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Essay

Is Harajuku dead?

By Patrick St. Michel

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When friends from outside Japan come to Tokyo, one of the neighborhoods they always want to see the most is Harajuku. For many, their entire perception of Japanese pop culture derives from images taken from this relatively small area of the capital. They step off the plane at Narita Airport and expect to be surrounded by young people wearing rainbow-colored outfits and Gothic Lolita garb.

Yet wander around Harajuku proper, and you are more likely to see a sea of tourists than aspiring Kyary Pamyu Pamyu look-alikes. Many of the people walking around the area look like they shop at Uniqlo, not a Laforet boutique. Harajuku, once known for being on the cutting edge of fashion and youth culture, has changed drastically.

This tension became clear earlier this year, with the announcement that pioneering Harajuku street fashion magazine Fruits would close after 20 years of publication. Several other notable fashion-oriented publications announced they would stop running soon after, but Fruits was the most representative of Harajuku’s style. Many living outside Japan first came into contact with colorful Japanese fashion thanks to imported copies of the magazine.

Fruits’ closure, coupled with the growing feeling Harajuku is more of a tourist destination than a center for new creativity, has led some to proclaim the zone “dead,” or at least drastically changed. While the latter is true, Harajuku has ― like fashion ― always been morphing. It was the epicenter of youth cool in the 1970s and 1980s, but lost that crown to Shibuya in the decades that followed. You could also argue it wasn’t even the center of pop culture in the 2000s, as Akihabara held that title.

But Harajuku has always had the image of being Japan’s fashion capital, and interest in colorful, often mismatched Japanese style helped give it a second wind at the start of this decade. Yet that perception didn’t match reality. As Fruits founder Shoichi Aoki said following the announcement to close the magazine, one of the biggest reasons for its shuttering was a lack of cool kids to photograph in the street. Think back to who you are likely to see walking around Harajuku today, and it makes sense.

The spirit of Harajuku, though, persists. Smaller designers and shops still exist in the neighborhood ― they’re just off the beaten path and away from the busiest streets. And the kids who embrace fashion and used to roam the streets, waiting to be photographed? They’ve moved online. Sites such as Instagram allow them to have complete power over how they display themselves. Many of these newer models have hundreds of thousands of followers. You just need to know where to look.

原宿は死んだ?

東京を訪れる外国人観光客に人気の街、原宿。日本のポップカル

チャーの聖地というイメージが強いが、現在の原宿はそのイメージ

からはかなり様変わりしている。筆者の目に映る今の原宿とは?

The Japan Times ST: May 12, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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