We all have our favorite places in the city we live in and Harajuku/Omotesando areas have definitely been mine. Two centrally-located neighborhoods in Tokyo merge seamlessly together to form a bustling and modern hub with a European feel, vibrant atmosphere and seemingly endless things to do. I love to peruse the little alleyways here, and no matter how many times I visit I still end up discovering something new and fascinating.
Harajuku is the ground zero for Japanese youth culture, fashion-forward edgy dressers, trendsetters and quirky personalities, while Omotesando (often referred to as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo) is an upscale residential area with high-end boutiques, interesting concept stores and myriads of cafes for quick bites or full-on meals.
It gets really busy during the weekends and seems to be one of the most favorite areas for Japanese to meet up. For a good reason too, there is so much to do and see that you’d never get bored.
Here is my guide of Top 10 Things to Do in Harajuku and Omotesando:
1. Visit Meiji Shrine
Right in the midst of the modern lifestyle and the frantic rhythm of the soaring high-rises lies a lush ever-green grove hiding one of the oldest and most peaceful shrines in Tokyo. It is well worth the visit with its magnificent torii gates, beautiful woodwork, and serene atmosphere. If you happen to visit on the weekend you will have a solid chance to spot a few Japanese wedding processions too. Read my full guide to Meiji Shrine for further information.
2. Eat the infamous crepes or cloud-like cotton candy
Takeshita Dori is synonymous with these colorful warm French-style Japanese crepes that come in myriads of flavors. Although you might be tempted to indulge in a cotton candy instead which is bigger than your head and comes in all rainbow colors. Kawaiiii.
3. People-watch on Takeshita Dori and Harajuku streets
Young people across Japan flock to Harajuku to make their fashion statements. They come to see the latest trends and to start new ones. Maid outfits, neon-colored hair, and everything in a common thing to see – it’s a place where everything goes. It’s also the best place to immerse yourself into Japanese pop-culture. Sunday afternoon is a great time to spot the Cosplay, especially on Takeshita Dori. You can read more about Tokyo street fashion and see my gallery of amazing cosplay shenanigan I once stumbled upon for more insight.
4. Have fun at the themed cafes
Harajuku is the hub for all things extraordinary and peculiar, including themed cafes. You can take a short break at one of the cute Cat Cafes, savor some delicious choux pastries at the adorable bunny-themed Nicholas Charles House or get a sensory overload at Kawaii Monster Café. The choices are endless and you are guaranteed to have loads of fun and unforgettable experience unique to Japan.
5. Indulge in one of the best breakfasts in Tokyo
Omotesando and Harajuku areas are one of the best places to have breakfast, brunch or lunch because of the sheer amount of cafes littering every street. The first time visitors might feel a bit overwhelmed so I compiled a list of best breakfast spots for all breakfast aficionados out there looking for a special morning eats in Tokyo.
6. Explore the art scene
Harajuku is where creative people hang out and if you venture a little further into the back streets known as “ura Harajuku” (or “ura Hara” for short) you will find that there are many artsy hidden gems waiting to be discovered. One of my latest discovers is the quirky Design Festa Gallery. This unique avant-garde art space showcases a rotating array of local artists and photographers and provides the buzz of creativity from young Japanese artists. Admission is free and the work is unregulated inside the two buildings and 21 exhibition spaces. There is a café and a bar with English speaking staff where you can enjoy the graffiti art on the walls around you. There is also a fun okonomiyaki restaurant hidden in the backyard. Other place that deserve to be featured is Nezu Museum, with private collection of Japanese art and an idyllic little garden where you can enjoy matcha tea. It’s one of the places I have yet to visit myself.
7. Eat the best tonkatsu in Tokyo
Those who are not aware, tonkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet (think pork schnitzel) and no visit to Japan should go without trying it at least once. There are a few great specialty tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo, although the most popular and highly ranked of them all is undoubtedly Maisen, serving its delectable cutlets since 1965. For detailed information read my full review of Maisen Tonkatsu.
8. Go for a shopping spree
Whther you are looking for designer labels, traditional souvenirs or typical Japanese kawaii knickknacks you are guaranteed to find it here. Shops not to miss are Kiddy Land for character toys, Daiso 100 yen store and other shops along Takeshita-dori for all things cute, Oriental Bazaar for traditional souvenirs, Tokyu Plaza and Omotesando Hills for clothing. Take your time to browse Cat Street and Harajuku alleys for small boutiques with unique items, you will surely find something special you’ll want to take home.
9. Take a coffee break
I will make sure to write a separate post about the best coffee shops in Tokyo, but at the moment I’d like to feature one of my absolute favorites in the area – Lattest Omotesando Espresso Bar. This chic and shabby coffee shop serves one of the best lattes I have tasted in Tokyo. What distinguishes this coffee shop from others (besides really good coffee, of course!) is its charismatic girl baristas who always greet me with a friendly smile and never mind to connect with the customer and chat a little. Here is my full review of the place.
10. Savor American desserts
I know, I know, you come to Japan and want to try something authentic and local, but in case you don’t mind sprucing up your diet a bit, you can visit one of the best American dessert spots in town – Dominique Ansel for his infamous cronuts, cookie shots or frozen s’mores on a stick; Magnolia Bakery for dainty cupcakes or Max Brenner for chocolate pizza. Yup, you’ve heard me right.