It’s been over a year since our Japanese Street Fashion 2016 article. Considering the speed at which trends, brands, shops, and people come and go in the Japanese street fashion scene, an update is past due.
Harajuku — Tokyo’s one-of-a-kind youth culture neighborhood — retains its long-held title as the center of Japan’s street fashion scene in 2017. There are plenty of other hip/trendy areas in Tokyo and Osaka, but Harajuku remains the leading indicator of Japanese street fashion’s overall health and direction. Trends, brands, personalities, and shops get noticed here first — then spread outward.
Our overall impression of Harajuku’s street fashion scene in 2017 is that it’s noticeably stronger than it was in 2016.
Harajuku welcomes a new “generation” of kids every spring — around the time the Japanese school year starts in April. The majority of these new 16- to 20-year-old Harajuku kids are college students (often attending a nearby fashion, design, or beauty school) experiencing the freedom of young adulthood. Some are high school students who’ve reached an age where their parents feel comfortable with them hanging around Harajuku on their own, and another group have moved to Tokyo from their hometowns all over Japan for work, school, or other reasons.
When a new Harajuku generation arrives, the previous one departs. Those graduating from college or trade school decide it’s time to move on to “real life” and disappear from the streets. The average Harajuku kid spends no more than four years as an active member of the scene. This cyclical turnover of around 20% of the scene’s entire population means that Harajuku’s own personality has the potential to change dramatically from year to year.
Judging by the young people we’ve met on the street so far, the Harajuku Class of 2017 is brimming with creative and passionate young fashion lovers. This year’s group of kids seems more experimental and excited about street fashion than we’ve seen in the last couple of years, which is good news for the near future of Harajuku. We’ve yet to see a new breakout star like Hirari Ikeda, Juria, Kyary, Peco, or Yutaro. That said, it’s too early to predict what might happen as this new group of kids carve out their own place in the scene.
Over the last year, Japanese street fashion has continued to be influential throughout Asia and around the globe. Look no further than the recent Louis Vuitton Kansai Yamamoto collection, Marc Jacobs controversial Harajuku inspired runway show, Rihanna’s Harajuku-influenced Fenty collection with Puma, and the breathtaking Comme Des Garcons exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Established Japanese designers are making waves around the world as Japan’s next fashion generation arrives in Harajuku full of anticipation. Let’s take a look at the issues, trends, personalities, brands, and boutiques that are likely to shape their future — and ours.
Here are fifteen things we consider important to understanding the State of Japanese Street Fashion in 2017.
1. Harajuku is Not Dead, No Matter What You Read
Japanese street fashion has made the international news quite a bit this year, but not always for good reasons. From CNN and I-D Magazine to a much shared Quartz article to various unsourced blog posts, the English-speaking internet has been gleeful in declaring Harajuku “dead”. It’s a cliche at this point to dismiss stories as “Fake News”, but modern media feeds on shocking and upsetting headlines to get more clicks. “Harajuku is Dead!” sells far better than the more accurate “Harajuku is Changing”.
The reality of the “Harajuku is Dead” meme is simply this: Many 1990s Harajuku subcultures are in decline.
Several well-known Harajuku subcultures that formed in the mid to late 1990s — especially the highly visible ones referred to by foreign media as Japanese “kawaii” style —appear to finally be falling out of fashion. Kids wearing these specific styles are increasingly rare on the street. Fashion brands and Harajuku boutiques that developed around these now-fading subcultures have also, sadly but not surprisingly, been closing.
So it may be true to say that “Decora”, “Visual Kei”, “Gothic Lolita”, or “Fairy Kei” are in decline, but the average CNN or Vice reader would have no idea what you were talking about. Substitute “Harajuku” for the name of a relatively obscure subculture and the number of headline clicks increases exponentially.
There are legitimate challenges facing Harajuku, as discussed in our 2016 article. Those complex issues are ignored by most bloggers, who prefer instead to simply equate a lack of teen girls with colorful hair clips with the imminent death of Japanese street fashion in general.
One of the core elements of Harajuku in particular (and Japanese street fashion in general) is that it is ever-changing. Trends come and go at breakneck speed. New ideas are experimented with and discarded, often before they can even be properly named or documented. The speed of fashion in Japan is one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the world. No one expects a trend to last forever here. Nor can we expect 1990s fashion subcultures — no matter how iconic and loved they may be — to last forever.
Harajuku is not a specific style or look — it is a special zone of creativity. Many iconic fashion subcultures have been born in Harajuku, but none of those styles define it. Harajuku is a neighborhood where people — many of them future Japanese creative leaders — come to experiment with fashion without (for the most part) being judged or discouraged; where they instead feel encouraged to test original aesthetic concepts and theories, getting instant feedback from their peers and strangers. At its core, Harajuku is an open air laboratory for new visual ideas. As long as it continues to attract and nurture creative young people, Harajuku remains very much alive.
2. FRUiTS Magazine Ends Print Run, Breaks Hearts Around The World
The genesis of most “Harajuku is Dead” articles is the fact that FRUiTS — the publication largely responsible for making “Harajuku” famous outside of Japan— stopped publishing their legendary print magazine earlier this year.
FRUiTS founder Shoichi Aoki has been sharing Harajuku’s creative and colorful street fashion with the world since 1996. Available at Tower Records and other international bookstores before the rise of fashion blogs or social media, FRUiTS was a source of inspiration to a generation of influential designers and creative leaders around the globe.
When Aoki announced that FRUiTS had printed its final issue, many tears were shed. FRUiTS was more than just a document of Harajuku culture — it had become a beloved part of the culture. Many inside and outside of the fashion scene could not imagine Harajuku without FRUiTS.
Like everyone else, we were extremely sad about FRUiTS ceasing publication. But the reality is that print magazines are dying all over the world. FRUiTS never had a strong digital presence — and if they did, asking people to pay money to look at pictures on a website is not a popular business model in 2017. Social media gives everyone free access to an unlimited number of real-time Harajuku street snaps every single day.
In several interviews given after the announcement, Aoki said he wasn’t finding as many kids that he wanted to photograph on the streets of Harajuku as he had in the past. This quote (occasionally mistranslated as “there are no more cool kids in Harajuku”) was used to justify some of the early “Harajuku is Dead” headlines.
