If you’re in Tokyo, one of the areas you have to visit is Harajuku. Harajuku is the trend-setting zone of Tokyo and is responsible for kawaii fashion culture and it also gave the world Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Lolita girls, and lots more.
You’ll find Harajuku in the Shibuya district of Tokyo and it’s where all the young teens go to pick out their fashionable vintage looks and it gets very busy.
Wandering around the streets of Harajuku is an experience itself, but it’s so busy that you should be sure to stick together as it’s easy to get separated in the intense human traffic and, one needs a plan if you’re going to see the great things Harajuku has to offer.
Join me as we take a look at the top things to do in Harajuku so you can arrive with a checklist and get the most out of your time in this super-trendy zone of Tokyo.
The heartbeat of Harajuku has to be Takeshita Street as it’s the center of the fashionable part of Harajuku and at any given time, it’s packed with Tokyo’s youth browsing all the vintage stores looking to pick up their next new look.
You’ll find Takeshita Street just opposite the main exit from Harajuku Station so if you get the train there, you’ll be walking right out onto it when you leave the station. As you join the hustle and bustle, try not to get overwhelmed by the number of people around you, just stick together and enjoy the madness that surrounds you.
Takeshita Street is lined with hundreds of shops selling everything from clothes to trinkets, kawaii fashion, and of course, some food and drink.
You’ll notice the local youngsters eating and drinking while Instagramming as the food and drink on this street is a little insta-famous for being cute. Things like multi-color drinks and rainbow cotton candy are the stars.
Another food Takeshita street is famous for is its crepes and chances are you’ll see at least a hundred people walking down it with a crepe in their hands.
The Daiso is one of the most famous shops on Takeshita Street, and it’s the equivalent of a $1 shop, but 100 Yen in this case. You should definitely pop in as The Daiso is known to sell everything including electronics for just 100 Yen and you’ll probably walk in to take a peak, but end up with a whole bag full of bargains.
If you’re looking for a snack, pop into Calbee Plus which is a snack store that specializes in fresh potato chips. They are served warm and are delicious and you should also try Poterico which is like a potato string that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Another shop you should take a look around is Takenoko which is a boutique that specializes in peculiar fashion like lolita goods and more. It’s the best insight into the world of Japanese fashion you might get.
If the likes of Takeshita Street are too intense for you, and it probably will be after a few hours, then moving on to Cat Street in Harajuku will be a welcome relief.
Walking down Cat Street is a wonderful thing to do in Harajuku as it’s a much more relaxed affair. There are far fewer people wandering down this street that connects Shuya to Harajuku and it’s lined with some lovely shops.
Almost all the shops on Cat Street as unique and a lot of them are little second-hand stores too. You’ll find lots of lovely cafes along the way too which are great for taking a rest at and you’re likely to find a few street bands to sit back and enjoy listening to.
Another thing to do in Harajuku which should be on everyone’s must-see list is to go into the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. The Tokyu Plaza is known for its entrance which is an escalator surrounded by mirrors on the walls and ceiling, and you’ll see many an Instagrammer taking full advantage of it.
The Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku is home to a stylish fashion brand over its 5 floors that is tuned more towards fashionable adults than younger teens, so be sure to browse as it might be the place where you find your token item of Japanese fashion to take home.
You’ll also find lots of restaurants and cafes on each floor which are worth trying out if you see something new you’d like to taste.
If you’re not the kind of person who likes walking around shops then head straight to the top floor of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku where you will find the Toy Forest, a roof stop garden with a cafe. You can hang out up in the beautiful green garden for free and enjoy something delicious from the cafe. If you happen to be there during a festive occasion, the garden will be decorated too.
Laforest is just opposite the Tokyu Plaza and it’s the place to be if you want to take a look at youth fashion in Japan. It’s packed full of stores selling anything any youngster in Japan could ever want. It’s mainly home to big brands, cosmetics, lots of other general individual shops plus some cafes too and there is an official Sailor Moon shop inside too.
If you’re in Japan over New Year, then going to Laforet will be an experience to behold as it’s sale season. If you thought it was busy outside of the sales, think again. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of people rushing around trying to pick up something for a bargain.
Something unique about the Laforet building is that the floors go up in half instead of full numbers, meaning level 1.5 is actually a separate floor, which is confusing, to say the least, when you first get in the lift.
If you have kids, nephews, nieces, god kids or love the heartwarming character from Disney, Snoopy, Star Wars, and more, then one thing you have to do in Harajuku is go to Kiddy Land.
Kiddy Land is the number one kid’s store in Harajuku you’ll find everything a kid could want from lunch boxes to not books, toys, pencil cases, and lots more. There are so many choices available and they all feature some beloved charter from Studio Ghibli or any other globally famous Anime characters and it’s also a great place to pick a souvenir of your visit to Harajuku too.
You’ll find Kiddy Land on Omotesando street just a few minutes away from the main Harajuku station. They are open until 9 pm every night so you can even do a little bit of secret shopping while the kids are in bed.
If you’re looking for some traditional souvenirs to take home while in Harajuku then a stroll around the Oriental Bazaar is a good idea.
The Oriental Bazaar building is built to look like a traditional Japanese shrine and it has a long history in Tokyo as it first opened in 1916 as a gadget shop but since has been home to the realm of traditional Japanese goods.
You’ll find every kind of traditional Japanese souvenirs you might want in this shop from kimonos to bonsai and lacquerware along with other everyday Japanese items that would be great to have at home.
Harajuku isn’t all about busy streets and the fashion culture that goes with it, it’s also home to a few peaceful oases one of which is Yoyogi Park. When you’re done with the chaos of the likes of Takeshita street, something to do in Harajuku that’ll have you relaxed and reenergized is take a stroll or have a picnic in Yoyogi Park.
