Where Harajuku meets Yoyogi Park, central Tokyo, Sunday afternoon dances by the greaser fraternity.
Harajuku is one of Tokyo’s liveliest regions, especially for Japanese fashionistas, cos dressers, the cool and of course tourists. The best aspect of Harajuku crossing is that it is a nexus of three disparate but special sights of interest to the average gaijin visitor.
A not-unusual motley crew of oddly dressed girls wandering Omotesando on a Sunday.
The guys can be equally avante-garde in Omotesando.
• Omotesando street has lost its quirky nature as the big fashion brands move in and install glass and haut-couture everywhere, but is, nevertheless a pretty street with interesting characters floating about, ultra-modern window dressing and plenty of escape routes when the bling gets too much.
Wow! Humanity seen in Omotesando, unusual in these days of me,me,me obsession.
• At one end of Omotesando, over the crossing and up the rise past Condomania – the last of the Omotesando oddities – Harajuku station appears on the right. Straight ahead is one of Tokyo’s best Shrines, Meiji-Jingu, a massive, beautiful place where there seem to be endless colourful wedding ceremonies. If you’re lucky you’ll see wedding parties in full traditional kimonos parading from one side of Meiji-Jingu to another, a grand sight.
Harajuku station in the foreground and one of the handful of tall towers of Shinjuku in the background – which is farther than you might think.
Harajuku is accessible from the Yamanote line’s Harajuku station at one end of Omotesando and Chiyoda line’s Meiji-Jingumae station at the other end.
Trivia: the 243 meter high Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building towers are designed to sway at the top 7 metres side to side in an earthquake.
The towers have free viewing areas at 202 meters with panoramic views over Tokyo (Mount Fuji and Tokyo Skytree can be seen on a good day), so that would be quite an exciting ride if you happen to be there during a ‘quake!
Meiji Jingu shrine gateway, Harajuku/Yoyogi Koen.
The Meiji Jingu (Shrine) is perhaps not the oldest, nor the most impressive religious edifice that Tokyo has to offer but it is peaceful, exceedingly green and extremely convenient to get to.
Meiji Jingu was finished in 1920 (though partly rebuilt after WWII), a memorial to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who ruled Japan from 1868 to 1912 and oversaw the modernisation of the country. The entry route from the gate is quite lengthy.
A Shinto wedding ceremony inside Meiji-Jingu captured by Peter Van den Bossche.
Yoyogi Koen (Park)
• If you turn left instead of heading straight on for Meiji-Jingu, and it’s a fine Sunday the large park of Yoyogi Koen will probably offer all sorts of sights, greasers dancing the twist, drum bands practising twirling the sticks, martial arts groups not hitting each other, dance crews and picnics galore in the wide open spaces (Saturday maybe lively too).
Three greasers enjoying a Sunday dance fest at the Harajuku end of Yoyogi Koen. The Greaser gathering perhaps looks intimidating to newbie tourists but actually they’re calm and a bit self-conscious but extremely unlikely to cause any trouble as their boss is usually sitting nearby, their girl friends may be dancing, wives and their kids too.
Eagle-eyed bug visitors will observe the sleeve tattoos on varied arms which is one way to identify Yakuza organized crime members (another is missing fingers).
However, the greasers are not at all Yakuza-ish, and the dude in white is also quite different in style. Yakuza generally affect smart black clothing and short hair.
It’s more likely that the greasers are outsiders, deru cui (the nail that sticks up) and the white guy either started the greaser tribe and their dance tradition, or builds cars or bikes for them, or employs them in some capacity. And his nickname may well be Cool Mike!
Whatever, Yakuza do not mess with foreigners unless challenged or insulted.
Maids arrive looking for a cow, or possibly a boyfriend, Yoyogi Koen.
Further into the park the picnicking masses gather for Sunday lunch while a lone wolf monitors the action.
Cat Street, Harajuku to Shibuya.
But that’s not all for Harajuku! There is a dead-end street (as far as cars are concerned) connecting Omotesando and Shibuya. It’s called Cat Street and I believe it the street off to the right in the Omotesando picture at top; if not then it’s one on either side of that. Some of the eccentricity of old Omotesando has migrated to Cat Street.
Tourists who have brushed up on their places-to-see-in-Tokyo will know that Shibuya is a must-visit so this charming little street makes a very convenient 15 minute walk from one must-see to another must-see.
This is a rare experience in Tokyo which has no real centre, just a scatter of disconnected urban blobs. About the only other easy walkable connected blobs are from Yasukuni Shrine to the Imperial Palace to Ginza, or possibly Asakusa to Ueno but they’re more distant and less entertaining per step.
A new food fashion arrives in Harajuku, Maine lobsters, while wreaths of Stygian spaghetti continue to decorate everywhere in Tokyo except the Imperial Palace and Ginza.
Cat Street’s typical rarified shops, Harajuku/Shibuya.
And then we arrive at Shibuya, another must-see location, on another page.