In today's Tokyo Neighborhood Guide, we are going to be focusing on the world-famous, oh-so-trendy shopping areas, Harajuku and Omotesando. Although technically two different neighborhoods with different vibes, they are closely intertwined geographically and can be easily explored together! Harajuku, known as the headquarters of youth culture in Tokyo, is a maze of back streets packed with boutiques selling the latest fashions and tiny cafes offering the new food craze. If Harajuku is the hip tween of Tokyo neighborhoods, then Ometasando is the rich mom. Its broad, tree-lined avenue is filled with high-end, luxury shopping, art galleries, and modern architecture. You could spend a week getting lost and exploring every hidden street and shop in these areas, but here are some suggestions to get you started.
Start your morning off right and fuel up at Good Town Doughnuts and Coffee. This stylish cafe offers exactly what it advertises, a variety of tasty, fresh-made doughnuts and a menu of espresso drinks. With doughnut flavors like Maple Bacon, Nutella, and Sea Salt Caramel, you might spend all morning just deciding what to order! For a more traditional breakfast menu, line up with all the other breakfast-nuts at Bills, the Aussie-owned chain famous for its Ricotta pancakes served with fresh banana and honeycomb butter. Aside from pancakes they also serve up a selection of healthy egg dishes, breakfast bowls, and parfaits. If breakfast isn't your thing and you just want to fuel up with some coffee, The Roastery is a good bet. This hipster, single-origin joint roasts all of its beans in store, and the friendly baristas will help you choose your roast by letting you smell the different options.
Now, what you really came for. The shopping options here are endless and you can find anything from vintage Japanese denim to the newest Prada release. Your best bet is just to wander the area and see what catches your eye. Both Takeshita street and Cat street are good places to start as both are full of cool boutiques, vintage stores, and streetwear shops. Some highlights include; Daiso, the three-story 100-Yen shop, Dog, the basement boutique that Lady Gaga loves, and 6% DokiDoki, the home of Harajuku style "shockingly cute" clothing. For a break from looking at clothing, head to Winged Wheel for beautiful, hand-crafted stationary, the tiny Sugar Town for adorable gifts, or Spiral Market for design inspired home goods.
If you are looking to fill up on raw fish without spending a fortune, head to Heiroku Sushi. Heiroku is a popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant, known for offering quality at an affordable price. Like most conveyor joints, the plates are color-coded, you take what you want and the price is added up at the end. They have sushi rolls starting at just 170 yen (around $1.50), and even the more expensive plates will only set you back around 670 yen ($6.50). Be careful though! Everything looks delicious and before you know it you may have a stack of 20 plates in front of you. If sushi is not your thing, Maisen is a great backup option. Although a point of contention, Maisen is usually recommended as the very best place for Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) in Tokyo. The Omotesando location is housed in a beautiful, renovated bathhouse and draws long lines of hungry patrons every day.
Architecture & Art
The streets of Harajuku and Omotesando are filled with some incredible examples of modern architecture. Just walking around shopping you will probably be going into buildings designed by world-class architecture firms. You can check out Tokyu Plaza and Omotesando Hills. Not just your average department stores, these two are housed in Instagrammable buildings designed by famous architects (Hiroshi Nakamura and Tadao Ando respectively), and they are full of luxury shops and comfortable cafes. Both the Prada and Dior stores are housed in very unique buildings as well. For art lovers, there is a free gallery on the 7th floor of the Louis Vuitton building that holds rotating exhibitions of contemporary art. Or head down the street to the Nezu Museum for pre-modern Japanese and Asian art in a beautifully designed space.
Cats & Coffee
For an afternoon pick-me-up, check out one of Harajuku's many famous animal cafes. These cafe's are filled with a certain kind of animal for you to pet as you drink a coffee or have a snack. The most popular animal options are cats, hedgehogs, and bunnies, but some cafes even have owls or otters! MoCHA cat cafe is right across from Harajuku station and is a good introduction to this strange world. It is a quiet, clean, and relatively cheap. Grab a coffee or tea and play with some kittens! Alternatively, you could get a drink in an animal-free space (lame!). Aoyama Flower Market has a tea house in the back that has flowers hanging from the ceiling. It feels like having a cup of tea in a magical, secret garden. Or for something sweet, Anywhere Door serves their espresso shots in chocolate covered waffle cones!
Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu
Time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Harajuku backstreets and walk through the nearby Yoyogi park. One of the cities largest and most popular parks, Yoyogi is great to explore no matter the season. The east side of the park, closest to Harajuku, is home to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine, although very crowded at times, is a beautiful site to see, and the surrounding forest/gardens are perfect for a peaceful walk. If you are lucky, you might catch a traditional wedding procession through the shrine. They are held multiple times a day so chances are high that you will spot one. The west side of Yoyogi park is more landscaped, with picnic areas, bike paths, and sport courts. If you come on a Sunday it is usually filled with musicians, cosplayers, athletes, and hobby club members, which makes for pretty great entertainment.
For dinner, you can't go wrong with a dumpling feast at Gyoza Lou. They only serve two types of gyoza, steamed and fried, and they come cheap at 5 pieces for 290 yen. Order a few plates of gyoza and a cold beer and make some friends at the counter! For a more solitary eating experience, you could head over to the famous Ichiran Ramen. At this popular chain, you eat your ramen in individual little booths. Supposedly you can put the dividers down if you want to talk to a friend seated next to you, but where is the fun in that!