Harajuku has a reputation as being the fashion mecca hotspot of Tokyo. This might be true, but one finds that there are numerous other places in Tokyo where the same thing is true. The only thing that sets Harajuku apart is one long street that is lined with most of the Roman empire fashion names of our day. That street is called Omotesando.
Omotesando Dori essentially begins (or ends, depending on which station you arrive at) at the JR Harajuku station exit of the same name. At the other end is the Tokyo Metro Omotesando station. The JR Harajuku station is lined with the foliage of Yoyogi Koen, a popular park that is always good for a stroll.
But if you’re not into nature, then turn your head away from the park and down Omotesando. You will be able to tell which street it is because it will smell like new money and expensive handbags. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Chanel are a few of the names for the fashion nerds to freak out to and drop 10,000 Yen like it’s hot. The Japanese have money to spend, and they want only the cream of the crop when it comes to products, so rest assured you will be finding the newest season’s line of apparel, and in some cases even next season’s line.
If that kind of thing is your bag, then you can spend a whole day walking up and down Omotesando and even venture down Meiji Dori, which intersects perpendicular with Omotesando at the Gap store. You can follow Meiji street down towards Shibuya for more shopping delight, or down the opposite direction where you will run into Takeshita street, a sort of younger and more radical fashion area where you can find trendy lesser known brands for cheaper. If you are a foreigner and prone to getting lost, though, Omotesando should be enough for you.
You will also find a few cool stores like Zoff, where you can get a fine pair of fashionable prescription glasses for ¥5000, ¥7000 or ¥9000 Yen, including the eye exam and prescription. That’s a good deal. Zoff is apart of that new idea that you can make good looking things that don’t have to be expensive hassles.
If you are good with direction, or don’t mind getting lost, there are plenty of quiet streets lined with fashionable, sometimes hard-to-find labels and designer-specific shops that carry only one designer or brand. Cat Street, Takeshita Street (JR Harajuku Takeshita Exit) and Harajuku Street are a couple of the well known veins for local shoppers, and are all within two to four city blocks of each other.
Because of the plethora of stores, these small shops can afford to specialize in just one brand. If you know what designer or clothing label you like, then it shouldn’t be too hard to find it. You need to do your research though. Come prepared. In these parts of Harajuku and other areas in Tokyo like it, you will be lost without knowing what exactly you are looking for. Or you will just end up in Uni-Qlo. There are just too many stores with very specific looks. You could conceivably open up a store in Harajuku based on your personal style, narrowing down to one favorite brand of shoes and a favorite graphic designer.
If you take a detour from these smaller shopping streets to an ever smaller side street, you will find an equal amount of trendy cafes and restaurants stacked on top of each other and squeezed in together. These are the innards of Harajuku, and many cafes that you find will be difficult to find again, because there are so many of them. Places not too far off the Omotesando trail like Royal Cafe, offer affordable cuisine with a menu consisting of Japanese dishes, the ubiquitous spaghetti and some French or American concoction.
You could order almost anything and rest assured that it will taste good, otherwise the place wouldn’t be in business. Because of the high level of competition for customers, each cafe must find it’s own niche and then study that cuisine until they have it down perfectly. You will never get ‘bad quality’ food in Tokyo, or even anywhere in Japan, really. It just doesn’t exist here. The only exception might be coffee. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good cup of coffee. Learn to like green tea. It’s healthier.