A further reading of his interviews shows that Aoki’s favorite era of Harajuku fashion was the late 1990s. We also love 1990s Harajuku street fashion, but that was twenty years ago. Times have changed and so have Harajuku kids. As mentioned previously, a clearer message to take away from those interviews with Aoki might be: Some 1990s Harajuku Styles Are In Decline.
Aoki himself definitely hasn’t given up on Harajuku. We still see him out shooting street fashion several times a week. He plans to continue publishing FRUiTS photo books and working on other Harajuku-related projects in the future. He even threw the naysayers a curve ball by unexpectedly publishing a brand new issue of FRUiTS Magazine at the end of June.
Aoki is absolutely correct that Harajuku street fashion has changed a lot in the last 20 years. If it didn’t change, then it really would be dead.
3. KERA Magazine Goes Online Only
Harajuku’s preeminent subculture guide since 1998, KERA Magazine also announced the end of their print run during the first quarter of 2017. Unlike FRUiTS, KERA plans to continue as an online-only publication. Even so, the one-two punch of Harajuku’s top fashion magazines giving up on print at the same time hit many people hard.
FRUiTS published full-page street snaps with very little text and almost no advertising, a document of the Harajuku scene that let the fashion speak for itself.
In contrast, KERA is a lifestyle magazine and how-to guide with a different format and audience. Alongside street snaps, each issue of KERA features detailed updates on the latest subculture trends, makeup and fashion tutorials, information on new items by key brands, and even music and manga news relevant to followers of the magazine’s subcultures. Several times a year, KERA also published Gothic & Lolita Bible, the world’s definitive Lolita fashion subculture guide— another title that is ending its print run.
FRUiTS Magazine gave Harajuku kids inspiration by documenting the most creative and unique personalities in the street fashion scene.
KERA gives detailed instructions on how to achieve the perfect look of specific subcultures like Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, Gothic, Rock Style, Visual Kei, or Decora. KERA features an ever-changing roster of Reader Models (Dokusha) pulled directly from the Harajuku streets. These amateur fashion idols demonstrate the best way to do your hair and makeup along with showcasing the proper brands to wear for each different Harajuku subculture.
In general, KERA is more focused on established youth subcultures and FRUiTS was more focused on individuality. It was not uncommon to see the most exceptional street fashion kids featured in both magazines on a regular basis. The two magazines complimented each other, both promoting and supporting the Harajuku street fashion scene.
KERA Magazine is not gone — it has just moved to an online-only format. In addition to the new online publication, KERA plans to continue running their KERA Shop ecommerce website and related brick-and-mortar KERA Shop boutiques.
The new KERA website only just launched, so it’s too early to tell what the impact of these changes will mean to the Harajuku scene. However, much of what KERA used to offer to kids around Japan can now be found easily on social media, especially on YouTube where countless young Japanese fashionistas— some of them former or current KERA models — post daily makeup, hair, and fashion tutorials.
While the shock of losing two beloved print magazines was understandably upsetting in the short term, it’s not yet clear what — if any — lasting impact their demise may have on the Harajuku street fashion scene.
When the legendary Surfer Magazine closed after a fifty-year run, surf historian Matt Warshaw was asked what affect the magazine’s decline would have on surf culture. His answer may be instructive for those worried about the decline of KERA and FRUiTS: “None at all, not at this point. Except just to confirm what’s been obvious for a long time, that the old way of doing print is over. A monthly magazine made sense before the internet. No longer.”
4. Cream Soda Harajuku Turns 50, Milk Harajuku is 47
Again, most of the “Harajuku is dead” talk over the last few months has been directly related to the decline of late 1990s fashion subcultures (and the magazines that chronicle them). But in the big picture, styles like decora and fairy kei — and in fact FRUiTS Magazine and KERA Magazine as well — are recent Harajuku history.
The legendary Harajuku brand Cream Soda celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2017. Cream Soda was established by Masayuki Yamazaki in 1967. While Yamazaki sadly passed away in 2013, Cream Soda — and the brand’s famous Pink Dragon boutique—soldiers on with its core 1950s rock and roll aesthetic and proto-punk outsider attitude fully intact.
In 1970, Hitomi Okawa founded Milk — the proto-Lolita fashion brand, and now-iconic Harajuku kawaii boutique. Forty-seven years later, Okawa is still Milk’s designer — and both the brand and shop remain popular with today’s Harajuku kids.
Modern Harajuku’s history spans more than half a century. In that time, countless trends have come and gone. Once iconic brands have closed up shop. Key designers and personalities have passed away. Shiny new buildings have replaced residential garages as preferred retail space. Magazines have blown up and then faded away. Despite all of these changes — or perhaps because of them — new generations of creative Japanese kids continue to be drawn to Harajuku year after year.
5. Fanatic Magazine — Harajuku Kids Step Up
As FRUiTS and KERA give up on print, a group of Harajuku kids have stepped up with their own print magazine in an attempt to fill the void.
Fanatic Magazine is a new print publication founded by four female students of Tokyo’s famous Bunka Fashion College. These young women are all fans of FRUiTS Magazine and — like FRUiTS — they want Fanatic to inspire and encourage creative fashion on the streets of Harajuku and throughout Japan.
Published only four times a year, Fanatic so far lacks the polish of mature publications like FRUiTS and KERA. But the fact that these four young Japanese women — with a lot of support from their friends — have started publishing their own magazine proves that passion runs deep in the Japanese street fashion scene.
For more information on Fanatic Magazine, see this related article.
6. Aiba Runa — 20-Year-Old Fashion Designer, Kawaii Room Decorator, and New Harajuku Icon
Aiba Runa is a 20-year-old Japanese street fashion icon and brand producer whose popularity has increased greatly over the last year. She launched her own brand RRR By Sugar Spot Factory in 2016 as part of an incubation program at Vantan (the Tokyo fashion college she attended). Known for her social media savvy (she has nearly 100,000 Instagram followers), fun persona, and business acumen, Runa has become one of Harajuku’s rising stars.
Aiba Runa describes her style using four words — Colorful, Pop, Unique & Kawaii. She loves cute vintage toys, vintage fashion, and imagery from the 1960s to 1990s. In contrast to the pastels favored by reigning Harajuku kawaii queen Peco (and her brand Peco Club), Runa is usually seen wearing relaxed-fit outfits in a bold color palette. Her brand and style are similar enough to appeal to many of the same Japanese teen and pre-teen girls who made Peco a superstar.
