Sandwiched between the uber-urban Shibuya and Shinjuku districts sits Harajuku. It is a vibrant neighborhood with many faces—the lush green of Yoyogi Park and peaceful, dense wood sheltering the Meiji Jingu shrine complex coexists with the urban chaos of Takeshita-dori Street and less-crowded backstreets, lined with boutiques and trendy eateries. Harajuku is also the home of kawaii—the culture of cuteness with its saccharine-sweet pop music and cuddly characters. If you want to know the very latest on the teenage fashion scene, Harajuku's street culture is gold for snaps of the next big thing.
Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line is the main access point, but you can also access the area from Meiji-jingumae Station on Tokyo Metro's Chiyoda and Fukutoshin lines. It takes around 10 minutes to walk from Harajuku Station to Aoyama or Omotesando and 20 minutes to the Shibuya area.
From Haneda Airport: 50 minutes by train to Harajuku Station.
From Narita Airport: One hour 40 minutes by train to Harajuku Station.
From Shinjuku Station: Four minutes on the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station.
From Tokyo Station: 26 minutes on the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station.
Tumble out of Harajuku Station and within a few minutes you will be at the striking torii gate marking the entrance into the spiritual grounds of Meiji Jingu. When you pass under the gate entering the grove of towering trees, the hubbub of the city becomes muffled and the air temperature drops a couple of degrees. The shrine and its grounds are a true oasis of calm amid the city. Spend a morning or afternoon wandering the stone paths—you might even catch a traditional wedding in progress—and then head to neighboring Yoyogi Park to lie back on the grass or check out some of the weekend festivals, events or simply watch Tokyoites letting loose.
The 350-meter explosion of sound and color that makes up Takeshita-dori Street is Harajuku's cultural boiler room, responsible for the creation of over 40 years of Harajuku street-culture and fashion. The many tiny shops crammed into the bustling street are packed with items of kawaii culture and offer you the best chance to pick up a wide range of products that scream Harajuku—from punk and gothic fashion to brightly colored accessories. As a memento of your trip, duck into one of the purikura photo booths—think passport booth with kawaii filters—and take a few shots, then fill up on the Harajuku snack of choice; sweet cream-filled crepes.
In contrast to the overturned toy box that is Takeshita-dori Street, Ura-Harajuku is a relatively quieter and slower-paced area—perfect if you prefer your kawaii with a large slice of grown-up. Centered around Cat Street, the road running between Harajuku and Shibuya, adult street-fashion stores rub shoulders with sports brands and select shops housing the very latest in their particular field of choice. Not simply a place to shop, drop into Design Festa Gallery with its constant rolling exhibitions of individualistic and creative artworks. For even more kawaii, stop in at 6% DokiDoki. Souvenir staples of Kiddy Land and Oriental Bazaar are also nearby for those only-in-Japan gifts for friends and family back home.