Harajuku! Smack bang near the top of my ‘places I need to go’ list, the mere name of this district of Tokyo never fails to conjure up a glittering montage of tempting images. Delicious sushi, crazy theme bars, neon lights… but the major draw? The fashion.
Harajuku style put Japan on the fashion map. Heads were turned when photographer Shoichi Aoki began to chronicle Tokyo street style in his magazines, STREET and FRUITS and by the time Gwen Stefani was prancing around with her little army of super kawaii (cute), attitude filled, Japanese dancers, the world knew Harajuku’s name.
© Jonathan Siegel
Now, I’m a firm believer that fashion should be fun. Your dress sense should express who you are and the more creative the better. And in my opinion nobody does style bigger, brighter, better or more bonkers than they do in Japan. Here’s my guide to some of the looks you might encounter on a stroll through those Harajuku streets…
The name itself invokes girlish innocence but luckily veers away from any disturbing parallel to Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel with a positively demure and de-sexualized style. Think full and modest skirts with lashings of petticoats topped with frilly parasols and headwear. A chaste ensemble – part aristocrat, part Little Bo Peep.
Lolita has more sub-styles than Barbie. There’s Sweet Lolita, all dolled up in candy pinks and whites; Punk Lolita, with a penchant for tartan and Vivienne Westwood; and for those that prefer to dabble on the darker side, Gothic Lolita serves up a tangle of purple, black and blue with a few coffin or cross shaped accessories thrown in for good measure.
If bright colours, crazy accessories and clashing prints spring to mind when you think of Harajuku style, you’re probably thinking of the Decora look. Coco Chanel once said, ‘When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.’ I fear a trip to Harajuku would have left her quaking in her LBD. The key to Decora is right there in the name, it’s all about the decoration! Layer up, pile it on, string cuddly toys around your neck… Anything and everything goes as long as it’s as kawaii as possible.
I love this light-hearted look. It’s all about refusing to grow up and having some fun. Channel your favourite TV and movie characters from childhood. My Little Pony; Spongebob; Pokemon; and of course, the ubiquitous Hello Kitty. Just remember with Decora style, more is most definitely more.
This style is a visual representation of a musical movement in Japanese rock related to glam rock, punk and heavy metal. Elaborate costumes and eccentric hairstyles characterise this look often coupled with striking make-up. Visual Kei heavily influences the young and fashionable that gather on Jingu Bashi, the pedestrian bridge running over the train tracks near Harajuku station. Although apparently, the bridge’s popularity as a hang-out spot as waned (that’s so 90s) and you’re more likely to see tourists snapping pictures of Harajuku girls than Harajuku girls themselves. Sunday is reportedly still the best day for a visit.
If super-cute Japanese street style had an affair with fluffy 80s pop, their love child would probably dress according to Fairy Kei. Poofy skirts and tutus; retro 80s fashion items like leggings and over-sized hair bows; and to polish it off, some too cool for school Converse, Doc Martens, hi-tops or even colour pop heels. Fairy Kei is a fantasy glimpse of an 80s fairy so keep those colours to soft-focus, neon-tinted pastels.
If you’re that girl that re-starts the party by whacking on some Cyndi Lauper or MJ and jacking the volume dial up to 10, there’s probably a little bit of Fairy Kei in your soul.
One of the more bizarre Japanese fashions but no less fantastic. This look originates from the gyaru (gal) group usually referring to young girls, driven by a preoccupation with fashion and socializing and a distinct lack of interest in work or marriage. It has been suggested that this subculture emerged as a youthful rebellion to traditional Japanese values. Even the look is a direct contradiction of the classic Japanese style.
Ganguro girls paint their faces with a tan straight out of Essex, highlighting lips and eyes in white and bleaching their hair for an exaggerated, carefree, California valley girl image. High heels and beach wear top off the look as well as face gems and lots of funky accessories.
Costume play is a form of dress based around a specific character, usually a manga, anime or video game favourite. In Harajuku, players will find many a venue to indulge their hobby with cosplay cafes complete with waitresses in full regalia or dressed up as maids and the younger generation can take their costumes to the streets.
© Jonathan Siegel
However, cosplay is no longer simply a part of Japanese pop culture but a movement embraced all around the world. The largest event, the semi-annual Comiket, is still based in Japan, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans but outside of Asia, there are some big numbers in the form of the annual San Diego Comic-Con in the US and the London MCM Expo in the UK. Haven’t we all had those days when we just wish we were somebody else? Enter the world of cosplay and the world is your oyster.
Now if, after reading this guide, you fear that you haven’t yet found your Harajuku mojo and you can’t see yourself going Japanese and diving headfirst into one of the street styles listed above, never fear! Why not start small and don the cursory surgical face mask? In one fell swoop, this nifty, multi-purpose accessory serves to not only protect your delicate lungs from the elements and that nasty, sneezy man on the tube but should you pick your design with care, can also be a short, sharp fix of immediate kawaii. Arigato Harajuku – you never cease to inspire me.
Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.
Image 1 via Jon Siegel Image 2 via Tokoy Fashion Image 3 via Tokyo Fahsion Image 4 via Lou saikofish Image 5 via babydoll princess Image 6 via aliwin Image 7 via Jon Siegel Image 8 Zlight Image 9 via Jon SiegelTweet