“LINE?” I asked. “The app? They have a store?”
“Yes they do,” the missus replied. She was on it, chatting with several of her cousins. The familiar tone of messages sent and received came fast and furious. She laughed at a sticker emoji that someone sent.
“I don’t get it. It’s a free app, right? You can get stickers, I suppose. But what could they offer that justifies opening a store in Harajuku?”
As it turns out, there is a lot more to LINE than just an instant messenger service. The characters featured in the app’s free “stickers” (small bits of artwork that the app’s users can insert into their chats) are so popular that they have spawned their own line of merchandise. On the mobile app, a user can purchase virtual “coins” in order to get premium stickers, themes, and related applications (such as the Disney TsumTsum application, a match-three game which has its own series of mini-cartoons that play on the Disney Channel in Japan). From the application, you can also make international phone calls, call a taxi, or even attach a credit card to the account to make use of LinePay, the app’s new mobile payment service.
The app’s success has spun off into the “Line Offline” cartoon, which follows the adventures of Moon the Salaryman and other LINE characters (you can watch the first episode in Japanese). The popularity of the characters led to the opening of the LINE Friends stores, which feature character merchandise and even exclusive app stickers that you can only get by visiting the store.
The Harajuku LINE Friends store was the first LINE store in Japan, and it’s easy to get to. Once you leave Harajuku station’s Takeshita-Guchi exit, cross the street and wade through the super-kawaii!!! crowds on Takeshita Street. If you manage to get through without getting too much fashion on you, you will make it to the other end of Takeshita where it intersects with Omotesan Street. Use the crosswalk to get to the other side of the street, turn right, and keep walking. In about 250 meters, you will run into Brown and Sally.
Brown the Bear is LINE’s primary mascot. He stands next to the door, with a yellow duck named Sally on his head. There are several other characters related to the LINE app inside the door–Brown and Sally again, as well as Leonard the Frog, Edward the Worm, and Cony the White Rabbit. Stop and take a picture with your favorite!
The upper floor is long and narrow, and features dozens of items emblazoned with the LINE characters. Buttons and stamps are up front, along with the cute school gear for kids to show off to their classmates. On the wall on the right hang sweatshirts of the different characters, and you can pull the hood up to wear froggy eyes or a duck bill. If you’re looking for something relatively inexpensive to give the LINE fan in your life, this floor probably has it.
At the opposite end of the store is a giant stuffed Brown, sitting in FAO Schwarz fashion, ready for pictures. Go ahead and give him a hug. I did, once I made sure no one was looking. Also in this area are a number of framed artworks called “Memories of Brown,” which are apparently scenes from the cartoon. My favorite was the one where Brown, his expression unchanged from his normal small-eyed, unsmiling stare, punches a crab man in the face. I’m sure there’s a great story behind that altercation.
Next to the giant stuffed Brown is a set of stairs leading to the lower level. The downstairs section of the LINE Friends store is a little more upscale–dishes, models, and other fancier merchandise. Fancier prices, too. But even if you’re just window-shopping, you can visit Brown’s Room at the back, featuring the bear relaxing in his chair. On the wall behind him are a number of smaller Browns, each wearing a different outfit. Judging by the reactions of the girls snapping picture after picture, this was the cutest thing ever.
Summary: If you are a fan of all things LINE, this is a must-stop during your trip to Harajuku. If you are a fan of the application, you can stop by the register to collect one of the exclusive virtual stickers that you can only get at the store. Be sure to break them out during your next LINE chat, so everyone knows that yes, you were fashionably there.
Location: Omotesando St., Harajuku
Hours: Weekdays 11 AM to 9 PM; Weekends and Holidays: 10 AM – 9 PM
Website (English): http://fs.line.me/en/#index, or on Facebook (Japanese) at https://www.facebook.com/lfs.harajuku?ref=ts&fref=ts