Things to do in Tokyo

Harajuku

Japan is known for its deep culture and fascinating history. However, there is another side to Japan, and this culture can be experienced in Harajuku. Harajuku is a part of Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, and it has been a popular town amongst many foreigners, as well as the young interested in pop culture and fashion.

You somehow find yourself out of Harajuku Station (JR line) through the massive crowd (this is unavoidable, expect this anytime of the year). Stepping outside, the road is packed, from edge to edge, with people. ​Great, another crowd, ​ you think. But as you look closely, this is no ordinary crowd. The variety of people, wearing colorful clothing and heavy makeup, all walking on a narrow street, somehow catches your attention. After all, you’re not going to turn back to the station and head home, right? There is no choice but to go forward, so you clutch your bag and dive in to explore more of this interesting city.

Entrance of Takeshita Street

You cross the street, and find a long road that is, of course, packed with people. Looking up, there is a large sign, ​Takeshita street.
​ This is the street that many people know Harajuku for, because of the trendy shops and fashion boutiques. As you continue down the street, you are immediately aware of the change in atmosphere. Hundreds of tiny stores, tightly packed into one 350 meter street. The first thing you see is Daiso, the famous 100 yen store. Next, colorful crepes, candies, and cotton candies are sold in various stores, such as Santa Monica Crepes and Candy A Go Go. Turn around, and you see a clutter of vintage, second hand clothing stores, such as WEGO, Kinjii, and more. Clothing here is fashionable, trendy, and affordable. People that are also stuck in the crowd struggle to even enter these stores. Korean culture has been huge in Tokyo recently, so Korean makeup stores, such as Etude House, are filled with young high school girls (joshikousei, also known as jk).

A popular second hand clothing store.
There are over 100 options!
One of the korean fashion stores, Stylenanda.
Harajuku fashion: colorful and unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through all of the chaos for Korean makeup, you hear loud screaming a few meters down. Turning in the direction of the noise, you see a celebrity with bodyguards, trying to control the crowd, as well as hundreds of cell phones pointing at them, eager for a picture. Although you are lucky, models, actors, and TV personalities are not uncommon here in Takeshita Street. This street is so famous, many television shows feature Takeshita Street regularly, so be prepared for camaras and screaming. Personally, I have seen model Kiko Mizuhara, model MIU, and South Korean singer, Kim Hee Chul walking on the streets of Harajuku. Because the street is so narrow in width, you are somehow able to snap a picture, take a couple videos, and move on.
You’ve reached the end! You’ve seen the various and unique boutiques, stores, and cafes of Harajuku! Go ahead, take a break, but I can assure you that you’ll be eager to go back for more!

M.Kumamaru

Taking Purikura

If you are interested in Japanese subculture, the word, Purikura(プリクラ) may be familiar. But what exactly is it? Purikura is short for Print Club, and it is essentially a photo booth. It has been a trend for decades now, and it is a popular way to save memories with friends and family. Now what’s so special about a photobooth? It’s just taking pictures and printing them out, right? Not so fast, there is much more to Purikura than you might think.
Walking into the Purikura Store, dozens of various photo booths are lined up against one another. Each photo booth has a different theme, with different filters and designs. After picking the one that is best for you, the first thing you do is pay. Purikuras in Tokyo generally cost about 400 yen per photo shoot, so if you were to split the price between 4 friends, it rounds out to only 100 yen, for the memory of a lifetime.

Entrance to one of the Purikura photo booths.
A glimpse of the rows and rows of Purikura booths!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After putting the money in, get inside, because it’s time to take the pictures! Although it depends on what photobooth you selected, you can take around 6 photos. Some booths are even included with full body shots! Now strike a pose, make a funny face, it’s all up to you! This process is very short, about 5 minutes. When the photographing process is over, the screen will instruct you to continue to another part of the booth. This is what Purikura is famous for: editing the pictures!

A brief explanation on how Purikuras are taken

Here, you are free to alter your pictures however you like. Add cat ears/whiskers,
phrases, designs, today’s date, anything! Many booths allow you to enlarge the eyes, brighten
the skin, and darken the lip color. But be quick on your hands; because you usually have a time
limit of about 4-5 minutes. After editing, just press “print” and the pictures will be yours in no
time! A feature that is available in most Purikuras is the email feature. Before printing, you have
the choice to type in your email. If you choose to do so, the booth will send you all the pictures
that were taken to your phone. This way, your pictures will not get lost, and are sure to be accessible.
How was your experience at your first Purikura photo booth? It’s far different from
traditional photo booths, right? Now go see the rest of Harajuku, because Purikura is so
addicting, you might be back in the booths tomorrow!

M. Kumamaru

Hedgehog Cafe (Harry’s)

Have you ever heard of a hedgehog cafe? If your answer is no, you can experience a
once in a lifetime opportunity at Harry’s! Harry’s is the world’s first hedgehog cafe, and it is a
must when you come to Harajuku.

Harry’s Harajuku entrance  (There is also a Harry’s in Roppongi)

 

Inside the cafe. It is very cozy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After paying (30 mins- 1,400 yen and 60 mins- 2,800yen) and sanitizing your hands, an
employee will direct you to a seat and instruct how to pick them up. The atmosphere at Harry’s
is very calm and friendly, so you are free to move around and ask questions! Because the
hedgehogs here are used to being picked up and photographed, there’s nothing to be worried
about! Hearing this, you pick one up, and your mood will instantly get better (If you chose to
purchase treats for the hedgehogs (540 yen), it will make for an adorable home screen for your
phone!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there is a slight catch. Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, meaning they’re
active only at night. Therefore, there is a possibility that they will be sleeping in your hands, but
they may squirm their way back into their house! When this happens, take a quick break.
Harry’s offers you a free drink while you’re there. You can choose anything from lemonade to
hot coffee, anything you like. Enjoy your drink, chat with your friends, take pictures of the
dozens of other hedgehogs here.

