Where Are The Harajuku Girls?

By
On September 22, 2014
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Photo by Mehmet Aktugan

Japanese Fashion is known around the world for its originality and intrigue. It has been stereotyped as outrageous, bright, and downright ridiculous at times. It’s portrayed in movies, magazines, and late night television skits (SNL) as something that is found nowhere else, but is strictly “Japanese.”

Pop superstars Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne have even made the hit songs “Harajuku Girls” and “Hello Kitty” showcasing this unusual style. K-Pop’s fashion may even be similar at times, but nothing can come close to the what’s portrayed as fashion in Japan.

The problem, however, is exactly that. Japanese fashion is portrayed as exciting, fantastic, and filled with brilliant colors, when in reality, the women of Japan typically wear something totally different. When my sister arrived in Japan for a visit, she wanted so badly to fit in with the local fashion that she packed her entire suitcase with neon colors and tons of flashy accessories; none of which she usually wore.

After she got here, she was devastated to find out that what the Japanese women actually were wearing resembled her simplistic, neutral-colored closet back home. If you want to avoid my sister’s misconception and have a grasp on what’s really the common style in Japan, here’s a look at what women actually wear in Japan.

Autumn Fashion

japan_autumn_girlsPhoto by Glenn Waters

In some countries, autumn is known for its orange and black hues and Halloween decorations. In Harajuku, they like to carry on this tradition in their fashion. When walking down the infamous Takeshita Street, you’ll see plenty of fashionistas dressed for the season. While it’s always fun to watch and sometimes participate, most of Japan will follow the more practical approach. This time of year in mainland Japan calls for layers of clothing, as the stores will start to sell their dark tones and wool knits once again. With leggings and shirts layering each outfit, they’re ready for the cool autumn air.

Winter Fashion

japan_winter_girlsPhoto by Matthew Kenwrick

If you’ve heard of fashion in Japan, chances are you’ve heard of Harajuku girls. They embody the stereotypical idea of fashion in the country. But take a look at the differences between what a Harajuku Girl and a typical Japanese woman might wear in wintertime.

In the Harajuku style, you see bright colors, tons of accessories, and kawaii (cute) characters all over her outfit. But when shopping for the “real” Japanese style in winter, it’s hard to find a color that doesn’t resemble a neutral. It seems to go along with the common mindset of blending in and becoming one as a nation, rather than standing out like most do in Harajuku. And you can’t forget the tan or brown colored pea coat; if you haven’t seen multiple girls wearing them yet; you haven’t been in (mainland) Japan long enough.

Spring Fashion

japan_spring_girlsPhoto by Thomas


When its spring in Harajuku, some might break out their whites and get rid of the drab, darker colors; but the outfit of choice may look more like a china doll than anything. Puffy sleeves and oversized bows aren’t uncommon; as I’m sure you’ve seen in magazines and online. Surprisingly enough though, the fashion trends for the rest of Japan are more simple once again. Oversized shirts, short skirts and shorts are always showcased in the local shopping malls. They may start to wear brighter colors this time of year, but don’t expect solid neon T-shirts and tights to be the common theme throughout the country.

Summer Fashion

japan_summer_girlsPhoto by takasuii

Ah, summer in Japan. In most of the country, this consists of warm, humid nights and the neon lights of the city. For Harajuku style, this summer city-life theme is showcased even in their clothing. “Kawaii Fashion” continues to be the rage all year long, or so Harajuku tells us. In reality, most Japanese women will go for a more subtle, clean look. While each person’s individual style may vary, you’ll far more often see pastels and loose, flowing material than layers of bright colors and cosplay references.

Of course, there are still those who dress in Harajuku style, and shops with these items are not unheard of around Japan. However, expecting it to be the majority will result in a massive letdown. When you’re in Japan, know that the stereotypes about fashion are only true for the minority. Be prepared for a whole new world of simplistic style that might give a new meaning to your definition of the term “Japanese Fashion.”