Aiba Runa first gained attention as a 16-year-old high school student posting pictures of her kawaii room decoration on social media. The decor of her RRR By Sugar Spot Factory popup shops and the brand’s weekends-only boutique in Harajuku is built around Runa’s own kawaii teen girl bedroom aesthetic. In addition to a chance to meet Aiba in person (she works at the store every weekend), the kawaii interior design attracts fashion conscious young women who are doubly excited about a perfect-for-Instagram shopping experience.
What sets Aiba Runa apart from many also-popular-on-social-media peers is that her followers have proven that they are willing to spend money on products she creates and curates. Japanese media reported that the RRR By Sugar Spot Factory popup shop at LaForet last August — which attracted an opening day line hundreds of girls long— sold over 4,000,000JPY (US$40,000) worth of goods in its two week run.
Some of the decades-old Harajuku kawaii subcultures may fade, but young female producers like Aiba Runa — born around the same time FRUiTS Magazine and KERA were founded — are keeping the Japanese kawaii aesthetic alive by reimagining it to appeal to their own generation.
7. Coco Princess — 6-Year-Old Harajuku Street Style Star
Though Harajuku is a neighborhood dominated by young people, we’ve never seen a fast-rising street fashion personality as young as Coco Hamamatsu — a 6-year-old girl who literally grew up in Harajuku.
Coco’s parents run the popular Harajuku vintage boutique Funktique Tokyo. Originally based in Fukushima Prefecture’s Iwaki City, the tragic 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami forced the family to leave both their home and the original Funktique Fukushima shop behind. Arriving in Tokyo when Coco was only four months old, the family was warmly welcomed into the Harajuku street fashion community.
Coco has been a regular fixture at Funktique Harajuku on weekends since 2012. In the last few years, as Coco leveled up from a cute baby into a fun kid with a strong personality, she began turning heads with her amazing street style. With a mother who spent years styling Harajuku kids, a father who is a vintage fashion buyer, and access to the entire Funktique Tokyo stock, Coco definitely had a head start. But none of that is as important as the way she wears her outfits and the super cute poses that she falls into when a camera points in her direction.
Coco’s sassy style has long been loved on the streets of Harajuku, but the international fashion media only just discovered her. Recently she’s been featured in Vogue, Nylon, had a Vice short documentary made about her, appeared in a Shiseido campaign, and amassed over 150,000 followers on Instagram.
While so far fashion is just a fun hobby for young Coco, the circumstances of her arrival in Tokyo coupled with growing up on the streets of Harajuku are sure to give her a unique perspective on life as she matures. Coco is definitely a Harajuku personality to watch for the future.
8. Colorful Vintage Girls, Showa Nostalgia & 1960s Revival — Kawaii Street Fashion Lives
Spending days, months, and years on the street in Harajuku, we’re always on the lookout for the birth of new fashion subcultures. It can be difficult especially in the earliest stages to tell the difference between a simple trend and a potential new subculture. Even when a fresh fashion subculture does start to emerge, there’s no guarantee that it will gain enough adherents — or last long enough — to make a name for itself.
One of the most promising potential new subcultures on the streets of Harajuku this year is a kawaii style that is inspired by nostalgia — for both Showa Era (1926–1989) fashion and late 1990s FRUiTS Magazine. The vintage style — which has no catchy name yet — looks like super colorful grandma fashion worn by cutely styled young Japanese women. The colors and patterns are vivid, giving its adherents a bolder look than previously popular pastel street styles. Girls have always worn colorful vintage fashion in Harajuku, but the recent adoption rate of this new style makes us believe that something more may be afoot.
Key inspirations behind these looks include Japanese, British, and American fashion from the 1960s and 1970s. Retro styling is often accented with a cute-but-sassy swagger reminiscent of 1950s pinups and Showa Era bad girls. Additionally, many of these young colorful girls look back on early FRUiTS Magazine (late 1990s) as a golden age of Japanese street fashion, finding strength in that era’s fearless mixing of styles, materials, colors, and patterns. Individual pieces are sourced from vintage shops, often remade (customized) and layered (a recurring element of Japanese street fashion) for maximum effect.
This colorful vintage style is not fully evolved yet, but we can see several distinct groups emerging (as well as individual adherents):
Fanatic Girls & Bunka Fashion College Students
The highest profile group endorsing this new colorful style in Tokyo are the Harajuku girls behind Fanatic Magazine. These young women are all students at Japan’s prestigious Bunka Fashion College, so their individual coordinates are mature — a bit more conceptual and experimental — compared to many of the younger girls. The Fanatic girls organize fashion-related events and distribute their magazine inside of popular shops, encouraging other students at Tokyo fashion schools— as well as influential staff at various Japanese vintage boutiques — to experiment with their own colorful vintage styles.
Monaca — Harajuku Street Fashion Circle & YouTubers
Harajuku fashion group/club “Monaca” — whose members are aspiring Japanese dancers, actors, models, and designers — wear extremely colorful retro-inspired fashion. Many of the Monaca girls are younger teens who incorporate elements of Peco and Aiba Runa’s fun youthful take on vintage kawaii into their bold cheerful looks.
Osaka Colorful Vintage Girls
Several groups of Osaka girls are also experimenting with this colorful new look on social media. Their styles appear to be closer to Monaca than Fanatic. The Osaka girls have also been featured in HR, the Japanese print magazine whose street snaps helped launch Aiba Runa’s career.
In addition to publishing their magazine, the Fanatic Girls organize Harajuku street fashion parties at Tokyo clubs. The Monaca girls launched their own YouTube Channel and are very active on social media. All of the various groups regularly appear in Japanese street style magazines, fashion websites, and even occasionally on television.
The combined activity and social interaction between its adherents increases the possibility of this newly popular style evolving into a full-blown fashion subculture. For that to happen, it would likely need a name and at least one popular fashion icon regularly wearing the style. Time will tell whether it breaks through, but for now this colorful street style is a phenomenon worth watching.