They fell asleep in our hands!

 

When time is almost up, an employee will tell you that you only have a few minutes left.
Wow, that was fast! When you’re holding hedgehogs, time flies! Before you leave, you want to
hold a hedgehog for the last time. Scooping one up, and seeing the tiny ball roll around and
settle in your hand, you can’t help but smile. They’re just so cute! Harry’s offer a small gift store,
so you decide to purchase a mini hedgehog stuffed animal to show your friends and keep as a
memory for when you get back home. As you leave the cafe with a big smile, the kind
employees will greet you goodbye. But don’t be sad, because in Harajuku, there is a variety of
other cafes, including dog cafes, cat cafes, owl cafes, and even chinchilla cafes!

M.Kumamaru

Meiji Shrine

Now, I will take you to a quieter side of Harajuku. It may be hard to believe, but there is a shrine right next to Harajuku Station, and it is called Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu). Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Although the Shrine opened in 1920, was rebuilt after World War II, it is still quite old, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Harajuku.
There is no fee to get inside. Just walk through the gates (make sure to bow!), and enjoy the nature.
First entrance to the Shrine. Seeing the beautiful nature here, it is hard to believe that this Shrine is located in Harajuku!

 

Fun fact: Every tree and every plant here is planted. It must’ve taken a long time!
There are 3 gates leading to the Shrine. Along the way, you will come across several arrays of barrels, one of them being the barrels of sake (Japanese rice wine). Because Emperor Meiji had a love for wine as well, barrels of wine are also displayed right behind.
Rice wine barrels (Saka-daru)
Wine Barrels (Wine-daru)
 
Walking through the third and final gate, you finally make it! However, this is just the beginning.
Official entrance to Meiji Shrine
On the left, there is a basin of water. This is a place to rinse your hands and mouth before Omairi (visiting the Shrine), and it is a custom to do this at almost every Shrine in Japan. After you have rinsed off, it is finally time to visit the Shrine. Step up, throw some coins in, pray (after you have bowed twice and clapped twice), and finish with a final bow. That’s it! It’s a fairly short process, but there’s so much behind it that makes Omairi so special! On your way back, you can purchase souvenirs, or walk around and enjoy the nature.
Be careful, the water tends of be very cold in the winter!
You can enjoy Meiji Jingu at any time of the year. If you decide to visit here in around New Years, there is ‘hatsumode’. Hatsumode is performed to celebrate the new year in Japan, and a popular event during hatsumode is omikuji, which is a Japanese tradition that tells you your luck for the rest of the year. ‘Daikichi’ indicates that you will be very lucky, as opposed to ‘kyou’, which means that something very bad will happen to you (scary!). Although omikuji is open to any time of the year, it is a tradition for many families to do it over the New Year’s holiday. On the other hand, if you visit Meiji Jingu in the summer, there is matsuri (festivals), where you have the chance to wear a yukata, eat delicious street food, and enjoy fireworks with your friends and family.
On our trip here, we were lucky to see a couple getting married! Congratulations!

 

 

 

 Shibuya Crossing & Mega Don Quixote

Although Shibuya is located just one stop away from Harajuku Station, it has a completely different atmosphere. While Harajuku is packed with thousands of small shops, Shibuya is known for its variety of malls, with the most famous one being “Shibuya 109”. If you are looking for higher end stores such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, I suggest heading to Omotesando near Harajuku.
If you have researched a little about Tokyo, you may have come across the infamous, Shibuya Crossing. Now what’s so special about a street?
Shibuya Crossing is a 4 way street, with people crossing in all different directions. It is rumoured to be one of, if not the busiest street in the world. Even with hundreds of people crossing at a time, Japanese citizens are so orderly and considerate, they never collide into a mess! Shibuya Crossing is featured in several different films, such as Resident Evil: Afterlife, and The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. It is difficult to see this view when you’re in perspective. Conveniently, there is a Starbucks close by that allows you to look at the hundreds of people crossing from a bird’s eye view!
Shibuya Crossing. The street is packed with people 24/7!
After you have taken pictures and crossed several times, I will now take you to Don Quixote, the largest discount store in Japan. There are over 160 Don Quixote stores nationwide, but the one in Shibuya is a Mega Don Quixote, and it sells everything you can imagine, from electronics and home goods, to clothing and food products, at unbelievably low prices. This store is open 24/7, and is tax free for tourists!
The store in Harajuku is called Mega Don Quixote, and just like the name, it is an extra large 7 story building with all of the items you need!
The 7 floors of Don Quixote:
B1- Fresh produce: meat, fruits, vegetables
1F- Perfumes, souvenirs, color contacts
2F- Food/grocery, sweets, alcohol, drinks
3F- Cosmetics, pet supplies, tax free counter
4F- Brand name products, sports equipments, shoes, outdoor supplies
5F- Cleaning supplies, toys, party goods
6F- Electronic Products, interior, traveling goods
A peek of some of the thousands of items sold here:
When you think of Japan, many people will think of green tea (matcha). Don Quixote has a whole corner, just for matcha flavored snacks!
Japan is known for its abundance of snacks and drinks!
The tax free counter
Make sure to buy souvenirs for when you get home!
Because this store is Mega Don Quixote, there is even a cafe, “Tapi Cafe”
Be sure to go to Shibuya on your trip to Japan, there is so much waiting for you!