I was going to call this post “a gentrification of Takeshita-Dori”, a quote that I have to attribute to a fellow Japanese fashion commentator whose opinion I value hugely, but who must remain anonymous.  I didn’t, not because I don’t agree with them, I do, but because it would be easy to take that a little too negatively.  Given that our respective families are all descending on the city for a certain important event next week, and they all keep talking about “seeing Harajuku” as a tourist, a task that doesn’t necessarily reward those without a personal interest in fashion, it actually occurs that a clean polished face for the otherwise dingy Takeshita-dori might not be such a bad idea.  The gleaming Cute Cube that has now opened up ticks every box that a foreign or domestic tourist is likely to want ticking – you have your Sanrio store, an all you can eat desert cafe, a sweet shop that makes Kyary look bitter, and Spinns – the cheapest possible way to get a taste of Harajuku street fashion with a degree of authenticity.

These shots were taken at the official opening of the Cute Cube, so come along with us as we give you a very quick tour.

The new Spinns is like an A-Z of Japanese street trends with rock-bottom prices that aspiring street fashion stars flock to, and who there is no shame in not graduating from.  As I said before, this takes the lead in the authenticity stakes over the vast majority of Takeshita shops via high profile collaborations including most recently the likes of Dempagumi.inc, that give them cold hard credibility, even if they can be quick to pull the trigger on homages sometimes.

Note the international signs, this extends throughout the Cute Cube and you can safely shop here using a portion of your native tongue, even if you might have to resort to hand language when the chips are down.

The manager and mascot – God of Spinns, still looking somewhat grumpy despite the massive success of the new shops!

Next up we have Monki from H&M which might not appeal so much for those on the hunt for specifically Japanese fashion, but has catered for the local market very well with special domestic collections and some dinky mascots.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu fans will be delighted to know that there is a shop devoted to her musical stable – Asobi Station.

Beyond the usual line-up, you can expect limited items and I can confirm that the furry chairs and fittings are the same as used in their corporate HQ!

The all you can east Desert Cafe for those in need of a dangerous sugar fix.

And the cute sweet shop on the ground floor.

There are a couple more shops as well as the big guns I have highlighted above, but I will let you discover those for yourself.

As regards my opening comments, the conclusion I came to is that Takeshita needs a strong clean unified face to compete with the level of polish cropping up elsewhere.  This lack of grime might not have the old Camden-esque authenticity, but as anyone who has been to Camden in London recently can attest to, these ecosystems are hard to balance, and when they go too far one way, there can be no going back.  The Cute Cube certainly has a place on the street, and hopefully can cater for visitors for the area, while those who were always too cool for it will be prowling the graffitied backstreets – it is just not for them and doesn’t have to be.

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7 Responses to Cute Cube Harajuku – The New Face of Takeshita Street

  1. jana says:

    finally a look into cute cube, thank you!
    i was anticipating this for similar reasons, wondering if another step in the direction of solado and that other building in the backstreets would be too far for takeshita dori.
    while the brands and shops at cute cube seem to be the usual suspects at best (really, is there any bigger building left that doesn’t have its own spinns branch yet?!), this kind of facelift is what takeshita dori might need to compete with the fancy buildings western fast fashion brought along, at least in the eye of short time visitors. we will see how well all the buildings will fare with them in the future, but judging from the current audience, casual and weird clothes, with a cafe or some fast food joint thrown into the mix seem like a safe bet.

    it took some time for me to understand that part of harajuku is a tourist spot and really seems to work as such. while i technically am nothing but a visitor, i used to dislike them because they treat the area like a zoo, maybe buying a souvenir or two, but mostly going there to people-watch. learning about harajuku’s post-war history and the image it holds as a center for domestic fashion helped to put things into perspective, but it still weirds me out sometimes.
    i wonder about the fact that all of this is rarely mentioned during the reports and events fuelled by cool japan-funds, though. they keep on repeating how individual and unique everything and everybody is, as if still haunted by plagiarism ghosts from the past, yet completely fail to take these really interesting pieces of history into account.
    …sorry, got sidetracked there.

    anyway, thanks again, also for the monki snaps. (right now i’m trying to understand how well the brand is / will be received in harajuku for some uni paper.)
    hope you have fun showing everybody around tokyo!

  2. Samuel says:

    @ Jana

    Thank you for your very thoughtful answer and I am glad that you are seeing the same things I am in that area.

    The problem of tourists treating the area as a zoo angers me as well, but the roots of that particular problem go so deep that I don’t think Harajuku is the arena where that particular problem will be solved.

    As ever, open eyes and minds are the best way to observe the area and as far as I am concerned you can never be too critical! Even if sometimes it is hard to find the right space to air those views.

    Thanks for your comment again – I love to hear from readers with strong views.

  3. Andrew says:

    Based on the info here, I have to say that overall I feel like this is a good thing to have. Maybe if it was in another part of Harajuku it wouldn’t feel that way, but being right on Takeshita Dori… I mean, that place really is almost like a tourist attraction, or it is in the minds of certain tourists, regardless of whatever our feelings on that might be (don’t get me started). If there’s a place that can look appealing and show a good face to tourists, with some authentic fashion to boot (because that doesn’t seem to be guaranteed on Takeshita), I feel like I can’t really be too upset. I was once basically a tourist at Takeshita too, with no idea what I was looking at, so if this place can offer up something a little more real than … well, some of the places I remember, then that seems like a pretty positive thing.

    Granted it’s been a long time now since then, so this is clearly just an outsider’s perspective, but I thought you summed it up well at the end–it doesn’t have to be for everyone.

  4. Samuel says:

    @ Andrew

    Agreed, and I think it is important to keep in mind that even though Takeshita-doori is associated with hardcore Japanese fashion abroad, it has always primarily appealed to either domestic tourists or young casual consumers in reality. It has always been more home to idol goods shops (including an AKB shop at one point), pop-culture (the Evangelion shop) and more than its fair share of tat than real fashion. It may be Cool Japan, but I am not sure it has even been considered “cool” in fashion terms. That being the case, there really isn’t a lot of character to sell out on, it is the streets beyond it and Ura-Harajuku that made the area famous, Takeshita in comparison is young, commercial and not actually primarily about the fashion.

  5. cas says:

    I can completely sympathize with your feeling on Takeshita, having seen Camden, North London go through the same thing. Ever since the fire swept through the market ( god like half a decade or more ago now!?), a shiny narrow “V” shaped shopping complex has opened up, with all the usual tat ( i think there is a Giraffe/Zizzi for food etc.)

    But the fact of the matter is, its made the area thrive, no one REALLY goes to camden market to shop unless they are a tourist ( or a local showing a guest around london). HOWEVER nip around the corner to the stables and its a thriving antique hub, and loads of really great independent designers squeezed into tiny shoplettes.

    I’m convinced that without that shopping complex and the face lift the rest of the market received camden would have eventually sunk into a shepherds bush-esq zone of filth!

    Anyways I’m back in Tokyo for the first time in 2 years, any hot tips on where to conveniently shop lots of smallish brands with a high quality ( I thinking Seven dials , Covent garden, and Bolongaro Trevor (http://www.bolongarotrevor.com/)??

  6. Samuel says:

    @ Cas

    I think we are in agreement that a certain degree of commercialism/tourism is a necessary force to allow a degree of creativity to flourish. It just comes down to a question of balancing the eco-system and not losing sight of the original culture that attracted people in the first place.

    As for recommendations, I have sent you an email~

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