This is one of my favourite walks in Tokyo. It`s got a bit of everything – places to eat, interesting things (and people) to see … it is something a little different. The walk starts on an avenue filled with high fashion shops selling the latest and greatest luxury items and finishes with a walk up an alley filled with smaller shops filled with the trendiest bargains aimed at the young. The whole area is such a great place for walking, talking, people watching, taking photos … plus the eating and shopping are pretty good too!
Our walk starts from Omotesando station. To get to Omotesando station, you can use one of three subway lines – Ginza, Hanzomon or Chiyoda lines. Look for the A3 exit and head up to the street. Once out, you`ll be right next to Omotesando crossing! This walk is so easy, once up the stairs and out of the station turn around and walk down the street. There are numerous exits you can use, but I think A3 is the best.
Just in case you didn`t know, if you walk right up the street you`ll end up at Meiji Shrine. That`s why it`s called Omotesando, in Japanese, “Omotesando” means … “front approach”. So it just means the frontal approach to Meiji Shrine. It was probably quite impressive back in the day.
But now both sides of road are lined with huge Zelkova trees that provide plenty of shade. The trees make it a great place for walking even in Tokyo`s hot and humid summer.
The walk is just over a kilometer long, so it should take about 10 minutes? Don`t bet on it, because there is a whole lot to see. If you don`t like the area (and I can`t imagine any who would) the walk might really take just that 10 minutes. But if you like shopping, looking, talking and eating, you could end up spending the whole day here.
Omotesando is basically just one long shopping street, and most people associate it with luxury shopping but that isn`t exactly correct. Yes, it has many of the expensive European, Japanese and American brands but you`ll find it caters to everyone. If you drove along that road you might be forgiven thinking that it is only for the rich and famous. But it has a lot of very affordable, good quality shopping, combined with those beautiful shady trees that attract the crowds.
And there are people in those crowds, that are there to be seen. Wannabe models and the next Ken Watanabes abound, and you`ll see the talent scouts there on the weekend trying to spot them. Guys with cameras, handing out their business cards trying to convince the girls, and guys, that they have a chance in the modeling or entertainment industry. So if you want to see or be seen then Omotesando is for you.
What brands are on Omotesando? Louis Vitton Loewe, Chanel, Armani, Tag Heuer, Ugg, Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Tod`s … very sorry if I`ve forgotten anyone! If you want to shop at those stores, make sure you take a fair amount of cash.
And don`t miss the department store, Omotesando Hills with the historic Dojunkai Aoyama apartment building next to it. Tokyu Plaza is pretty good too. Situated on Harajuku crossing, this department store has an interesting rooftop. It has a courtyard so you can sit outside drinking your Starbucks which is right next it and above that is Bills, the Australian restaurant owned by Bill Granger. If you peer over the wall, the views can be pretty in nice weather.
And there are two famous Omotesando institutions, the Oriental Bazaar and Kiddy Land. They pull huge amounts of tourists. If you want some Japanese souvenirs, the Oriental Bazaar is the place to go. Kiddy Land … has every plaything a kid, and grownup kids for that matter, could want. Games, puzzles, costumes, toys, you name it Kiddy Land will have it (once it reopens on July 1, 2012 that is). If you`re looking for something found only in Japan, you will probably find it at one of those places.
But don`t walk along just the main road. The backstreets add so much to the area. This is what attracts me there. The backstreets are filled with boutiques, bookstores, florists, barbers, galleries, second-hand shops, restaurants and coffee shops. That`s probably the best part of Omotesando for me, walking the backstreets finding something new and unusual in the strangest of places. If you like exploring backstreets like I do, this place will be heaven.
Once you get to Harajuku crossing, you cross the road and turn right into completely different territory. From LaForet onwards, the fashions and styles start to change, and are rather different to what you saw on Omotesando. It`s different, because here is close to Takeshita-dori (dori just means street or road), the younger generation`s place.
Is anyone, except for the tourists, over 20 there? It`s just full of high school students, some cosplayers and fleeters (Japanese for young people who hold just part-time jobs) eating crepes and looking for the latest bargain or trend. It`s where they all congregate. Everyone goes here, and I mean everyone as it can be seriously crowded. If you have a look at the picture gallery, you`ll get an idea of what to expect. But don`t take Takeshita-dori seriously, and you might it.
And, one of Takeshita-dori`s little secrets is that there is a famous shrine right behind it, quiet considering where it is located. It`s dedicated to Admiral Togo, the hero of the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. A very picturesque shrine that even has a museum in it.Once you`re at the top of Takeshita-dori, and JR Harajuku station is just over the road. The Yamanote line is there, it loops around central Tokyo so it will take you home or get you close to it probably. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the walk!
Before you go, we also have a Tripline map here to show you the route in case you decide to take this walk one day:
What to eat in Harajuku?
You won`t go hungry there. Many shops will have an English menu for you (not all, but quite a few do), and quite a few have English-speaking staff as well. My pick is actually a hamburger shop named, “Golden Brown” in Omotesando Hills. Great hamburgers that come with a chips (or fries as some people prefer to call them) at a reasonable price. The menus are in both Japanese and English and their staff speak both languages. Right across the road from Hills is Heiroku, a kaiten sushi place (i.e. the sushi travels around a conveyor belt and you pick up what you want). Heiroku is very reasonably priced for sushi, plates start at 130yen. It`s not the greatest sushi in the world, but it`s not bad either.
For those on a budget or need to eat quick, you`ll find McDonald`s too! In July 2012 Omotesando will get Japan`s biggest and best McDonald`s. And before I forget, you could also try Japanese pizza at Shakey`s. At 850 yen is it good value and you can try Japanese pizza. What types of pizza are there? For those who haven`t eaten Japanese pizza I don`t want to spoil the surprise and mention some of the whacky stuff they put on it. You`ll even find places like Subway too.
What else is there? Just up past Harajuku JR station is Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park, major tourist attractions in their own right. Also very close is the 1964 Tokyo Olympic facility and NHK (the Japanese government broadcasting company). And a short walk after that is Shibuya, a major station and major shopping area, but a completely different atmosphere to Harajuku.
Around Omotesando crossing, where our walk started, is close to Aoyama an upscale shopping area and the famous Aoyama cemetery.