1960s Fashion Comes Out Swinging
As mentioned above, there have been signs that 1960s nostalgia is gaining popularity with kawaii-loving Harajuku girls. There are plenty of shops in Tokyo where you can find bold colorful 1960s fashion — real vintage items along with new designs inspired by the hippy and mod era aesthetic. We’re seeing it more on the street as well, though it hasn’t yet reached mainstream popularity.
At first, we weren’t sure if it was worth calling the 1960s as a trend specifically — especially since many brands and vintage boutiques mix 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s fashion together. Then Harajuku super-icon Peco announced her latest Peco Club collection.
Peco is the most popular Harajuku kawaii icon of the last few years, with millions of dedicated teen followers (“Peco Girls”) on social media and a long string of sold-out Peco Club collections. Usually known for 1980s- and 1990s-inspired purple and pastel fashion and decor, this time Peco’s going full-on 1960s. The new collection — titled “Welcome To The PECO CLUB 60's”, with promo material that exalts “Let’s Swinging!” — is inspired by “Hairspray”, John Waters classic campy 1960s-set musical.
Peco has proven she’s uniquely tuned into the trends that matter most to Harajuku’s youngest generation of girls. If she says that the swinging 60s have arrived, we aren’t going to argue!
For bonus 1960s-inspired Japanese fashion, check these two groovy boutiques:
9. Next Generation Harajuku Boys — Punk Influences, Japanese Designers & Gosha
When people think of Harajuku — both in Japan and abroad — they tend to think of Harajuku girls. There are a few popular boys in every Harajuku generation, yet girls have dominated the scene for decades.
But in the last few years we’ve seen a wave of fashionable Harajuku boys flood the streets. It’s not uncommon to hear longtime Harajuku-ites comment on how many fashionable boys are currently on the street compared to the number of fashionable girls.
Inside of the Japanese street fashion scene, kids challenge and inspire each other. When one person creates — and is seen in — an exceptional look, other kids try to outdo that look by putting in even more effort and pushing the envelope further.
No one is sure why boys seem to be winning Harajuku right now, but the sudden popularity of genderless kei is one popular theory.
With the rise of genderless kei last year, Harajuku boys completely stole the spotlight from girls. Peco was the most popular Harajuku girl of 2016, but even she was overshadowed by her more-popular male genderless kei icon partner Ryucheru. Though genderless kei’s newness faded in 2017, Harajuku boys remain in a strong cycle of inspiring and challenging each other.
The Harajuku boys class of 2017 doesn’t have a single distinct style, but there are several popular themes:
Sporty Ironic Retro Streetwear
Is there a street fashion scene on earth that hasn’t felt the force of Gosha Rubchinskiy (and Demna Gvasalia/Lotta Volkova of Vetements)? Maybe somewhere, but this isn’t it. Gosha’s ironic sporty retro collections shook the Harajuku scene along with the rest of the planet. This year we’ve seen a boom in menswear looks that mix Gosha’s nostalgic sports-nerd-hipster-punk influences with elements of Japanese and Korean streetwear. Logos and sentimental graphics, side-striped pants, neon accents, waist bags and crossbody bags, tucked-in shirts, cropped hoodies, high-waist and cropped pants, belts belts and more belts, sunglasses, suspenders, tube socks, and sneakers are recurring elements in these coordinates.
While Gosha deserves much credit, the top tier Japanese street fashion kids don’t wear looks “off the rack”. Like the best of 1990s FRUiTs Magazine, today’s kids remix and reinterpret international trends with a Japanese twist — tube socks and belts feature kanji instead of Gosha’s cyrillic script; a kimono coat substitutes for a sporty jacket; platform shoes replace retro sneakers. There are also several popular-in-Harajuku Korean streetwear brands (More Than Dope, ESC Studio, etc.) offering their own takes on ironic sporty streetwear.
While creative inspirations push and pull from all directions, many of the actual pieces Japanese kids use to put these look together come from Tokyo vintage and resale shops, such as the very popular Kinji Harajuku. A beautiful element of Gosha’s nostalgic aesthetic in the first place is that while the looks are so fresh, they are at the same time extremely familiar. Sourcing resale not only keeps prices at student-friendly levels, but also assures that each look — while evoking recognizable themes — remains unique.
Though Gosha’s ideas undeniably sway trends in today’s Japanese street fashion scene, it isn’t a one-way relationship. In fact, it was a Japanese fashion brand that gave Gosha his big break in the first place.
Punk (Fashion) Is Not Dead
Another major influence on the fashion of many new generation Harajuku boys is 1970s and 1980s punk rock — studded leather jackets, patches and badges, safety pins, thick black eye makeup, crust pants, denim, Dr. Martens, and bold hair colors. Some of the kids are actually into punk music, while others just think Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux looked cool.
Much of the punk-influenced fashion is handmade (or remade) by the wearer from resale pieces. For those with a bigger budget, the critically-acclaimed Tokyo-based Korean streetwear brand 99%IS- has made a strong showing as a favorite brand of today’s punk-loving Harajuku boys. 99%IS- designer Bajowoo — endorsed by no less than Rei Kawakubo and G Dragon — can often be found hanging out with Harajuku kids at underground Tokyo punk shows. Even for punk kids who (understandably) can’t afford his pieces, the designer’s aesthetic and styling recur throughout many looks we see on the streets.
The Mullet is Back, Big Time
Call it a “mullet”, “hockey hair”, or “scene hair”— one of the hottest male hairstyles on the streets of Harajuku this year is short in the front and long in the back. The look is ironic and retro — usually spikey or shaved in the front, rarely black, often brightly colored — evoking Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie more than Wayne’s World.
Yohji Yamamoto, Comme Des Garcons & Issey Miyake (Re)Surge
When westerners think of Japanese fashion, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo instantly come to mind. Plenty of other Japanese designers have global name recognition, but history has judged this trio as the gods of 1980s Japanese fashion. Surprisingly, even though their flagship shops are within short walking distance of Harajuku, the popularity of these legendary designers in the Tokyo street fashion scene has ebbed and flowed over the decades (perhaps because of high prices or a perception of the labels as “high fashion”). But over the last few years, Comme Des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake have regained their rightful place as top tier Japanese streetwear brands.
