For the young and fashionable teenager, spending time in Harajuku (原宿) on the weekends is practically a necessity. Even older folks will want to visit the area, though, to see Meiji Jingu shrine and Yoyogi Park.
The broad, tree-lined avenue leading downhill from the southern end of the JR station is Omote-sandō (表参道), which leads to the upscale Aoyama district. The street is full of cafes and clothing stores. For teenagers, though, the place to be is Takeshita-dori, which is a bustling narrow street several blocks to the north.
Nearby Yoyogi Park (代々木公園 Yoyogi-kōen) was the site of the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan, on December 19, 1910, by Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa, following which it became an army parade ground. During the postwar occupation, it was the site of the Washington Heights residence for U.S. officers. It later was selected as the site for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and the distinctive Olympic buildings designed by Kenzo Tange are still nearby. In 1967, it was made into a city park. Today, the park is a popular hangout, especially on Sundays, when it is used as a gathering place for people to play music, practice martial arts, etc. The park has a bike path, and bicycle rentals are available. As a consequence of Japan's long recession, there are several large, but surprisingly quiet and orderly, homeless camps around the park's periphery.
JR Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line is the obvious way to get to Harajuku. The station is very conveniently located next to both the entrance to Meiji Jingu and the beginning of Omote-Sando.
Meiji-jingu-mae Station (on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin subway lines) has exits onto Meiji-dori and right in front of the entrance to Meiji Jingu, next to JR Harajuku Station. The subway is better than JR for getting here from central Tokyo, but the Yamanote Line is easier if you are coming from Tokyo Station. The nearby Omotesando Station (on the Ginza and Hanzomon subway lines) is located further down Omote-sando near the intersection with Aoyama-dori. Omotesando station has a variety of boutiques and restaurants located in the underground station complex.
Harajuku is only 15 minutes away from Shibuya by foot, just follow the train tracks along Koen-dori from the scramble crossing. (You should pass Tower Records on your right and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on your left.) If you have more time, see the suggested walking tour below.
If it's Harajuku's youth culture you want to see, don't even bother unless it's a Sunday. Each group stakes out its territory around Yoyogi Park (代々木公園 Yoyogi-kōen).
- The bridge across the train tracks is full of teenagers dressed up as Gothic Lolita and other extreme Japanese youth fashions. Besides just hanging out with friends, many come here to be snapped by one of the many magazine photographers who mingle. Unfortunately, as of lately, the police seem to be cracking down on loitering, so they are becoming increasingly rare.
- Over by the entrance to the park, people with greased hair listen to rockabilly music and dance in their vintage jeans. This subculture has been around for twenty years now.
- The sidewalks along the south side are usually occupied by junk vendors and loud rock bands. Both of these groups periodically get swept away by police crack-downs, though.
- The tree-lined area leading from the south end of the park to Shibuya is filled with all sorts of street performers, mostly folk-pop singers, but also including hip-hop dancing and street theater.
- Meiji Jingū (明治神宮). Built in commemoration of Emperor Meiji in 1920, is Tokyo's grandest shrine. Like all of Japan's major shrines, it's large in scale but simple in structure, entered via a winding path and through a giant torii gate. On summer weekends you have a very good chance of catching a Japanese wedding in progress here; the shrine is also packed on New Year's Eve when people come here to celebrate the new year. An excellent place for those who wish to experience an oasis of tranquility among the hustle and bustle of the rest of the area. Free.
- Yoyogi Park. In springtime, Yoyogi Park is full of cherry blossoms and people partying under the trees.
- Tōgō Jinja (東郷神社), 1-5-3 Jingumae (5 minutes from Harajuku station). This shrine was given the name of 'Tōgō Heihachirō', who was general in Meiji age.
- Okamoto Taro Kinenkan (8 minutes from Omotesando station on foot.), ☎ 03-3406-0801. Studio and house of Okamoto Taro are exhibited. He made numerous masterpieces. For example, taiyonotou. Unfinished work or paint which he used are leaved.
Walking tour: Harajuku to Shibuya
An interesting and recommended walk will let you experience Harajuku and Shibuya, and all of the trendy places in between.
Starting from the Takeshita exit (竹下口) of JR Harajuku station, walk straight away from the station down Takeshita-dori (竹下通り), where you will almost certainly run into the mingling pedestrian crowds. When you reach the first major crossroad, Meiji-dori (明治通り), turn right.
When you reach the tree-lined Omote-sandō, turn left. There are no obvious Omote-sandō street signs, but you will note a 2d story office with that name above the pink "Condomania" store on one of the corners. (And no, that business does not sell all sizes of condominium units.)
Omote-sandō is home to the highest of high-fashion stores, including Ralph Lauren, Coach, and Yves St. Laurent.
