Pop icons like Gwen Stefani and movies like Lost in Translation have elevated Harajuku and Omotesando to superstar status. Media portrayal of the area may lead you to expect nothing more than hoards or lolita girls with frilled parasols and layers of petticoats with carousel and cakes themes, or maybe even the darker side of “goth lolita.” But the culture and atmosphere of Harajuku and Omotesando is so varied and deep that a whole day really should be dedicated to it lest you miss something that you will never forget.
Before we get started, check out our video guide to Harajuku!
When you feel energized and ready to tackle the vibrant and often jam-packed streets of Harajuku, head back towards Harajuku Station, cross the street and turn left. When you walk through the arch of Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori (with an LED screen to welcome you in full regalia to boot) what will first hit you is not the fashion. Instead it is the sheer amount of pink, on the sides of the buildings and in the shops and on the people.
The highlights of Takeshita-dori are definitely in the super kawaii lolita and accessory shops that line the street. After stopping by Milk, one of the top lolita shops in Harajuku, head to Body Line, located on the second floor about halfway down the street. Body Line has a long and storied history and a strong and dedicated band of followers. Their clientele knows that Body Line is not a place for cheap deals and steals. Rather, Body Line is a place where you will get the best quality handmade garments around.
Another great spot to hit up on Takeshita-dori is the chain store Tutuanna. This hosiery store has everything from socks designed to be hidden under your high heels to special control top shapewear, plus some of the most unique stockings you will be able to find in Harajuku.
If you’re in the mood for a snack, Takeshita-dori is lined with famous crepe shops. We recommend Marion Crepes since it’s been filling happy bellies since 1976, but you really can’t go wrong wherever you stop. Though you can always opt for a savory crepe, doesn’t a warm, freshly baked crepe filled with a slice of cheesecake and ice cream sound so much better? After all, why go to Harajuku if you don’t want to experience the unicorn princess lifestyle? So dig into all of the parfaits, flavored popcorn, and chocolates you can find!
The last few steps of Takeshita-dori is where you can find the hipster and new age grunge fashions that are recently gaining popularity in the Tokyo fashion world. As you exit Takeshita-dori, you move into Omotesando, an eye-opening experience after emerging from the crowded and cramped Harajuku. The main highway-like roads are four lanes wide and people move from street to street in Shibuya-style masses. Stores like Forever 21 and H&M stand three or four stories tall and the sidewalks are gently shaded with rows of leafy trees. In a way, it almost feels like New York’s Soho nestled itself in the middle of a park. Despite both Harajuku and Omotesando having a commercial appearance, there is a treasure trove of little backstreets and exclusive boutiques to explore.
For a more laid-back and adult version of Takeshita-dori, try walking along Cat Street. To find it, take the street right next to the impressive five story shopping mall Gyre, and a hidden village-like walkway will open up to you. You’ll not only find several recognizable brand name shops like Adidas and Keene, but also Japan-exclusive stores.Ragtag, for example, hosts one of the widest selection of vintage and secondhand women’s and men’s clothing and home furnishings selection around. Although the prices at Ragtag are nowhere as cheap as you will find at Salvation Army or Goodwill, this place is a great store to walk away with some vintage Japanese and foreign designer labels.
Cat Street is good at hiding the best gems Omotesando has to offer, so keep your eyes peeled. What looks like a whitewashed garden gate is actually one of the best doughnut and bagel places in Omotesando, and be sure to walk up to the second level of the various buildings to find boutiques that may have only 25 or 30 items at most for sale. (For more unique ideas on where to shop, visit our Cat Street shopping guide.)
And Omotesando isn’t just about fashion. Whether you are 5 or 50, who can resist a quirky, wild and out there toy store? For both the innovative and the cute, take a stop by Kiddyland. With five floors to explore, the kid in you can run rampant, play with legos, look at Star Wars stuff, and hang out with Hello Kitty. Each floor is dedicated to a different genre and it’s like living Rudolph’s The Island of Misfit Toys, but so much happier! Dive headfirst into The Peanuts, anything Studio Ghibli, Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Gundam, Lego, and essentially every other kind of toy you can think of!
Aside from shopping, Omotesando is a great place to enjoy a snack. If you are still coming down from your sugar high after Takeshita-dori, grab a California-style avocado burger or Cesar salad from one of the many cafes and bars that line the street. Another alternative is Mos Cafe, which is like everyone’s favorite burger joint Mos Burger, but with a wider menu and delicious handcrafted salads and bento dishes.
If you have a hardcore sweet tooth, the handmade candy shop Candy Showtime turns gargantuan logs of spun sugar into little droplets of candy art right in front of your eyes. Also, get in on the latest food trend sweeping the Japanese nation: popcorn!! You will see lines two blocks deep of fans waiting to get a taste of KuKuRuZa Popcorn and it is highly suggested that you go and see what all the fuss is about!
Whatever you choose to do in Harajuku and Omotesando, just keep one thing in mind: while it is a blast to see the major landmarks and famous establishments, this area of Tokyo has such a rich fashion and cultural history that it would be a shame to just stay on the beaten path. Make the experience your own and explore the never-ending back streets and tiny alleys where the true fashion and culinary delights are to be found. That way you will be able to carry away with you a piece of Harajuku and Omotesando that is truly yours. So get out to Harajuku and Omotesando and have fun!
If you’re looking for more shopping ideas in Omotesando, visit Omotesando on a Budget: 5 Must-Visit Shops and Cafes.
Note: To go directly into the heart of Omotesando, head to the Tokyo Metro’s Omotesando station instead. Either place is extremely easy to get to and if you are unfamiliar with the kanji for Omotesando and Harajuku, most signs will also have English incorporated so you will be good to go!