Harajuku & Aoyama
Start: Meiji Jingu Shrine (station: Harajuku)
Finish: Omotesando Station
Time: Allow approximately 4 hours, including stops along the way
Best Times: The first Sunday of every month, when there's an antiques flea market at Togo Shrine
Worst Times: Monday (when the Ota Memorial Museum of Art is closed), Thursday (when the Oriental Bazaar is closed), and from the 27th to the end of every month (when the Ota Memorial Museum of Art is closed for exhibit changes)
Harajuku is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo, though I'm too old to really fit in. In fact, anyone over 25 is apt to feel ancient; this is Tokyo's most popular hangout for Japanese teenagers. The young come to see and be seen: Japanese punks, girls decked out in fashions of the moment, and young couples looking their best. I like Harajuku for its vibrancy, sidewalk cafes, street hawkers, and trendy clothing boutiques. It's also the home of Tokyo's most important Shinto shrine, as well as a woodblock-print museum and an excellent souvenir shop of traditional Japanese items.
Nearby is Aoyama, a yuppified version of Harajuku, where the upwardly mobile shop and dine. Connecting Harajuku and Aoyama is Omotesando Dori, a wide, tree-lined boulevard that forms the heart of this area and is popular for people-watching.
From Harajuku Station, take the south exit (the one closer to Shibuya) and turn right over the bridge, where you will immediately see the huge cypress torii marking the entrance to:
1. Meiji Jingu Shrine
Dedicated to Emperor and Empress Meiji, Meiji Jingu Shrine opened in 1920 and remains the most venerable shrine in Tokyo. If it's June, stop off at the Iris Garden, located halfway on the 10-minute tree-shaded path to the shrine.
Take a Break -- If the hike to Meiji Shrine has made you thirsty, stop off at the rustic Café Mori no Terrace outdoor pavilion just inside the entryway to the shrine grounds. Open daily 9am to sunset, it offers coffee, beer, pastries, and ice cream. For something more substantial, wait until you get to Takeshita Dori (described below), where you'll find a Wolfgang Puck Express, 1-17-1 Jingumae, good for burgers and pizza.
After visiting the shrine, retrace your steps back to Harajuku Station. If it's Sunday, you'll see groups of teenage Japanese -- many of them bizarrely dressed -- gathered on the bridge over the train tracks. They're all that's left of the masses of teenagers that used to congregate on nearby Yoyogi Dori back when it was closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays. Sadly, authorities decided to open Yoyogi and Omotesando Dori streets to traffic, thereby putting an end to Tokyo's most happening Sunday scene.
At Harajuku Station, continue walking north beside the station to its north exit. Across the street from Harajuku Station's north exit is:
2. Takeshita Dori
This pedestrian-only street is lined with stores that cater to teenagers. It's packed -- especially on Sunday afternoons -- with young people hunting for bargains on inexpensive clothes, music, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, cosmetics, and more. One shop worth pointing out is Harajuku Daiso (tel. 03/5775-9641; daily 10am-9pm) on the left, one of many bargain variety stores to hit Japan after the recession. It offers four floors of kitchenware, tableware, cosmetics, office supplies, and more, most priced at ¥100 (85¢/40p).
After inching your way along this narrow lane with its flow of humanity, you will eventually find yourself on a busy thoroughfare, Meiji Dori. If it's the first Sunday of the month, turn left (north) onto Meiji Dori, where in a couple of minutes on your left you'll see:
3. Togo Shrine
Dedicated to Admiral Heihachiro Togo, who was in charge of the fleet that defeated the Russian navy in 1905 in the Russo-Japanese War, now the shrine is most popular for its flea market held the first Sunday of every month to 2pm. Everything from old chests, dolls, porcelain, and kimono are for sale, spread out on a tree-shaded sidewalk that meanders around the shrine.
Head back south on Meiji Dori where, to your right, just before the big intersection, is:
4. La Forêt
This building houses trendy shoe and clothing boutiques. The less expensive boutiques tend to be on the lower floors, more exclusive boutiques higher up.
Across the street on Meiji Dori is the YM Square building, where on the third and fourth floors is:
This shop ([tel) 03/3796-7303) is packed to the rafters with secondhand American clothing, as well as its own original designs. Young Japanese love this store, and even my 15-year-old son found things he just had to buy. Somebody is making a fortune here.
