You did it! You made it to Japan, and now you are scrambling through your list of places to visit, and we'll have to assume Harajuku is one of them. Harajuku is in the heart of Tokyo, with multitudes of styles in a single place. It's an energetic neighborhood with a touch of traditional scenery blended in.
It's a beloved place by the locals to shop, eat, and hang out on weekends. However, there are so many things to do here, which can be overwhelming for any first-time visitor. Here is a list of things to do in Harajuku, from the most obvious must-visit places to the hidden gems with fewer tourists that you can keep all to yourself, at least for now.
1. Shop at Tokyu Plaza Harajuku Omotesando
You'll see a rather unusual building at the intersection of Meiji Dori and Omotesando. A kaleidoscope of mirrors?! As you go up the escalator, you can see your reflection from all corners. There are a variety of shops in Tokyu Plaza, from big brands like Tom Hilfiger to independent craft stores. Head up to the 6th floor to hang out on the building's rooftop terrace, coffee in hand.
2. When in Harajuku, Joing a Food Tour
Out of the many things to do in Harajuku, trying the extravagant, colorful street food has to be at the top of the list. There's an exclusive food tour with byFood hosted by professional foodie Shizuka Anderson. Street food choices in Harajuku can get overwhelming, and that's where Shizuka can help you take you to the best and most talked about places you can post all over your Instagram. It's limited to 6 people a month, so place your booking in advance!
3. Walk Around Meiji Jingu Shrine
It's a strange thing, but it happens a lot when you are in Japan. One moment, you find yourself in the world's busiest area, and in the very next second, you are completely surrounded by a serene, calming shrine. Meiji Jingu is right behind Harajuku Station. It's a must-visit place for all first-time visitors. It's a bit of a walk to the main temple, but because giant trees, almost forest-like, surround the area, it's a beautiful walk. You'll forget you're in the middle of a city. If you're lucky, you might see someone celebrating a Japanese-style wedding!
4. Walk Down Takeshita Street
When you google "things to do in Harajuku," there's one keyword you will occasionally see: kawaii. It means "cute" in Japanese, and people in Harajuku are all about the kawaii aesthetics. Pastel rainbow colors, mascot characters, Lolita fashion, and more pastel colors! Takeshita Street has it all: food stalls to eat at, little souvenir shops, restaurants, and, my favorite thing to do, purikura! It's a Japanese-style photo booth that is so kawaii that you can add all the stickers and decorative things to your photo — a kawaii keepsake with family or friends.
5. See What's New in Cat Street
Just a few minutes from Harajuku Station, Cat Street is another trendy street you won't want to miss. Are there lots of cats roaming around? Well, unfortunately, no, but you can certainly find some stylish coffee shops and vintage shops, and, best of all, sit around and do some people-watching for some fashion inspiration. One of my favorite places to shop is RAGTAG, a second-hand shop for designer clothes and bags. Vintage finds in a foreign country are such a treat!
6. Ditch Ichiran Ramen, Try Menchirashi
Ok, maybe that's a bit harsh. But waiting for a bowl of ramen, especially when it's unbearably hot, might not be everyone's cup of tea. Instead, I recommend Menchirashi. It's one of the locals' favorite udon places close to Cat Street. You wouldn't think from the looks of it that it's an udon shop, very modern and hip. Their udon noodles are homemade, and the price is outrageously cheap. Everything is under ¥1,000!
7. Check Out Some Art at The Mass
Out of all the things to do in Harajuku, The Mass is a beautiful contemporary art gallery near Cat Street. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but once you step foot in it, it's a spacious gallery that displays interesting artists. It's a cool spot for the cool kids — if you stop by, maybe you'll see some people with great fashion taste, too.
8. Stop for a Cup of Joe at Chop Coffee
Once you indulge in some art, it's time to talk about it. Just next door to The Mass, there's a coffee shop called Chop Coffee. The interior is very stylish and a cozy spot for many local creatives. Cat Street is a busy place, but because Chop Coffee is behind all the crowds, you can take a little break from the noise and enjoy a nice cup of coffee. Get inspired by Tokyo's coolest creative hotspot.
9. See What's Happenin' at Trunk Hotel
Walking on Cat Street, you might spot one modern accommodation, Trunk Hotel. On the first floor, there is a bar where anyone can go in and hang out. It's spacious and has lots of sofas and tables that you can sit around, or if you're more of a standing type, do what you want. They have some good music if you're around at night. Order a cocktail and think about your next move.
10. Grab a Pint at PDX TAPROOM To the Rescue
Is anyone here from Portland? Well, if you miss a little bit of home already, a craft beer bar across from Trunk Hotel only serves Portland beer. I know seeing "PDX" in the middle of Tokyo is a bit strange, but I'm guessing other people from Portland might also be at the bar. Wouldn't it be fun to meet someone from your hometown in a foreign city?
11. See What's Trending at Beams Harajuku
If you are a fashion enthusiast, I recommend going to Beams. Beams is a select shop beloved by the locals ever since it opened in 1976. They have branches around Japan, but the Harajuku store is the original location. You can find many items you thought you didn't need in your wardrobe, from trendy shirts to streetwear accessories.
12. Dance the Night Away at Bar Bonobo
Tokyo has a lot of clubs, and when you're thinking of what to do in Harajuku at night, going to Bonobo should be on your list. The bar is run inside a renovated kominka, or traditional Japanese folkhouse. It stands on the corner of the street; it's quirky and tiny — but that sounds like a recipe for making some good friends in Harajuku.
Harajuku is layered in many ways. Harajuku Station was recently renovated, and while long-time Tokyoites have yet to get used to the station's new look, you can still find plenty of things that have defined Harajuku for years, if not decades. Every visit rewards you with a wave of nostalgia and new discoveries. Have your camera ready always — there is always something worth capturing in Harajuku.
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