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Your Ultimate Guide to the Bizarre and Colorful World of Harajuku Fashion

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Harajuku is often considered the birthplace of the colorful and loud styles of the Japanese youth.

It’s famous not just within Japan but has gained recognition from fashion-savvy people living abroad as well. This Tokyo district truly is influential, and in this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history of how Harajuku became as known as it is now, and some of the most popular styles associated with this fashion haven.

Harajuku Is the Birthplace of Japan’s Most Outrageous Fashion

Harajuku fashion is bombastic and colorful!

Harajuku is a popular district in Tokyo whose name has become synonymous with youth fashion in Japan. It’s located just a few train stops away from two other major districts that are also popular with the city’s young crowd, Shinjuku and Shibuya. The most popular place to visit is Takeshita Street, a 400-meter long shopping street that is lined with all sorts of fashion boutiques, dessert shops, and variety stores.

The fashion style that has evolved out of Harajuku is incredibly popular even in Western countries like the United States, where the district’s fans include celebrities like Gwen Stefani, who named her first solo concert tour “Harajuku Lovers”, and Lady Gaga, who is said to frequent shops around the area. 

Harajuku’s history as a fashion center traces back to the late 1970s when several fashion buildings and retailers started being constructed there during that time. Once they were built, the young people in Tokyo would do their fashion shopping there more often, and since then, the area has just continued to grow as a source for anything that’s stylish. 

Because of this growth and the popularity of the trends that come out of Harajuku, it started being noticed in media abroad as a source for uniquely Japanese styles, which is why the name has become recognizable all across the world.

What Is the Lolita Fashion Subculture?

While the variety of fashion options available in the area means that there isn't one ‘true’ definition for what Harajuku fashion is, there are some instantly recognizable Harajuku styles and subcultures that are being followed by many of Tokyo’s fashionable youths. 

One example of this is the lolita style. While the term lolita was popularized in the West by the novel “Lolita” written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, Japanese lolita on the other hand refers to a style that takes inspiration from Victorian-era clothing. 

The most recognizable parts of lolita clothing are the big ruffled skirts that come down to the knees, frilly bows or hats that serve as the head accessory, and ankle socks paired with Mary Jane shoes or high heels. Another defining characteristic of lolita fashion is its color scheme; lolita outfits are often in pastel shades such as light pink and baby blue. However, there is also a gothic lolita subculture that uses the same style elements but in much darker colors, such as black and red.

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The peak of lolita fashion was during the early 2000s. This was when the style gained a wider reach by being depicted in mainstream forms of media. This was when the light novel “Kamikaze Girls” was published and turned into a live-action movie, and was also when “Gothic & Lolita Bible” was being circulated. 

The former tells the story of two friends who have different backgrounds, where one was a Lolita fashion girl and the other was a juvenile delinquent. The latter was a magazine and book combination (also known as ‘mook’) that covers different fashion trends in the lolita and gothic lolita subcultures. A short-lived English language version of the mook was released in 2008, while the Japanese version was first published in 2001 but unfortunately went on an ongoing hiatus in May 2017.

What is Visual Kei?

Visual Kei is a striking Japanese subculture inspired by American Glam Rock

Visual kei is another thing that is often associated with Harajuku. Unlike the lolita style, visual kei is not just a style of fashion but is also considered an important movement within the Japanese music scene and subculture.

This movement can be seen as a spin on the glam rock style from the West, they are both characterized by the musicians rocking very flashy and flamboyant looks, including strong makeup, and colorful or unusual hairstyles. Visual kei, however, isn’t considered a genre of music, unlike glam rock. While the most common image for visual kei is that it is only a style done by those in a rock band, there are also some electronic or pop musicians who follow this style.

The origins of this movement came from the underground scene in Japan during the 1980s. Musicians took inspiration from the loud and flamboyant styles of artists such as David Bowie and Kiss, and it was also seen as a way to create an ‘alternative’ style of fashion in music.

Over the years, the popularity of this movement grew and visual kei bands in Japan started seeing increasing record sales and the growth of a more mainstream fanbase. Many bands and artists in Japan that had visual kei origins have gone on to become household names in the Japanese music industry. Some of the names that came out of this movement are the bands X Japan, Malice Mizer, and Glay, all of whom have had chart-topping hits and have sold millions of records in Japan.

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