Behind La Forêt is one of my favorite museums, the:
6. Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art
Located at 1-10-10 Jingumae, this museum features the private ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) collection of the late Ota Seizo. Exhibitions of the museum's 12,000 prints change monthly and are always worth checking out.
Across Omotesando Dori is:
Specializing in used American clothing, Chicago also stocks used and new kimono, obi, and yukata in a far back corner of its basement.
Near La Forêt is Harajuku's major intersection, Meiji Dori and Omotesando Dori. Here, at the intersection at 6-30-1 Jingumae, is one of Harajuku's more unusual shops:
Condoms are for sale here in a wide range of sizes, colors, and styles, from glow-in-the-dark to scented. It's open daily 11am to 11pm.
Heading east on Omotesando Dori (away from Harajuku Station), you'll soon see, to your right:
9. Kiddy Land
This shop at 6-1-9 Jingumae sells gag gifts and a great deal more than just toys, including enough to amuse undiscerning adults. You could spend an hour browsing here, but the store is so crowded with teenagers that you may end up rushing for the door.
As you continue east on Omotesando Dori (where sidewalk vendors selling jewelry and ethnic accessories set up shop on weekends), to your right will soon be Harajuku's most famous store:
10. Oriental Bazaar
Located at 5-9-13 Jingumae, this is Tokyo's best one-stop shopping spot for Japanese souvenirs. Three floors offer antiques, old and new kimono, Japanese paper products, fans, jewelry, woodblock prints, screens, chinaware, and much more at reasonable prices. I always stock up on gifts here for the folks back home.
On the other side of Omotesando Dori is the new:
11. Omotesando Hills
This posh commercial and residential shopping center, designed by Tadao Ando, houses upscale clothing and accessory shops, as well as restaurants. Unique is Hasegawa Sake Shop (tel. 03/5785-0833), with selected offerings from sake breweries across Japan. There's a stand-up bar, where you can sample sake for ¥300 ($2.50£1.25) a cup.
Back on Omotesando Dori and continuing east, you'll pass shops dedicated to the wares of Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and Tod's, but none have been here as long as the:
12. Hanae Mori Building
Near the end of Omotesando Dori to the right, it was designed in 1978 by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange (who also designed the Akasaka Prince Hotel and the TMG City Hall in Shinjuku). It houses the entire collection of Hanae Mori, from casual wear to evening wear. In the basement is the Antique Market, where stalls sell china, jewelry, and items from the 1930s, mostly from Europe.
Take a Break -- Harajuku and Aoyama have more sidewalk cafes than any other part of Tokyo. Most conspicuous is the fancy Anniversaire Café, 3-5-30 Kita-Aoyama (tel. 03/5411-5988), across from the Hanae Mori Building. Café hors et dans, 4-11-6 Jingumae (tel. 03/5775-5433), just east of Omotesando Hills on Omotesando Dori, has a second-floor outdoor terrace. Montoak, next to Kiddy Land at 6-1-9 Jingumae (tel. 03/5468-5928), is a hip multilevel bar/coffee shop with comfy chairs and a second-floor balcony.
At the end of Omotesando Dori, where it connects with Aoyama Dori, is Omotesando Station. You can board the subway here or, for more shopping, cross Aoyama Dori and continue heading east, where you'll pass a number of designer shops. First, on the left at 3-18-11 Minami-Aoyama, is:
13. Issey Miyake
The clothes here are known for their richness in texture and fabrics.
To the right, at 5-2-1 Minami-Aoyama, is:
14. Comme des Garçons
Rei Kawakubo's designs for both men and women are showcased here.
Farther down the street, on the right at 5-2-6 Minami-Aoyama, is:
By far the most interesting design on the block, the building looks like a giant bug eye (to me, at least), its dome structure comprising hundreds of glass bubbles.
Just past Prada, on the right at 5-3-6 Minami-Aoyama, is:
16. Yohji Yamamoto
As with all Yamamoto shops, this store has an interesting avant-garde interior.
Return to Aoyama Dori, where you'll find the Omotesando subway station.
Winding Down -- Between Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto is Yoku Moku, easy to find at 5-3-3 Minami-Aoyama (tel. 03/5485-3330) with its bright blue exterior and terrace. It's famous for its pastries and desserts. For more sinful pleasures, head to Berry Café, 5-10-19 Minami-Aoyama (tel. 03/5774-7130), on the left side of Aoyama Dori in the direction of Shibuya. Its berry-topped cakes have to be seen to be believed; even its plastic-food displays look good enough to eat.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.