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Navy wife, esl teacher, travel enthusiast.
  • Jason Troxel says:

    You didn’t actually answer the question of where the harajuku girls can be found.

  • collegedistrict says:

    Japanese people are really fashionable. I like their fashion very fashionably cool.I’m also a half Japanese and i kinda like their style.Great article,thanks for posting informative post!

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  • Toranosuke says:

    Yes, I’ve spent more than enough time in Japan to have a sense of what’s
    typical mainstream fashion, outside of the Harajuku sub-cultures. But
    the question remains- where are all the Harajuku girls? Back in 2003,
    you could go to Takeshita dori, and to that bridge near Meiji Jingu, and
    they’d be everywhere. But by 2008, this had all but disappeared (at
    least in my experience, those days that I went there). Neither Shimokita
    nor Nakano have become the new centers of this particular brand of
    subculture fashion, so, where has it gone? Has it truly begun to
    disappear?

    I went to Takeshita a few weeks ago, and while I love that the area now features
    more shops I can actually shop at – more affordable, and less
    way-out-there while still having a certain fashion style touch – the
    only Harajuku girls I saw where foreigners, and girls dressed that way
    to film a commercial. So, where have all the punk-goth-lolis gone?

  • It seems, finally, that western (European and US) fashion had got over their own traditions.

  • Jeremy Wood says:

    Japanese
    women are so enigmatic; they possess this magical beauty untouched by age, they are just so unlike any other woman on the planet! There really is something spiritual buried deep inside them. They have a gentle laughter that leaves Goosebumps on of my skin.

    • 冨岡 アシュリー says:

      This has zero to do with the article and is extremely dehumanizing and fetishisizing of Japanese women.

  • Kevin Martin says:

    It seems like the Japanese women like to show a bit of leg all year round (i.e. skirts and shorts).

    • primalxconvoy says:

      I think it is to make up for how short and squat most Japanese bodies and/or legs are. By wearing heels and shotpants, they can give the illusion of long legs, while the heels can push out their bums and give the impression of a curvier bottom (as they are usually flatter than most non-Japanese bums). Showing cleavage isn’t really a thing here (due to cultural norms and/or the fact most Japanese girls feel they have little to show). I have noticed an increase of belly-buttons on display, though.

    • kelsey says:

      That’s very true, all of my American friends always noticed how short the Japanese girls shorts and skirts were

    • Drakaath67 says:

      Zettai ryōiki 絶対領域 which translates to ‘Absolute territory’ – The gap between overknee socks and skirt/shorts – while originally just an anime otaku kind of thing (based on Absolute Terror Field from Neon Genesis Evangelion) used to describe the feature on anime girls, quickly became quite a hit in Japanese women’s fashion and a lot of men really like it.

    • 冨岡 アシュリー says:

      Leg isnt viewed as sexually. Bust on the other hand, even what is considered tasteful in the west is deedeemed inappropriate in most cases by the mainstream.

  • Maruf says:

    It’s funny when you see what they wear all the 4 seasons. The longest skirt is the summer.

    • Paisley Stovall says:

      It would really depend on where they are from. Most of Japan, i believe, is relatively warm and very humid.

      • CatWhisperer says:

        My daughter lives in Akita-shi and wow tons of snow for months on end. She’d never lived in snow before, except for the occasional, once-a-year storm.

      • kelsey says:

        Yea very true! Most of Japan is humid in the summer, but I’ve heard Hokkaido is much nicer. There’s a pretty broad range of weather from there to Okinawa, so the warmth of the clothes does change slightly

  • yukikevo says:

    Can you do a men’s fashion article, pretty please?

  • 餅ちゃん says:

    I am surprised that some people think that Japanese people dress in Harajuku fashion, even the people who do don’t do it all the time… I meet many of them in concerts, but other than that, most people look like the photos in that article, and that’s not a bad thing at all… I admit it would be a bit freaky if everywhere looked like Harajuku (or Amemura in my case)

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