While all three designers are known for groundbreaking 1980s gender neutral collections, in today’s street fashion scene we see them worn more by men than women. Boosted by his long-running Y-3 line with Adidas, Yohji has the most traditional “streetwear” support. Comme Des Garcons — coming off the show at the MET in New York, several Supreme collaborations, and an ongoing relationship with Gosha — is the most revered (if harder to wear). Besides a recent Tokyo museum show, Issey Miyake may not have done anything specific to excite fashion-conscious kids, but the brand’s incredible heritage and history are apparently enough on their own to kick off a resurgence on the street.
If you’d like to keep an eye on the new Harajuku boys, below is a sampling of male faces that have either appeared or gained traction in 2017. Because some of these boys only showed up in the last few months, their overall social media follower numbers may not be huge — but their visibility and momentum are on the rise.
10. Never Mind the XU, Faith Tokyo & Oh Pearl — Hot Harajuku Boutiques For Her
Every year in Harajuku a few shops rocket in popularity. They help set trends for the neighborhood, attract huge crowds, and see their styling copied by numerous lower priced competitors. Occasionally these boutiques are able to hold their positions at the top for a few years (see Bubbles Harajuku), but most often they cool down pretty quickly (see Avantgarde Harajuku) as the next wave of “it” shops rise.
We’ve selected three shops that are extremely hot with the newest generation of Harajuku girls. These are by no means the most popular shops in Harajuku —low priced trend chains like Spinns and WEGO easily take that crown — but they’re at the top of many “must visit” lists. Young trendy “Harajuku Girls” aspire to look like they frequent these boutiques in 2017.
Never Mind the XU — From Trendy Asian Streetwear to Pitch Black Street Goth
Opened in the back streets of Harajuku two years ago by the owners of Dog Osaka, the tiny Never Mind the XU boutique’s popularity grew so quickly that they soon opened a second location inside of the famous LaForet Harajuku department store. XU (as they are known by fans) carries select independent Asian and international streetwear brands as well as their own original labels. Nothing here is overly expensive because their clientele is young — and uber trendy.
The aesthetic is generally, but not always, monochrome — with curated looks sometimes crossing the line from just dark into total blackout street goth. This is the shop that made Demonia “Stomp” platforms a must-have for countless black-bobbed Japanese teens. Huge chokers, lots of metal O-rings, miniskirts, crop tops, Vivienne Westwood-esque plaid, ripped denim, and fishnets are never in short supply. In addition to goth, bondage, and punk galore, Gosha and Vetements influence is felt strongly here as well — especially in their selection of young Korean streetwear designers.
Popular import labels include More Than Dope, AnotherYouth, Basic Cotton, DRINKSCANCODE, Esc Studio, Open The Door (South Korea), FU・XU・RY, Morph8ne (Thailand), MISBHV (Poland), Long Clothing, KTZ (UK), DVMVGE (Taiwan), OS Accessories (Philippines), Demonia, NIN3, YRU, Dimepiece, Richardson (USA), and more.
XU employs several popular Japanese street style icons — including Chiiiii, Cham (ex), Baek, Motoshige, Yuito, and Sench1 — as shop staff. Chiiiii and Cham recently launched their own fashion brands, Chiiicky (Cheeky) and Bercerk — both sold exclusively at the XU family of boutiques. Drawing on Cham’s own personal style, Bercerk’s genderless aesthetic is especially dark, with gothic and fetish elements dominating the trendy streetwear components of the initial collections.
Never Mind the XU won’t be mistaken for high fashion anytime soon. After all, their clientele is almost entirely trendy high school kids. However, the shop is a modern example of the unique remixing of styles that happens on the streets of Tokyo. Sure, one hoodie might remind you of Vetements, the platform boots might look a bit too Hot Topic, and that t-shirt emblazoned with Kim Jong Un’s face and the caption “Nuke Kid on the Block” is way over the top. But wait until you see how a 16-year old-Japanese girl puts them all together — with a corset, resale destroyed denim, neon animal print knee socks, and fishnets.
Faith Tokyo — Familiar Vintage Boutique Hitting All The Right Notes
Opened in 2015, Faith Tokyo is a vintage and resale shop run by the same team that previously launched Bubbles Harajuku. Bubbles has maintained its title as one of Harajuku’s most trendy and popular teen boutiques for several years now, all but assuring that Faith would be a hit.
Flaunting their motto of “Vintage and Bad Clothing”, Faith’s concept and aesthetic is intentionally grungy contrasting with Bubbles’ bright pinks and purples. Bubbles — particularly their ongoing Peco Club collections — draws in mobs of very young (junior high) cheerful girls. Located next door, Faith gives Bubbles customers somewhere convenient to go as they mature and begin experimenting with more edgy personal styles.
Key Faith items over the last year are the ubiquitous ripped out jeans with fishnets underneath, chokers (also a popular Bubbles item), vintage metal t-shirts (sometimes cropped), animal print, Converse high tops, old Thrasher, and plenty of long canvas belts (would be hard to find a trendy Tokyo shop right now without a selection of canvas belts). Overall, the shop has a rock and roll feeling with some Catholic imagery (The Virgin Mary is so popular in Tokyo vintage circles that a popular shop shares her name) thrown in for good measure. In addition to 1970s-1990s vintage, Faith does stock some limited original designs and deadstock items.
Though targeted at a young audience, Faith Tokyo’s back story evokes nostalgia from many longtime Harajuku-ites. Bubbles Harajuku originally opened in 2011 as a respected vintage shop curated by a popular Harajuku street style personality. Under new management years later, Bubbles morphed into the trendy youth super brand it is today. Faith Tokyo’s emergence allows longtime Bubbles staffers to re-establish the cool little vintage shop lost to history.
Oh Pearl — New Kid On The Block, Run By Popular Vintage Buyer
The tiny Harajuku vintage shop Oh Pearl opened in the Spring of 2017, but the director has been a fixture of the Harajuku street fashion scene for years. Manitas (aka Mani) was the buyer for Nadia Flores en el Corazon (aka Nadia Harajuku) — once one of the hottest boutiques in Harajuku, and still a popular stop for Japanese teen girls.
Located in the same building as Faith Tokyo just a few meters from Bubbles, Oh Pearl has been a hit from the day it opened. The pink-walled shop — sparsely decorated with vintage memorabilia — still has a just-opened feel to it, but Harajuku girls clearly believe in Mani’s curation. Trusted vintage buyers are powerful tastemakers in the Japanese street fashion scene, and Mani has spent years making a name for herself.
