What Is Harajuku Style?

You might have heard the word ‘Harajuku’ before and associate it with outlandish fashion, but what is Harajuku style? Harajuku is a fascinating subculture movement encompassing a range of different looks, styles and communities, typically found in fashionable districts of Tokyo. In this post, we’re going to look at the history of Harajuku style and some of the more recognisable Harajuku fashion styles.  

What is Harajuku style?

Harajuku style refers to the Harajuku district, a large, urban fashion neighbourhood in Tokyo (which we recommend in our Tokyo weekend guide). It has long been the home of outrageous fashion, particularly among teenagers and young people. Harajuku doesn’t describe one particular style or way of looking, but the conglomeration of many different styles in one place. While it can refer to almost any fashion style, the subculture of Harajuku fashion styles focuses primarily on two concerns – community and freedom of expression. Many of the looks you might see in the Harajuku district will be easily recognisable as one of the subculture communities – more on those later. These communities allow people to outwardly express the things they like and enjoy, and find other like-minded people. There is some debate about what Harajuku style represents. Some believe it’s a rebellion against Japan’s relatively strict societal rules and norms, with young people deliberately dressing up in fun and crazy styles while they can before they are forced to ‘grow up’ and fit norms. Alternatively, some view Harajuku fashion styles as just a celebration of personal freedom of expression. Either way, in Japanese fashion, Harajuku styles are a staple.   A crowd in bright, varied outfits with colourful wigs and expressive accessories congregates outdoors

History of Harajuku

Harajuku fashion styles boomed in the 1980s to early 2000s in particular. Subcultures were everywhere at the time, and there were innumerable different styles and looks to choose from. Many looks and styles were captured in the famous FRUiTS magazine, founded in 1997. FRUiTS focused on photographing stylish people around Harajuku (although it did sometimes cover other areas of Tokyo). In addition, the magazine would give a brief description of the person’s age, occupation and what their look was inspired by. Sadly FRUiTS stopped print publishing in 2017, but it was far from the end of documenting wild Japanese fashion and Harajuku styles. FRUiTS still exists on Instagram and Shoichi Aoki, the creator of FRUiTS, continued to photograph stylish young people after the magazine ended. To see some examples of current Japanese street fashion, including from the Harajuku district, check out Tokyo Fashion on Instagram.   A Harajuku cosplayer in pink hair and black hat, poised on a bridge with cityscape behind.

Harajuku Fashion Styles

So what are the main Harajuku fashion styles? There are so many that it wouldn’t be possible to list them all in one article, and there is plenty of overlap between subgroups. However, some of the more well-known styles include:
  • Lolita
Dresses are very important in Lolita styles, with large, ornate skirts and a lot of lace. There are three popular Lolita styles: classic, sweet and goth (or dark Lolita).
  • Kogal / ko-gyaru (high school)
This style centres around Japanese high school uniforms made fashionable – short skirts, ties and makeup. Knee- or thigh-high socks often feature, either pulled up or sitting loose.
  • Cosplay
Cosplay is popular worldwide, but outside of Harajuku it is often confined to conventions, parties and Halloween. Cosplay involves dressing up as characters from books, films, video games, anime and manga, from accessories to elaborate, custom-made costumes.
  • Decora
Decora style is very vibrant and cutesy – it often links with Japanese kawaii culture. It often uses well-known characters like Hello Kitty and, understandably, a lot of accessories. This can be colourful hair clips, bracelets, necklaces and bags. Even plasters are decorations, often brightly coloured and placed over the nose.
  • Goth
Gothic style in Japan is very similar to gothic styles in the UK, although the style is often taken to extremes as is typical of Harajuku fashion styles. It often crosses over with other styles like steampunk and Lolita to add a dark twist to those styles as well.   We hope this blog post has answered the question ‘what is Harajuku style?’ – for more information about Japanese culture, please have a look at our blog. If you’re interested in exploring more traditional Japanese attire, why not see our collection of kimonos? They make a great gift for a loved one or to treat yourself!
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