Friday, May 1, 2015

Photo Friday #7: Harajuku shopping! フォト金曜日#7:原宿の買い物!

フォト金曜日#7:原宿の買い物!Photo Friday #7: Harajuku shopping!

Last week, I wrote about Chinzan-so Garden, the serene urban oasis in Tokyo's Bunkyo ward. When thinking of Japan's capital, however, one is probably more apt to picture things that better invoke visions of a bustling metropolis: packed commuter trains, heavy traffic, and rows of skyscrapers that seem to go on forever. For today's Photo Friday post, I'm sharing a view from the ground of one of Tokyo's countless streets--albeit one that isn't for cars:

竹下通り、原宿: Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street), Harajuku - March 23, 2013
In keeping with Japan's retail culture, Takeshita-dori is one of Tokyo's pedestrian-only shopping streets. A short walk from Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line, this area is where fashionistas come to play, spending their yen on everything from crepes to false eyelashes to selfie sticks. While Takeshita-dori lacks the polished, upscale aesthetic of Omotesando-dori, the popular neighboring road to the south, it and its many side streets form the true heart of Japanese street fashion and counterculture. It's gritty, it's crowded, it's's effortlessly cool.

Bordered by the gorgeous green spaces of Meiji Jingu (or Meiji Shrine) and Yoyogi Park on its western edge, Harajuku's innumerable tiny shops on narrow alleys help fuel the rise of the hottest Japanese fashion trends. From decora to visual kei to sweet lolita, there's a little something for everyone. And if you're less into style and more into comfort (and cheekiness), you can still find an irreverent new T-shirt like I did, designed by Gokigen Factory.

In recent years, Harajuku has received a lot of attention, due in part to publicity from western entertainers. In her 2004 solo debut "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." Gwen Stefani heavily referenced Harajuku (though unfortunately mispronouncing it), drawing inspiration from its unique fashion scene. She co-wrote the song "Harajuku Girls" and hired four Japanese backup dancers--also known as the Harajuku Girls, going by the names Love, Angel, Music, and Baby--to appear with her in music videos, on tour, and in interviews. Even her fashion brands, particularly Harajuku Lovers, showcase her affection for the area.

Not surprisingly, Stefani's affinity for Harajuku is also shared by other pop songstresses. Lady Gaga always makes it a point to visit Dog--one of the many boutiques tucked away in basements--when she's in Tokyo; Nicki Minaj celebrates Harajuku's eclectic style with one of her alter egos; and just last week, Katy Perry was seen in the area wearing a fuzzy mask, akin to those made by gonoturn, with a schoolgirl outfit. (The article claims it was a "'look-at-me' ensemble," but honestly, it was pretty mild [dare I say...basic?] compared to most things seen every day in Harajuku.)

Western celebrities aren't the only ones highlighting Harajuku: from fashion blogger to model to singer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has evolved into an international superstar, casting a spotlight on Harajuku in the process. With viral hits like PONPONPON, her debut album, もしもし原宿 ("Moshi Moshi Harajuku"), came out in 2011; since then, she's released three more albums, and continues to work with Yasutaka Nakata (the producer of Japanese bands Capsule and Perfume). She's absolutely everywhere in Japan, appearing on variety shows, in magazines, and in commercials. I'm not ashamed to say that the decision to buy the New Nintendo 3DS while I was in Japan was strongly influenced by Kyary's Nintendo ads. かわいい だ よ!

In the 2009 video below, you'll see a 16-year-old Kyary ("Carrie" in the subtitles) on the streets in Harajuku...and then at home, quarreling with her mother about her fashion choices. After interviewing Kyary, the program profiles an American expat who fell in love with lolita fashion while stateside. And, bonus: five minutes in, you'll meet Minori, the most popular shironuri artist today. (Be sure to watch from 6:50 til the end for more Harajuku looks, too!)

With Shinjuku Station--the world's busiest train station--two stops to the north and Shibuya Station--a bishoujo/bishounen shopping mecca--one stop to the south on the Yamanote Line, Harajuku and Takeshita-dori may seem like a blip on the average tourist's radar. Sure, Harajuku Station is a little grungier than others, and the area holds the dubious honors of both being the only place I saw a rat in Japan (apparently rats love crepes too!) and the only place I felt threatened (ok, but let's keep it relative: it's still Japan, so the passing fear I felt on that random back street is still less than the fear I feel in my own U.S. neighborhood), but visiting Harajuku gives you a raw, firsthand look at the youthful undercurrent of modern Japanese society, far removed from anything you'll see in America.

...well, maybe you will see it in America, but it'll be five years from now--ten if you're here in the midwest--and Japan will have already cycled through a dozen new trends by then.

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