What would a visit to Tokyo be without becoming Harajuku girls for an afternoon? No, we didn’t dress up, but since we already stood out due to our height alone, we figured we were good. Filled to the brim with the spacious green beauty of Yoyogi park we set off towards Harajuku for what we suspected would surely be a change of scene. Easy to reach on foot from the park, the district is only a few minutes away. It’s also possible to walk there from Shibuya, or take the subway to Harajuku station.
Starting with the more upscale shopping boulevard Omotesandō is generally recommended and it’s a good way to flow in to Harajuku with the rest of the throngs of people making their way there. Stepping in to side streets that catch your eye because of a shop window, a temple or a restaurant may lead to interesting discoveries and that’s how we found this wonderful place for lunch.
Once again I can confirm that, unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese, but the power of taking pictures ensures that there is someone to ask what this place is called and where it is, should we want to come again. We picked it because it looked inviting and soothing, plus they had an English menu lying outside. In we went!
The restaurant was dimly lit inside, adding to the cosy feeling we immediately experienced upon setting foot there. Once I looked up and saw that ceiling completely covered with red and white lanterns, I was enchanted. While we waited for our food I took a look around and snapped one gorgeous wall for some more local flavour among our memories.
Cold jasmine tea on ice without alcohol (an option our waitress thankfully pointed out to us before we accidentally ordered the other version) was incredibly refreshing after the humidity outside and all that walking. Among the many delicious-looking dishes on the pictures in the menu we settled for avocado tempura – usually deep fried vegetables, but fruit works just as well! We also split three sizable meat dumplings between us – they disappeared too quickly to take a picture.
We decided to explore the famous Takeshita street to get the Harajuku experience, and it certainly delivered. Due to the aforementioned tendency for locals, and consequently tourists, to move forward along their left, progress worked out fine despite predictable crowds. Politeness and sometimes a little patience are all that’s needed.
If Harajuku can be at least partly defined by Takeshita street, then it was certainly everything we thought it would be: colourful, occasionally psychedelic, lively, at times eccentric, bursting with the kawaii (cute, often in connection with popular culture) and spilling with enthusiastic consumerism. Sweets, shoes, sunglasses, clothes, jewelry – you name it, in abundance. Shops often descended to basement levels, making it entirely possible to disappear in one building for hours on end.
A particular interest seems to be dressing up pets. What I at first mistook for a baby clothes shop with my nearsighted gaze turned out to be Pet Paradise, full of suits, hats, shirts and toys for (mostly small) pets, leaning heavily on Disney themes. We spotted a cat and owl cafe not far away, but after the initial excitement decided to continue, as the fees were somewhat outside our budget range. It’s recommended to read up on this a little before going in. Maybe some other time I will have my Harry Potter moment in an owl cafe.
Tip: taking pictures in shops is tempting, but be sure to check if there’s a sign asking not to.
Harajuku also has its own Disney store – a not unwelcome discovery! Similar to many other shops I had explored a few months before in Disneyland Paris, it was still very pretty and looked very at home among everything that made up Takeshita street. Bonus – a big HD screen covered the wall behind the cashier counter, with songs from Disney animated films playing one after the other. It felt completely natural, appropriate to the travel experience, even, to stand there for a while and sing along (not too loudly) to A Whole New World, Let It Go and I See the Light.
Dessert opportunities pop up at convenient intervals, and the extremely realistic, high-quality fake reproductions of the food certainly get the appetite going. We stopped at Angel’s Heart for crêpes – a not at all uncommon snack in Tokyo. The fakes are displayed unrolled, so you can see the display of all the fabulousness that will fill your sweet treat once its ready. Mine contained a perfect small slice of chocolate cake, whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sliced banana and strawberries. Obviously and judging by the people around us it was absolutely allowed to eat this on the street, so there are small exceptions to the rule.