Two essential Oh Pearl items we see everywhere on the street in Harajuku right now are an Ikea-inspired cross body bag (with Oh Pearl emblazoned on the strap) and a variety of colorful knee socks.
There’s no way to be sure whether the shop’s current popularity will hold or not, but so far in 2017 Oh Pearl is one of Harajuku’s most talked about boutiques.
11. Boys in Skirts — Genderless Fashion Still Rising?
Last year’s buzzword for Harajuku was “Genderless Kei”. The genderless media hype has faded somewhat, but in its place we are seeing an increasing breakdown of old gender rules in Tokyo street fashion. Whereas the first generation of genderless kei boys tended to flamboyantly flaunt traditional gender norms, this next generation of boys simply ignore the rules without fanfare.
The most obvious visible sign of young Harajuku-ites disregarding gender rules are the increasing number of boys wearing skirts, makeup, and heels.
Tokyo has always been home to a small group of high level conceptual male fashionistas who wear gender neutral skirts by the likes of Comme Des Garcons, Yohji, or Junya. International streetwear brands like HBA and KTZ have included skirts (or aprons) made for men in recent collections. There has also long been a number of gender neutral and transgender Japanese street fashion personalities. However, the newest Harajuku boys are increasingly wearing women’s skirts and other items purchased at regular womenswear shops. These are not worn as high concept statement pieces, or as political messages on gender roles, but rather as coordinates that the young men think look good with whatever else they are wearing.
Men’s makeup has been popular for years in Tokyo street fashion — especially among fans of K-Pop — but we’ve recently seen an increase in young men wearing subtle makeup, again as a standard accessory rather than a bold statement. High-heeled gender neutral boots are another item that today’s Harajuku boys have no problem incorporating, even into more traditional “streetwear” styles.
Japanese genderless kei superstars like Genking and Ryucheru are household names in Japan, pushing the envelope so far that it’s become easier for average Harajuku kids (I-D Magazine recently released a short YouTube documentary on genderless kei styles in Harajuku) to casually ignore traditional gender rules.
12. Personality Trumps Fashion For Some Budding Harajuku TV Personalities?
“Harajuku” itself has become a famous brand, both in Japan and with the huge crowds of international tourists that flood the streets everyday —creating new challenges for the neighborhood and its fashion scene. We covered many of those still-relevant issues in our 2016 Japanese street fashion article, but the popularity of the neighborhood has increased even since then.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a boom in Harajuku kids featured on Japanese television shows. The arrival of the Genderless Kei Boys sparked local TV’s renewed interest in Harajuku — with Matsuko Deluxe leading the charge. As Harajuku girl Peco and her flamboyant significant other Ryucheru blew up into celebrities recognizable by the average Japanese person, TV producers scoured the streets of Harajuku searching for the next batch of budding stars.
In the past, the most famous Harajuku kids tended to have an exceptional — often extreme — personal style. The effect of the new television boom saw some Harajuku kids getting popular based more on personality than fashion.
Television shows were looking for people with comedy-ready personas. They began featuring Harajuku kids who dressed in relatively normal fashion but who had personalities appealing to TV viewers. Television appearances greatly boosted social media followers and name recognition, launching several Harajuku fashion icons who, while stylish, did not push the limits of street fashion like previous generations of Harajuku stars. These budding TV personalities may not all sport extreme “Harajuku” styles, but they do continue to inspire the public’s curiosity about Harajuku fashion.
There has been concern on the street that mass media attention could increase the number of fame seekers (rather than fashion lovers) in Harajuku. However, in our experience young people who stick around Harajuku are the ones excited about fashion, regardless of their original intent. We’re optimistic that the wave of young Japanese kids who began visiting Harajuku based on recent TV coverage will one day mature into the neighborhood’s future fashion stars.
13. Korean Fashion Still Popular On The Tokyo Streets
Though the international K-Pop boom has cooled a bit, South Korean music and fashion remain influential in several Tokyo street fashion circles. While older generations looked to G-Dragon and 2NE1 for style inspiration, groups like EXO and BTS are the favorites of Japan’s next generation K-Pop loving kids.
Korean web trend shop Style Nanda just opened a bright pink building on Takeshita Dori (Harajuku’s most famous teen shopping street) to big fanfare — and long lines. Low priced Korean makeup brand Etude House now has at least three locations in Harajuku (including two on Takeshita Dori). At the higher end, Tokyo-based Korean label 99%IS has had a big influence on the latest wave of punk-inspired Harajuku menswear styles.
2016’s genderless kei boys — the ones we saw on the street in Harajuku, not the TV personalities— were inspired largely by Korean makeup and beauty trends along with minimalist Korean fashion (a lot of skinny jeans and t-shirts). This year, Korean designers working in “streetwear” motifs similar to Gosha and Vetements are making names for themselves on the streets of Harajuku.
A growing number of popular Harajuku boutiques support South Korean streetwear designers in 2017. Never Mind the XU has lead the way in making Korean designers like More Than Dope, Open The Door, and AnotherYouth hot with trendy high school age Harajuku-ites. Agem Tokyo is a boutique in Urahara (backstreets of Harajuku) that specializes in Korean streetwear, carrying a large list of labels including Attention Row, VEI-8, OY, VSR, AJO, I Am Not A Human Being, Sleazy Corner, DoDoDo, Basic Cotton, More Than Dope, and Esc Studio.
Inside of the Laforet Department Store, a growing number of shops carry Korean brands. Select shop KONVINI, which just opened in March, stocks exclusively Korean labels including Baby Centaur, MSKN2ND, Rocket x Lunch, Liful, LMC (Lost Management Cities), D-Antidote, Andersson Bell, Eyeye, Freiknock, and many others.
Several young Korean designers have gone beyond just selling at Tokyo select shops, and are now visiting Japan regularly and launching their own limited time popup shops in Harajuku. More Than Dope’s ten-day popup at LaForet was so popular that we saw a big spike in Harajuku kids wearing the brand on the street even weeks after the shop had closed. Korean streetwear brands Esc Studio, Open The Door, and Another Youth each held their own successful popups inside of Never Mind The XU’s Harajuku boutique this spring.
