we took a quick visit to Harajuku. We also visited there a year ago, but I wanted to go on a Sunday. See, that's the day when the kids dress up as their favorite bands or characters and stand around hoping to get their pictures taken for street fashion magazines. It's a strange little scene.

This apparently all started in the 1980's, completely organically. They used to close the streets on Sunday back then, and so all the kids who had nowhere else to hang out would gather around Harajuku, often dressed up to look like their favorite "visual kei" rock stars. Over time, the styles got more outlandish and more varied and eventually the media descended. That's about the time it exploded regionally - even today, in the pictures I took, you see a lot of these kids carrying suitcases around. They're not even from Tokyo anymore.

They don't close the streets anymore, so the whole scene is now basically concentrated on Jingu Bashi, a little pedestrian bridge near Harajuku Station. I'm sure the turnout isn't as large as it once was, but there are still quite a few visual kei cosplayers, punks and lolitas (both gothic and sweet) hanging around. The really odd thing is that the tourists and photographers clearly outnumber the cosplayers at this point, as you can plainly see in some of my photos and videos. It's really voyeuristic, as these crowds of tourists go chasing these kids around the bridge. Most of them are perfectly happy to have their picture taken - why dress up otherwise? - but some of them were obviously pretty freaked out. I didn't really understand how that could be - they should have known what they were in for - but maybe it was the first time for some of them.

A couple little clarifications for anyone who's curious about this stuff and may have read some other blogs on the net:
  • The people in the pics below do not dress like this every day of the week. This is what real Harajuku fashion looks like (from my previous post last year):

    But the stuff below is not - it's costume play.

  • These kids are not really there to get their pictures taken by tourists. Most of them seemed to be happy enough to let us photograph them, but not all of them were, and they all seemed a lot more interested in people that looked like they might be pros. They want to make it into big magazines, not just some guy's blog or family travel album.
Anyway, some pics - videos at the bottom:

Looks to me like a sweet lolita, a maid and a punk.
These girls were super-young and didn't seem to know where they were going.

A visual kei "band". Not sure if they're meant to be anybody specific.

One of the girls from the group above.

These girls were actually western. I just wanted to show the crowd around them here.

The girl on the left was probably my favorite - she really put some effort into that look.
Somehow I'll bet the lollipop was intentional.

There's a little "rest area" off to the side where people just go to hang out.
Anybody who tried to take photos there got waved off pretty quick.

These girls came and went in about 5 minutes.
They just weren't having any of it.

A few of the more outlandish people we saw.

Some videos of the general scene:

After hanging out on the Jingu Bashi for a while, we took another walk down Takeshita Street. Our real objective was to hit BOOK*OFF, which was one of the only things my wife wanted to do while in Tokyo. Takeshita Street is really the only way to get there from the station, and it's good for people-watching anyway. I didn't take too many photos there this time, though.

There were a lot more westerners all over Harajuku this time than last year. Maybe it's just because it was Sunday, or maybe there really are more tourists all of a sudden. Who knows.

Crepes! These two crepe places (above and below) are literally across the path from each other. It's a big gathering/resting place in the middle of the street (it helps that there's a public bathroom and a set of vending machines right near where I was standing). If you're new to my blog and wondering what a Japanese crepe looks like up close, see the photo at the bottom of this post. Crepes are one of Japan's most popular street snacks.

There was some sort of festival that passed us as we walked down the street. It was super-crowded and this wasn't all that pleasant, but everybody got out of the way - I think everybody there understands this kind of thing. My wife supposedly had to participate in a festival like this when she was younger.

In fact, definitely do not go to Harajuku on a Sunday if you're afraid of crowds. Especially around the train station and on Takeshita Street, it's practically elbow to elbow. It doesn't help that the streets are all fenced in (no doubt to keep the crowds from spilling onto the street itself) which just leads people to sit on the fences, making even less room on the sidewalk. Takeshita Street is not a real street but a pedestrian walkway, but it's so narrow that there's barely enough room to walk when it gets crowded anyway.

The following picture was taken inside the Harajuku train station:

Yeah, not a good place if you're claustrophobic (or agoraphobic).


  1. I think the lack of GothLolis etc. can also be attributed to the Summer heat. When I have been there in Spring, there probably would be 10 times the number of FRUiTS out there. That whole North wall of the bridge in your videos would have been full of colour and costumes.

  2. I love Harajuku! Everyone is so very cute! I didn't make it there on a Sunday, unfortunately. I did get to walk away with some cute little shoes and some nifty trinkets.

  3. Anonymous7:31 PM

    Haha, you were at Jingu bashi at the same moment:

    From a random Lolita who just stumbled by
    October 2009


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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