The approximate half-way point is where Omote-sandō meets Aoyama-Dori (青山通り). There is very little of interest beyond this point, so one option is to walk back down Omote-sandō and return to Harajuku. If you elect to go forward then turn right on Aoyama-Dori and you will eventually pass United Nations University on your right, and Aoyama Gakuin University on your left, before continuing down and finishing up at Shibuya's world-famous pedestrian crossing.
Allow yourself approximately two hours for this walk.
- Yoyogi Park (代々木公園 Yoyogi-kōen). Has a bike path and bicycle rentals are available.
Harajuku and Omotesando are home to many upscale beauty salons, with prices to match.
- Marble, 1-19-13 Jingumae. A beauty south style salon with friendly staff, good techniques, and reasonable prices.
- VIRGO, 2-32-3 Jingumae (near the BEAMS Harajuku branch). Actresses and models sometimes use this salon.
- Takeshita-dōri (竹下通り). Running from the Takeshita exit of JR Harajuku to Meiji-dori, this is Tokyo's preteen haven guaranteed to fill any adult's Hello Kitty quota in milliseconds. Lately it's been nudging towards an older age bracket though, and now also caters to angsty teens looking for frilly Victorian "Gothic Lolita" clothing or black lipstick.
- Harajuku-SoLaDo (原宿ソラド), 1-8-2 Jingumae, ☎ 03-6440-0568. M-F 11AM-9PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-9PM. New shopping center in Harajuku with 11 clothes shops.
- Omote-sandō (表参道). Caters to those with more adult or at least more expensive tastes, especially as you head towards the eastern Aoyama end.
- Antique Market, 3-6-1 Kita-Aoyama (B1 Hanae Mori Bldg), ☎ 03-3407-2675. M-Sa 11AM-7PM. A small collection of specialist shops that sell authentic (and fiercely expensive) antiques. For serious antique lovers only. (August 2009 update: This mall was mostly empty, with only three or four booths occupied.)
- Omotesando Hills, 4-12-10 Jingumae, ☎ 03-3497-0310. Designed by Tadao Ando and built by Mori Building of Roppongi Hills fame, this is a super-chic shopping mall that caters to those "independent, style-conscious urbanites" (to quote the site) who couldn't possibly wear anything except the latest fashions or eat chocolates not prepared by a famous Parisian patissier. For the rest of us, it's still an interesting browse, and the restaurants on the top floor may be worth a splurge for a light lunch.
- Oriental Bazaar, 5-9-13 Jingumae. A kitschy Tokyo institution for tourists and expats alike, with four floors of shopping stocking everything from kamikaze T-shirts to foreigner-sized kimonos. Still, this is definitely the easiest way to get your souvenir shopping done. The Bazaar is housed in an instantly recognizable building with a faux-Chinese temple roof.
- Kiddy Land, 6-1-9 Jingumae. A huge toy store located on Omotesando, near the entrance to Cat Street (on September 17 2010 Kiddyland moved to Cat Street).
- Laforet Harajuku, 1-11-6 Jingumae, ☎ 03-3475-0411. M-Su 11AM-8PM. A large building owned by the same company that runs Omotesando Hills, but targeting a decidedly younger audience. In summer and winter, they have big sales.
- YM Square, 4-31-10 Jingumae (just north of the Jingumae intersection along Meiji-dori). Known for its two big used clothes shops: Kinji and Hanjiro.
Omote-sando has occasionally been dubbed the Champs-Elysées of Tokyo, which is true at least for the general price level of the trendy cafes and eateries along the road.
The must-eat item of Takeshita-dori is the Harajuku crêpe. It's a treat of a fresh-made crêpe rolled into a cone and stuffed mostly with whipped cream and other goodies such as strawberries, chocolate, even whole slices of cheesecake; the more adventurous options including tandori chicken. Just stroll down the street and you will see four or five different shops. Most flavors cost less than ¥500.
In terms of eating a meal in Harajuku, the vast majority of restaurants serve Western or Indian food. If it's Japanese food you're looking for, you're probably best off eating before or after Harajuku.
- Shakey's Pizza, 6-1-10 Jingumae. Shakey's Pizza has an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for ¥850 on weekdays (on weekends & holidays about ¥1250). If you've never had seaweed, pickled ginger or fruit salad in your pizza, this is the place to try it. The pizza isn't great, but for Tokyo the buffet is a killer deal.
- Tenya (てんや). This fast-food tempura chain has an outlet on Meiji-dori just to the north of the Meiji-dori/Omote-sando intersection. ¥500 for a bowl.
- Kebab Box J, 1-8-8 Jingumae (on Meiji-dori between Takeshita-dori and Omote-sando), ☎ 03-3470-0706. 10:30AM-9PM. Whereas most doner kebabs in Tokyo are served out of a van, Kebab Box J's store is firmly attached to the ground. Friendly staff wear cowboy hats. Chicken or beef kebabs ¥500.