And Korean fashion brands aren’t the only ones doing popup shops. In May, the South Korean boy band EXO took over the entire popup space on the 2nd floor of LaForet Harajuku — a space that usually hosts six separate shops —for S.M. Entertainment’s three week long EXO-CBX band goods and fashion popup. Earlier in the year, another Korean group, YG Entertainment’s iKon, held their own popup at LaForet. Legendary Japanese designer Michiko London Koshino also released a collaboration collection — introduced during a runway show inside of LaForet Harajuku — with Korean label NONA9ON (YG Entertainment) at the end of 2016.
While media in both countries likes to emphasize differences between the Japanese and Korean governments, young creative people in Korea and Japan are ignoring controversy and finding mutually beneficial ways to work together. Judging by everything we’ve seen in the last year, we don’t anticipate Korean fashion and music’s presence in the Japanese street fashion scene fading away anytime soon.
14. Haruno, The Four-Eyed & Chaos Market — Buzz-Worthy Tokyo Boutiques Off The Beaten Path
Though Tokyo is a sprawling city, discussions of the street fashion scene inevitably revolve around specific neighborhoods— Harajuku, Shibuya, Omotesando, Koenji, Shimokitazawa, Daikanyama, Nakameguro, Aoyama, Akihabara, and a few others.
Each popular fashion neighborhood has a well-established, if not always accurate, identity. Harajuku is avant-garde, streetwear, and sometimes crazy. Aoyama and Omotesando are for luxury high brands. Koenji and Shimokita are vintage and quirky, Nakameguro and Daikanyama are hipster, Akihabara is otaku, and so on. Shibuya had a strong identity as well, before losing it in the collapse of Japan’s once-famous gyaru subculture.
With neighborhood identities strongly defined, how do Tokyo designers/buyers face the challenge of launching a new shop untainted by preconceptions? The solution chosen by most is to spend years carving out their own niche inside one of Tokyo’s existing street fashion friendly neighborhoods. The less likely (and more challenging) option is to choose a location where no one expects to find a next level streetwear boutique, then work to build a community around the project.
Haruno (Shibuya), The Four-Eyed (Shinjuku), and Chaos Market (Nakano) are three buzz-generating Tokyo boutiques that chose the most challenging option — each hoping to convince open-minded customers that the future of Japanese street fashion is along the road less traveled.
Haruno (初流乃) opened in 2014 on the seventh floor of an aging building along Fire Dori not far from Tower Records in Shibuya. Other tenants in the twelve-story building include a tattoo parlor, nail salon, vinyl record store, random offices, and various small cafes. Like many underground boutiques in this area of Shibuya, first time customers will likely need a map and some luck to find it.
Though Haruno has been around for several years, we only started seeing Harajuku kids wearing items from the shop in substantial numbers over the last year. The newest generation of male Bunka Fashion College students seem especially interested in the boutique and their handmade pieces. Many of the same kids who frequent the legendary Dog Harajuku are also now finding their way to Haruno.
The shop’s founder Ryota Yamazaki was well known in the Japanese fashion industry before starting Haruno, having worked as a buyer at the influential Shibuya vintage shop Nude Trump for six years. Like Nude Trump, the vibe of Haruno is funky, with bright pink walls decorated in colorful vintage posters and handmade curiosities.
Considering Yamazaki’s background, it’s no surprise that 70% of the store is dedicated to highly curated designer vintage with a focus on edgy pieces by the likes of Comme Des Garcons, Junya, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Ann Demeulemeester, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Marjan Pejoski.
The other 30% of Haruno’s stock are one-of-a-kind pieces from Yamazaki’s own punk-inspired brand Anti (as in Anti-fast fashion). Each Anti piece is handmade either from scratch or remade from existing vintage pieces. Many Anti items — especially the jackets — are immediate recognizable on the street by their exposed stitching, patches, badges, safety pins, tassels, zippers, and neon faux fur accents. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call some of the Anti pieces we’ve seen on the street “extreme”. In fact, they are extreme by design — a statement by the brand’s creator on the beauty of handmade fashion and against today’s trend toward mass production.
Haruno also stocks a selection of vintage fashion magazines and books, including old issues of Harajuku style bible FRUiTS.
The Four-Eyed Shinjuku
If your goal was to hide an underground boutique somewhere no one into edgy street fashion would ever possibly think to look, you’d be hard pressed to find a better location than sandwiched between love hotels in Tokyo’s famously seedy red-light district of Kabukicho. This bizarre location for a fashion-forward boutique sounds more like a manga setting than real life, but welcome to the world of The Four-Eyed.
Opened by Keisuke Fujita at the end of 2016, The Four-Eyed started generating buzz on the street right away. That is partly a result of Fujita’s pedigree as a longtime photographer for legendary street fashion magazines FRUiTS and TUNE. Fujita literally knows just about everyone in the Harajuku scene — from the high school kids up to the shop, brand, and media owners.
The Four-Eyed’s location in a part of Shinjuku known more for drunk salarymen and hostesses than fashionistas is intentional. Fujita was looking for somewhere unencumbered by the baggage that comes with “Harajuku”, “Koenji”, “Shimokitazawa”, or other similarly branded fashion districts. While walk-in traffic is likely to be null, the shop is not far from the campuses of several top Tokyo fashion schools. It’s also a quick (five to ten minute) train ride from Harajuku, Shibuya, Aoyama, and other districts that attract hoards of shoppers every day.
Fujita worked on the concept for a Tokyo select shop for several years before the actual opening. As a longtime participant in — and observer of — Japanese street fashion, he believed that surfacing young underexposed designers would bring much needed freshness to the existing landscape. Fujita jumped into the fray rather than wait for someone else to make the changes he wanted to see. One of his key stated goals of the new project is to “make an impact” on Tokyo’s street fashion scene.
The Four-Eyed’s inventory is split with about 60% of the shop dedicated to up-and-coming international designers and 40% curated vintage pieces. Fujita does most of the buying on the menswear side, while his partner in the boutique — the Japanese stylist Maiko Shibukawa — manages the womenswear selection.
The shop specializes in edgy underexposed designers from Japan and all over the world. A sample of the currently stocked labels includes Chin Men’s (Taiwan), D.TT.K (Tokyo), Eckhaus Latta (USA), Martine Rose (UK), Carne Bollente (Paris), FANTHING by FancyHim (Tokyo), Y/Project (Paris), ALYX (NYC), Charles Jeffrey (Scottland/London), Ottolinger (Switzerland), Mimi Wade (UK), A.V Robertson (UK), and PERVERZE (Japan).
