The tiny district of Harajuku has been immortalized in pop culture, thanks largely to Gwen Stefani and her questionable ‘Harajuku Girls’ backup dancers. It’s regarded as a place of kitschy fashion and lightning-in-a-bottle trends and considered the ultimate neon mecca for all things ‘kawaii’ (‘cute’ in Japanese).

On the ground in Tokyo, it is all those things, but it is also something more. The spirit of Harajuku is one of self-expression, a no-holds-barred fashion parade where the bizarre mixes with the beautiful. If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo, you simply can’t leave without ticking a shopping trip to Harajuku off your bucket list.

Harajuku is not the place to find high-end department stores. If you’re after that kind of fare, head down the road to the sky-scraping, high-end Shibuya district. Harajuku is crammed full of independent retailers, kooky stalls, and boutique stores, as well as cosplaying teenagers, Japanese schoolchildren and rivers of tourists.

If you’re looking to get inspired for that once-in-a-lifetime Tokyo trip, then check out BUCKiTDREAM to see who else has ventured forth through Harajuku’s bombastic gates, then keep that BUCKiTDREAM planner handy as we take you through the ultimate guide to Tokyo’s trendiest district!

Get There First As far as Tokyo districts go, Harajuku is one of the smaller ones. Named for the quaint, European-style train station that stands at the entrance to the main thoroughfare, the hallowed Harajuku has been the center of Tokyo youth culture since the mid-seventies.

The easiest way to get there is on the Tokyo subway, which can deliver you to pretty much any spot in the city within a matter of minutes. Confusingly, the stop you’re looking for is not the aforementioned station – it’s actually Meiji-jingumae, named for the gigantic spread of tranquil shrine land which sits adjacent to Harajuku.

Grab a Drink As you ascend from the subway, you’ll find yourself on the beautiful, tree-lined Omotesando, an avenue which runs straight from the Meiji shrine to Omotesando Station. The area is considered to be one of the hippest in Tokyo, with a number of delightful coffee shops waiting to be uncovered in its web of peaceful alleys and backstreets.

Before you hit Harajuku, why not grab a coffee at Lattest – in a profession traditionally dominated by men, this chic espresso bar features an all-star, all-female barista team, and it’s rapidly staking its claim as one of the best coffee shops in Tokyo.

Address: Japan, 1500001 Tokyo, Shibuya, 神宮前3丁目5

Follow the Crowd The main drag of Harajuku is known as Takeshita-dori (essentially Takeshita Street). You won’t have a lot of trouble finding it – both entrances are marked by uniquely sculpted gates. It’s not a street so much as a walkway because no cars can fit down it, and chances are they wouldn’t want to even if they could, as the place is usually a sea of shoppers and pedestrians.

But don’t be worried about the crowds. Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world, with street crime like mugging or pickpocketing virtually non-existent wherever you choose to venture. The Japanese also have a defined sense of personal space. You won’t be shouldered or jostled at all as you make your way through Harajuku, and the place rarely feels claustrophobic.

If you really can’t stand the crowds, avoid the area on weekends and evenings, and take a trip there on a weekday morning – it will be much less congested.

Stop to Shop As you wander down Takeshita-dori, you’ll be beset on all sides by striking shops and fascinating boutiques. These range from eye-catching clothes shops – which assault you with a blizzard of colors and designs – to hair salons, restaurants and even an owl café. In Harajuku, pink is punk, and while there you’ll probably encounter the national obsession with socks, which come in a needless, yet delightful, array of designs.

Some of the heavy hitters on Takeshita include: 6% DokiDoki (hard to miss thanks to its neon pink exterior), ACDC Rag, real-life doll’s house, Bubbles, and make-up mecca, Etude House. There’s also a number of smaller boutiques that chop and change every now and then. Another national institution worthy of mention is Daiso Harajuku, Japan’s version of a pound shop, where you can go on a ¥100 shopping spree to your heart’s content.

The golden rule is: when it comes to Takeshita-dori, every nook and cranny is worth exploring.

Get Some Grub Harajuku is also renowned for its popular restaurants that lie tucked away between the fashion hubs. Many of these are very cool with the local kids, who will think nothing of standing in line for an hour or more to get into their favorite eatery.

The delectable Eggs n’ Things specializes in pancakes and crepes, while paying a ¥700 membership at coffeehouse Bunbougu will grant you access to their special stationary draw, allowing you to scribble away while you rest your weary feet. Expanding out from Takeshita-dori, there’s the childhood haven of Kiddyland, which features four floors worth of colorful merchandise, and also the angular shopping center of Tokyu Plaza, which contains more high-end, traditional fashion than the rock and roll spirit of Takeshita.

It’s easy to spend a day or two perusing through Harajuku and soaking up the atmosphere. Despite being one of Tokyo’s most popular destinations for both locals and tourists alike, there’s a relaxed vibe to the place. You can also head to the perfectly peaceful surrounds of the Meiji shrine if you need a break from the kawaii onslaught. This beloved national park is merely a few feet from the entrance to Takeshita-dori.

To fill up the rest of your BUCKiTDREAM trip to Tokyo, why not check out The Best Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo and The Definitive Guide to the Best Theme Parks in Japan, and make sure that a visit to Harajuku is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your Japanese bucket list!