I have, I freely admit, a conventional and thoroughly boring dress sense. My uniform for the day is usually a dark powersuit with sensible low court shoes. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I might wear a pretty floral scarf or fancy belt, but that’s as far as my adventures in fashion goes – so you imagine just how exhiliratingly shocked I was on my first trip to Japan, when I found myself in the famous Harajuku area of Tokyo and had my first taste of real, eclectic, wildly outrageous modern Japanese fashions.
For those not familiar with Japan, when people say Harajuku, they’re referring to the area surrounding the Harajuku railway station in Tokyo, somewhere between Shinjuku and Shibuya. Harajuku is famous because it’s where all the international fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel have their stores, on the upmarket Omotesandō street. On this particular day, like any curious tourist to Tokyo with an afternoon free, I had decided to go shopping. While I had intended to go to Omotesandō, I somehow went in the wrong direction (easily enough to do in Japan when you don’t speak the language, can’t read the signs and navigate by the ‘let’s follow the crowd and see where it goes’ method) and instead ended up on Takeshita street – and oh my, what a revelation!
Knee-length kimonos and combat boots! Mohawk hair and patent leather shoes! Fishnet stockings with barely legal mini-skirts and a sweater you could lose an elephant in! The amazing fashion statements began the minute I stepped out of Harajuku station and continued as I checked out the numerous stores along Takeshita Street. Instead of the more refined, elegant – and it must be said, relatively staid – designs I had been going to see, I had unwittingly ended up in Omotesandō’s more outrageous counterpart, the fashion capital of young Japan, where teenagers and rebels came to buy and display some of the wildest outfits I had ever seen.
I had of course heard about the ‘Harajuku Girl’ phenomenon, but it never really seemed real until I saw it for myself, and it was amazing – I saw more mismatched, striped knee stockings in an afternoon than I had in all my years of school! The male counterparts were just as colourful and imaginative, especially one otherwise normal looking fellow who looked as though a rainbow had settled on his head; it was so multicoloured. Of course, not everyone in Harajuku dressed like that. Most of the shoppers walking along in Takeshita Street were actually normally dressed teenagers and office workers, like all the rest of Tokyo. It’s only a small minority of rebellious youngsters who really dress so wildly – but once you’ve seen a girl strolling along in a kind of ‘Gothic Geisha Punk’ outfit, everyone else rather fades into the background!
Most of the teens seem to gather around Harajuku station itself, and apparently they often use the bathrooms in the station to change wardrobes and repair their makeup. After some perusing of stores in Takeshita street, it’s no surprise why they’re all gathered in this area. Most of the shops along the road are small, independent boutiques, selling everything from purple faux fur knee high boots to see-through bikini tops – just the kind of thing for the aspiring rebel dresser.
In some ways, it really seemed as though the colourful anime characters I saw on my nephew’s favourite cartoon series had walked straight out of the television and into the streets. The few tourists I saw in the crowds were, like me, busy gawking at the outlandish sights nonchalantly walking by! After the first shock had subsided, the eclectic fashions even started to look quite intriguing, and not just to me. As I was browsing, I saw one quiet-looking lady – who couldn’t have been less than forty – furtively reaching for a fabulously garish rhinestone studded belt. As for me, well, I doubt I’ll wear purple knee high boots with a polka dot skirt, but perhaps a little bit of fashion rebel spirit did seep in, as I now have a rather fetching pink tote-bag to take out one day, when I’m feeling especially adventurous!