The Four-Eyed also hosts periodic in-store popup shops and other special events to promote young designers. With their background in photography and styling, Fujita and Shibukawa create ambitious original visuals for the fashion brands they stock, as well for as the shop itself. Those editorial shoots— available on the Four-Eyed bilingual website — express the shop’s aesthetic and vision far more clearly than any text.
Chaos Market at Nakano Broadway
Packed with anime figure shops, manga bookstores, cosplay boutiques, idol goods, retro video games, and even several Takashi Murakami-owned art galleries and cafes, Nakano Broadway is Tokyo’s second most popular otaku destination — behind only the otaku capital of the planet, Akihabara. While hardcore otaku themselves are not in immediate danger of becoming fashion icons, the subculture world that they inhabit inspires a growing number of young avant-garde Japanese designers. So it may not be as surprising as it first sounds that a fashion-forward boutique lies hidden deep inside of Nakano Broadway’s otaku paradise.
Chaos Market — located in the basement of the famous building— was born out of the founders’ desire to create an entirely new fashion scene based on the chaotic mix of influences permeating Nakana Broadway. Since store manager Ryo Manzi (drummer for the anime music themed punk band Anipunk) opened Chaos Market in the spring of 2014, it has developed into a unique haven for a group of designers bound together by an interest in otaku culture.
While the creatives involved in Chaos Market share an interest in otaku essentials like anime, idol music, and video games — and the shop decor reflects this to some degree — do not expect a literal representation of “otaku” in all of the clothing sold here. If you’re looking for a Ghost In The Shell t-shirt or a Pikachu backpack, Village Vanguard would be a better bet. In fact, Chaos Market’s most avant-garde brands aren’t on the surface recognizably “otaku” at all.
Several underground designers found here such as Balmung and Hatra are highly respected in the Japanese fashion scene for their top tier conceptual work, regardless of inspiration or subculture label. The fact that higher level conceptual fashion is not easy to wear keeps many Chaos Market designers firmly rooted in the underground.
Like Dog Harajuku and other Tokyo boutiques stocking avant-garde and one-of-a-kind fashion, Chaos Market has cultivated a following among famous (and aspiring) Japanese idols and performers looking for stage costumes and statement pieces to set them apart. That’s not to say that everything at Chaos Market is on the high-concept side. The shop carries plenty of t-shirts, punk accessories, and even — yes — some anime, manga, and game themed items.
Brands stocked by Chaos Market (an ever-changing list because many of the pieces are handmade and unique) include Balmung, Hatra, Chloma, Oum, Xeno Avatar, Lucky Room, Bodysong, Cyderhouse, KeisukeYoshida, Ken Kagami, Escape, Naadodd, Miq, Telepathy, Kemono, and Otonatoy. Many of the labels represented by Chaos Market are so indie that the shop is their only brick-and-mortar stockist. For those who want to actually see and feel the pieces — rather than ordering online directly from designers — Chaos Market is a must-visit.
In January of 2017 Chaos Market held a popup shop in the famous LaForet Harajuku Department Store, exposing the shop’s roster of designers to a wider audience. The response from the Harajuku street fashion scene was very positive. While we have yet to see a big surge in people wearing Chaos Market brands, there are definitely more people talking about them on the street.
Every few years for the last decade, we read media predictions that otaku-inspired fashion will be the next big thing on the Japanese street. It hasn’t happened so far, but Chaos Market will be at the forefront if it ever does.
15. Melt Magazine — A Post-Kera Lolita Fashion & Harajuku Subculture Print Magazine Appears
With its concept of “Gothic&Lolita & Kawaii”, Melt Magazine is a new project promising to bring many of the Harajuku subcultures, fashion brands, and models long covered by KERA back into print.
The first issue of Melt, released in July 2017, looks like a slightly stripped down version of KERA’s long-running sister publication Gothic&Lolita Bible. That’s not a big surprise as the same people behind the original Gothic&Lolita Bible are said to be involved in the new project. With Terada Ranze of Nogizaka46 on the cover and several famous Harajuku models inside, Melt is off to a running start.
Confirming strong Japanese fashion scene connections, Melt’s debut issue includes full-page advertisement by Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty, and Bunka Fashion College. Fashion brands featured in editorial shoots include Angelic Pretty, BTSSB, Alice and the Pirates, Metamorphose temps de fille, Triple Fortune, Atlier Boz, Innocent World, Victorian Maiden, Dangerous Nude, Stigmata, Drug Honey, and Algonquins.
While KERA features a cross section of Japanese fashion subcultures, Melt is (so far) heavily weighted toward lolita and gothic fashion. There is a single five-page feature called “The Street Kid Forever” with popular street style model Yura wearing items from Harajuku trend shops Spinns and Kingly Mask. Other than that, almost everything is lolita or goth. There are also two pages of street snaps included, but it’s not clear if they are spontaneous snaps hunted on the street or models chosen by the magazine.
Before the magazine was officially unveiled, one of the Japanese designers connected to the project stated that Melt would have a more international focus than KERA. While this first issue does include coverage of international lolita events as well as an interview with internationally popular Tokyo-based lolita model and YouTuber RinRin Doll, the entire magazine is written in Japanese. The advertising appears targeted at the domestic market as well, so it’s not clear yet how serious the publishers are about reaching non-Japanese speakers.
In Harajuku, the launch of a new subculture-friendly print magazine has been cheered by the lolita community. At the same time, KERA and Gothic&Lolita Bible comparisons have been inescapable. We’re looking forward to following Melt’s development in the coming months, with a special focus on whether the magazine can escape KERA’s shadow and create an identity of its own.
Those are just a few of the many things shaping the Japanese street fashion scene over the last year.
Older Harajuku kids said farewell as the next generation arrived. Beloved street style publications disappeared (or went digital) while new magazines materialized to take their place. Emerging fashion subcultures and trends shone as 1990s subcultures faded. Aspiring street style personalities, designers, and boutiques anticipated the future, hoping for their chance to play a starring role.
Harajuku is going through growing pains without question, but there are also many exciting developments. While celebrating fifty amazing years of modern Harajuku culture in 2017, we optimistically look forward to the next fifty.