Harajuku Culture and Trends

Learn about the Harajuku culture, fashion and trends in Japan.
By: Michael Strickland

These days, Japan is as known for offbeat trends as it is for sushi. For the country that gave the world Tamagotchi digital pets, maid cafes and honey dolls, hordes of teenagers dressed up as anime characters and caricatures of Western culture memes are par for the course. The hub of this youth-oriented, street-fashion craze is the area surrounding Harajuku Station in Tokyo.

And it’s not a new trend. Harajuku culture got its start during the postwar Allied occupation of Japan, when American soldiers and civilians lived in the area. Curious Japanese youths came to experience a different culture and browse the Western goods in local stores catering to the Americans. Eventually, fashion designers and their entourages settled in the area, calling themselves “the Harajuku tribe.” The movement got a boost when the 1964 Tokyo Olympics brought in waves of tourists and shops that catered to them.

Today, the Harajuku area is not just the center for fashion-forward Japanese youth. It’s also one of the world’s fashion centers. Omotesando, one of the main streets, has been compared to Paris’s Champs-Elysees, with Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada recently setting up shop. The district's other main drag, Takeshita Street, is the focal point for gatherings every Sunday by Japanese youth dressed in the many different styles of Harajuku culture. These styles constantly change; as some are abandoned, others evolve and many are often combined. But these are some of the more popular and enduring styles you may see on any given Sunday:

Cosplay, or “costume play,” involves assuming the persona of a well-known character from a movie, game, band or manga (comic book). This means not just dressing up in a costume to look the part, but also acting the part.

This style carries none of the Western sexual connotations that the term “Lolita” evokes, instead embodying a modest look based on Victorian-era fashion. The typical Lolita wears a cupcake-shaped knee-length skirt with petticoats and knee-high stockings, though the style often includes full-length skirts, corsets and headdresses.

Inspired by the punk-rock era, the punk style features all the hallmarks of rebelliousness: leather, piercings, chains, zippers and boots, with clothing generally in dark colors or plaid.

A term transliterated from the English word “gal,” gyaru style is typified by an overtly childish, girly look, often seen as a caricature of the typical American teenager. Bleached or dyed hair, and garishly decorated makeup and nails are de rigueur. Clothing styles vary, based on which gyaru sub-style is chosen.

Ganguro style (roughly translated as “black face”) takes the girly-glam gyaru style to a whole new level. You can tell a ganguro girl by her deep artificial tan, hair dyed orange, blonde or silver and black-lined eyes surrounded by white eye shadow. This look is often accessorized by facial gems and stickers, false eyelashes, platform shoes and brightly colored clothing.

As if ganguro wasn’t unconventional enough, yamanba and manba styles carry ganguro to even greater extreme. The tan is much darker, often brown; the makeup is even more radical, almost clown-like; hair colors are usually neon, often in dreadlocks. This style’s name, unsurprisingly, originates from “Yama-uba,” a mountain hag from Japanese folklore.

Visual Kei
Visual kei (“visual style”) is characterized by the use of garish costumes, flamboyant hair and makeup and an androgynous look. Originally a movement within Japan’s music scene, the style was adopted by fans emulating their idols, making it in some ways a form of cosplay.

The popularity of Harajuku fashion and culture has gone international, with regular Harajuku-style meetings in many countries -- including a “Muslim Lolita” gathering in Malaysia and even a new “Harajuku Mini” children’s clothing line in Target stores launched by Gwen Stefani.

Next Up

10 Essential Things You Need to Know for Your First Trip to India

Lay the foundation for the adventure of a lifetime with these insider tips.

Miso-Glazed Black Cod

Watch Andrew Zimmern prepare Miso-Glazed Black Cod. Then prepare the dish in your own kitchen.

Russia Travel Tips

A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to traveling around Russia. A few simple measures can mean the difference between a frustrating or a tranquil trip.

Beijing: Know Before You Go

In a society so steeped in tradition, it comes as no surprise that the Chinese have a strict set of social guidelines visitors ought to follow.

How to Spend Two Nights in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a bourgeoning, modern metropolis. For travelers short on time, these quick tips are a can’t miss.

Cool Camping Gear for Intrepid Explorers

Go off-grid with great gear and gadgets.

Sweet and Sour Bangkok Chicken

Watch Andrew Zimmern cook Sweet and Sour Bangkok Chicken. Then prepare the dish in your own kitchen.

Tom Kha Gai

Watch Andrew Zimmern prepare Tom Kha Gai. Then prepare the Thai soup in your own kitchen.

Do as the Russians Do

Just like its old world charms, Russia has old world customs. Find out how to shake hands, make a toast and more with our etiquette guide.

Seven Wonders of China

From awe-inspiring works of art to tombs shrouded in mystery, we've uncovered China's Seven Wonders.


Trending Now

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.