Yoyogi Park is huge spanning 135 acres and it has little pockets of beauty everywhere you go. If you’re there in spring make sure to walk through the Cherry Garden to find all the cherry blossoms in a stunning bloom. In fall, the colors of the leaves showcase the season as well as anywhere in Toyko, and there are some nice monuments and resting places to chill out at too such as Flowerland, a bird sanctuary, and lots more.
You’ll find people walking their dogs, jogging around the park, playing basketball, soccer, or hockey on the fields, having picnics, and playing music.
Just next to Yoyogi Park you’ll find Yoyogi National Stadium which was built for the 1964 Olympics and its hanging roof is a must-see if you’re into architecture. The roof hangs over the stadium instead of using pillars and was designed so people could focus on the game and not be distracted by any pillars.
Another place to escape the hustle and bustle of the Harajuku streets and some you have to visit in Harajuku for its cultural and historical relevance is the Meiji Jingu Shrine.
You’ll find the Meiji Jingu Shrine right next to Yoyogi Park and it’s one of the most important shrines in all of Japan. The Meiji Jingu Shrine was built in 1920 to honor the spirits of the first emperor of the modern age in Japan and his wife, the spirits of the Meiji Emperor and his wife.
When you enter the Meiji Jingu Shrine you will walk through a gigantic torii gate made from wood which stands some 13 meters tall and 18 meters wide and is the biggest of its kind in all of Japan. Once you walk through the gate you’ll be surrounded by some 100,000 trees that hail from all the different regions of Japan and were planted as offerings to the Emperor and his wife.
If you happen to be in Tokyo in the fall, a walk through this forest is a must as the colors are absolutely beautiful.
Inside the grounds of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, you can’t help but feel at peace, and walking around the 17 acres is a very soothing experience, especially after the busy streets of Harajuku.
Every day at 8 am and 2 pm a ceremony called Nikkusai takes place at the shrine where a sacred food offering is made to the gods. And if you’re in Tokyo over the 1st or 15th of any month, Tsukinamisai, a religious ceremony will be happening at the shrine which is worth seeing.
The busiest time of year at the Meiji Jingu Shrine is over New Year when thousands of people visit to pay their respects.
If you’re looking for a dash of culture a great thing to do in Harajuku is head to the Nezu Museum to see some great artwork and a stunning Japanese Garden.
Inside the Nezu Museum, you’ll find both East Asian and Japanese artwork. The art pieces include Buddhist carvings and Japanese paintings regarded as national treasures too. You’ll also find that the Nezu Museum has constantly changing exhibitions that showcase modern Japanese and East Asian art too.
One of the best parts of the Nezu Museum is visiting the Japanese garden. You’ll find four builds that together form a teahouse (considering it’s owned by Kaichiro Nezu, a tea ceremony master this makes a lot of sense) and large grounds that are landscapes in true Japanese style.
Another great cultural spot to visit in Harajuku is the Ota Memorial Museum of Art which focuses on ukiyo-e art. The amazing thing about the Ota Memorial Museum of Art is that their artwork changes each month based on a theme and they display some 14,000 pieces, 12,000 of which are from the collection of Kiyozo Ota.
If you want to see some of the best Japanese ukiyo-e from masters such as Hiroshige Utagawa and Utamaro Kitagawa, this is the museum to head to. You’ll be able to see incredible pieces that span the entire history of the ukiyo-e movement.
The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day and you can find some very unique souvenirs n the gift shop including hand towels and postcards printed with some ukiyo-e art.
The Kawaii Monster Cafe is something you have to see while in Harajuku as it’s the place that shows off the “kawaii” or cute culture that Harajuku is so famous for.
Eating the Kawaii Monster Cafe is something you will never forget, and most likely never have the chance to do again. The decor features a lot of every color and the different seat areas all come with a particular theme. The waitresses are referred to as monster girls as they are dressed in mad costumes and hair in every color too.
If you thought that was where the color ends, you’d be wrong, all the food served in the Kawaii Monster Cafe is also rainbow-colored.
During the day, this is a kid-friendly place but at night it becomes an adult-only affair due to the entertainment that is put on offer. If you want to visit the Kawaii Monster Cafe, make sure to reserve way in advance as it’s extremely popular.
Miyashita Park is another great space to visit in Harajuku as it’s home to three stories of amazing restaurants, cafes, shops, and activity areas which include a skate park, beach volleyball courts, and a climbing wall.
The top floor is the best place to hang out as it’s an open-air garden/park with a large lawn and lots of green space to relax in. You’ll also find some of the best restaurants and high-end fashion outlets in Miyashita Park so don’t be hesitant to take a look inside.
The Hedgehog Cafe is a cafe that is attached to a pet store and one of the few places in the world where you can have a drink and play with a hedgehog. They are free to roam around the cafe, well looked after, and they are oh so cute. This is the kind of place that Tokyo and Harajuku offer that you can’t quite find anywhere else on the planet.
If you love Japanese cuisine then a quick pit stop at Noodle Stand Tokyo just off Takeshita Street is something you have to do while in Harajuku.
Noodle Stand Tokyo made its name by coming up with new and creative types of Ramen and their creations are delicious. Dishes like miso coconut ramen are out of this world, or vegan ramen with gluten-free noodles, or stick with traditional ramen for a rich broth and some of the most tender sliced beef you might have ever had served on ramen before.
As you can see, you won’t be short of things to do in Harajuku it’s one of the most busy and fashionable parts of Tokyo but in typical Japanese style, it’s also home to some amazingly peaceful and cultural places too.
You can literally go from one of the busiest streets on the planet to an ancient shrine in a forest within 10 minutes, it’s quite incredible, to say the least.
Remember to stick together on the streets so you don’t get separated and take breaks often when the chaos gets too much!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!