Stepping off the platform at Harajuku station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo, I surveyed the chaos unfolding around me. Fashion-conscious Japanese girls with hair extensions, stilettos, and brightly-colored shopping bags pushed past me. A group of gothic lolitas mingled outside of the train station, one wearing vampire fangs.
Two older woman wearing elegant kimonos ambled towards Meiji shrine. A young couple dressed in cosplay walked hand in hand in front of me, most likely walking to Jingu Bridge, where people displaying all sorts of crazy fashions gathered. Harajuku is the place where anyone’s desire for worldly goods can be tested and where even the most yen-pinching people will have a hard time not spending any money at all. Harajuku is my favorite place in Tokyo, partly because it is next to Meiji Shrine, and this allows a visitor to experience both the new and old Japan, sitting side by side. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the area of Harajuku and Meiji Shrine is the perfect depiction of modern Japan, old and new existing together in harmony.
I was heading to Omotesando shopping street, often referred to as Tokyo’s very own “Champs-Elyseés,” to go to Forever 21, the latest fashion import from America. Forever 21 is known for its low prices and funky, fresh fashions. Arriving there, I gasped as I looked inside through the glass window at wall to wall people. However, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Taking a deep breath, I entered and was immediately engulfed by the crowd. An hour later, I emerged, slightly traumatized but at least with a pair of new ripped up jean shorts and Greek-style sandals to show for it. The streets were packed with people and stores of various international brands and Japanese brands lined the street, each teeming with people. I took shelter for a moment in the entrance of a Starbucks to gather my bearings.
Harajuku wasn’t originally a place of fashion. It actually traces its roots to the end of WWII. U.S. soldiers and their families began to occupy the area and it became a place where people flocked to experience a different culture. It also attracted fashion designers, models, and photographers. In 1964, when the Tokyo Olympics were held, Harajuku was developed further and the people who hung out there began to develop a distinctive and unique style different from the other areas of Tokyo. Today, Harajuku is known as a fashion mecca and international stars such as Gwen Stefani get some of their inspiration from Harajuku. Several styles can be seen in Harajuku today; cyber-punk, Lolita fashion (actually created in Osaka), Kawaii, punk, ganguro (a style that supposedly symbolizes a California girl with bleached hair, dark skin, fake eyelashes, and nails), cosplay, hip-hop, skater, and visual-kei (refers to style of bands and their fanbase).
Taking a deep breath, I decided it was time for some more shopping. Trying to time my jump into the stream of people moving down the sidewalk proved harder than I had imagined. However, I soon realized that there was never going to be a good time to jump in. It was now or never. Fashion was waiting and I needed to make a move.