- Kyushu Jangara (九州じゃんがら), 1-13-21 Jingumae (top of Omote-Sando street, right by the intersection), ☎ 03-3404-5572. One of the best-known tonkotsu ramen shops in Tokyo, where you can choose between five degrees of noodle thickness, three levels of soup texture, and three levels of soup fattiness.
- Sakuratei (go down Takeshita street and make a left after the hair salon 2010 sign. It is behind the red Design Festa Art Gallery). A great Okonomiyaki restaurant where many local artists work. An all you can eat course is around ¥1300 for 2 hours.
- Arms Sandwiches (just outside of Yoyogi Park, near the dog park entrance). This small, Americana-inspired eatery is nestled right off the main footpath, and serves lots of Western food, including a wide burger selection (try the avocado burger!). Also serves fries, chili dogs, and other non-Japanese fare. American beer selection available. Be advised, the place fills up pretty fast, so swing by before a stroll in Yoyogi and put your name in it.
- JS Burgers Cafe, 6-6-2 2F Jingumae (Above an Italian restaurant, next to TGI Friday.). Clean, bright, upmarket burger chain. A set meal of burger, fries and a drink costs around ¥1200. The thick chilli sauce is recommended.
- Yellow 96 Cafe, 3-20-1 Jingumae (Next to Design Fiesta Art Gallery.). Funky, arty, quiet backstreet cafe. Good place to savour a coffee (hot or cold) in a deep chair.
- Eggs N' Things, 30-2, Jingumae 4-chome. American-style all-day breakfast joint. Eggs served every way imaginable - pancakes, Eggs Benedict, with sausage, etc. Wildly popular at lunchtime, with lines backing down the street, so go early or late (possibly after 7pm).
- R/O-426, Jingumae 4-26-18 (Down the small walking street beside Ralph Lauren). Small burger and beer joint with the kitchen housed inside a small, Airstream trailer. Outdoor patio seating just above a small walkway where you can watch wannabe models and photographers capture bright-eyed moments in the afternoon sun.
- Anniversaire Cafe, ☎ 03-5411-5988. This is a fashonable cafe of Paris style. You can enjoy elegant mood with seeing a row of houses and street of Omotesando. You can also choose fish or meat for lunch
- cafe STUDIO, 4-31-10 Jingumae, ☎ 03-3478-0182. M-Su 11AM-11PM. This restaurant/cafe often holds events including guest speakers and live shows. The hamburger menu is popular.
- Fonda de la Madrugada, 2-33-12 Jingumae, ☎ 03-5410-6288. M-Th, Su 5:30PM-2AM, F & Sa 5:30PM-5AM. Located in a cavernous basement, Fonda de la Madrugada is regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants in Tokyo. Menu in English, Spanish and Japanese. Expect to pay around ¥5000 per person for food and drinks, plus a 10% service charge.
- Restaurant Kinoshita, 3-37-1 Yoyogi Shibuya-ku (Next to the Design Festa Art Gallery and), ☎ 03-3376-5336. 12-2PM, 6-9PM, closed Mondays and the third Tuesday of each month. Kinoshita makes eating French food in Japan justifiable. Some say that with its underpriced menu, dinner courses for ¥3800-¥7000, and weekday lunches for ¥1800, this restaurant is the best kept secret in Tokyo. But in fact it is popular, and reservations are mandatory. Menu in French and Japanese.
- Binimaru, 2-31-7 Jingumae Shibuya-ku (10 min. walk from JR Harajuku station's Takeshita exit), ☎ 03-5411-1209. 7PM-2AM, closed Sundays. Nice selection of Belgian bottled beers, lots of beer, quite a lot of beer, all are available in 750 mL (25 floz) bottles, good for sharing with a friend. ¥1000-1200 for single serving bottle, around ¥2000 for 750 mL (25 floz) bottle.
- COCONGO, 2-31-9 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, ☎ 03-3475-8980. 11AM-8PM. This is a south style ethnic caffe. This shop's lassi (an Indian mango yogurt based juice) is very good.
- Floracion Aoyama, 4-17-58 Minamiaoyama Minatoku, ☎ 03-3403-1554. A conveniently placed, if somewhat expensive hotel, it can be found by the Omotesando station in a quiet spot with a good view of the park. It features both a restaurant of reasonable quality and a spa - expect to pay through the nose, though. The rates change regularly, and currently sit at between 11303 to 12458 yen a night for a single room, with double rooms costing up to 21450 yen.
- Japan Youth Hostels Yoyogi, Olympic Center, 3-1, Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, ☎ 03-3467-9163.
- Shibuya is within walking distance if you're still in the mood for more teenybopping.