Top things to do in Harajuku

Harajuku lies just two stops along the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku Station, and is likely to be high up on any tourist’s to-do list.  Despite its small, quaint appearance, the station is a gateway to both traditional and modern Japan, and plays hosts to a lot of people. And I mean, a lot. 

In fact, the first thing that strikes most people upon exiting the train station, is the sheer volume of people. But, don’t let that put you off: there is a reason so many people descend on such a small place. Here are our top things to do in Harajuku.


Further reading: Top things to do in Shinjuku


Meiji Shrine

This Torii gate marks the Harajuku entrance to Meiji Jingu (shrine)

Next to Harajuku station, Meiji Shrine is an incredibly beautiful example of Shinto Architecture. It was dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Shouken.  Following the emperor’s death in 1912 the government of the time wanted to do something to honor his role in the Meiji restoration, which saw the end of the shogunate and a full restoration of political power to the emperor of Japan.

The shrine sits in the heart of a large evergreen forest complex that covers an area of 70 hectares.  Some 120,000 trees were donated by people from all over Japan when the shrine was constructed.    This perhaps indicates the high regard that the people of the time held for Emperor Meiji and his wife. It is safe to assume that people today still hold them with the same reverence.

If this is your first day in Japan, this will be your first truly Japanese experience.  The gigantic tori gates and the long gravel pathway to the inner sanctuary of the shrine separate the hustle and bustle of a modern, thriving metropolis from the peace and tranquility within.  It is thought that taking the long walk through the forest towards the shrine has the effect of purifying your mind in preparation for being in the presence of the kami (god).  It is all part of the spiritual experience.  

Once in the shrine itself, sit down on the benches that surround the inner sanctuary and just soak up the atmosphere.  It is truly a special place, one that is in complete contrast to anything else in Harajuku!

The inner sanctuary of the shrine offers plenty of places to sit and soak up the atmosphere.

Takeshita Dori

Takeshita Dori (street) is an often-very-crowded pedestrian shopping street.  The top of the street is right across from the exit of Harajuku station. This street is a popular place for youngsters, especially high-school kids.  It probably won’t be so popular with over 30s, but it is quite an experience; well worth at least one walk through.

The street is lined with lots of small, independent, fashion boutiques, cafes and restaurants.  Many of the fashion shops are thought to be “antenna shops” from which global fashion trends seem to stem.  A lot of fashion watchers seem to come here to see what is hot and what is not.

If you are energized by crowds, noise and general wackiness, you will love this place.  If not, … er… sorry! 

It’s wacky and crowded – you have been warned!

Oriental Bazaar

A short walk from Takeshita Dori, you will find the perfect shop for your Japan memorabilia, souvenirs and gifts.  

The mission of Oriental Bazaar is to “introduce Japanese culture to the world,” and they do a pretty good job.  It is very popular with tourists, and a few locals, for good reason: the goods are of high quality, yet at a very reasonable  (some might even say cheap) price, making Japanese culture more accessible than it otherwise might be.  The shop sits on three floors, two above ground and one below, and they sell, among other things, the following:

  • Basement – Kimonos, Yukitas, T-shirts, Fancy Goods, chinaware, books
  • 1st Floor – Japanese porcelain, washi paper, fabric bags and teddy bears, Japanese prints of the ukiyo-e style  
  • 2nd Floor – antiques, furniture, antique kimonos, screens, ornaments, vases, lamps 

Get your souvenirs on the first day otherwise you may never get a chance!  Alternatively, if you are organized, take stock of where it is for a later visit.  Just note, it is closed on Thursdays – you have been warned!

Omotesando

Beautiful tree lined streets a probably not what many people envisage before they come to Tokyo!

This is a high end shopping district with some beautiful, modern architecture on a picturesque tree lined street.  These trees bloom with gorgeous cherry blossom in spring, and display a beautiful range of reds, oranges and yellows in autumn.  

It is second only to Ginza as a luxury fashion shopping center in Tokyo.  Omotesando Hills is a mainstay of that scene.  It is a very chic, upscale shopping center which boasts Yves Saint Laurant, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo and many more.  

The area as a whole boasts much more: boss; Tod’s; Ralph Lauren; Louise Vuitton; Prada; Burberry; Coach, the list is endless!

For most mere mortals like me, it is simply a place to window shop and ponder the opulence of the area and the goods on sale.  But if you have a few bob, knock yourself out! 

Some of the weird and wonderful architecture on display in Omotesando!

In Short

Weather you want to simply experience a bit of history and culture, wackiness or luxury, you will certainly find something you like in Harajuku!