Harajuku’s eco-system is a difficult one to keep balanced, you just have to look at certain streets that were once buzzing that have all but fallen silent, while others gain personality overnight thanks to just the right mix of creatives arriving at just the right time.  It all comes down to the balance between street culture and gathering points with business as far as I am concerned,  for example, lest we forget that Ura-Harajuku used to be the home of the Gyaru-O flagships before they all relocated to Shibuya, taking the fans with them which in turn killed the smaller shops on their periphery.  In the latter case, the original fashion culture formed organically around the ethnic, native American and silver scene that was already present in the area, but the call of cash from what is now 109 Mens yanked it all out.  It must be said that sometimes this balance does come together perfectly, like in the case of La Foret or even the new Dover Street Market in Ginza, but get the balance wrong and you can destroy easily destroy an area by robbing it of its cool overnight.

Bearing that in mind, you can see why the arrival of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku in perhaps the most important geographic location in all of Harajuku, was greeted with suspicion by anyone emotionally invested in the place.  At first glance it seemed a bit too slick for the area, a little too comercial and maybe a touch on the conservative side.  Even as the external architecture began to take shape, it puzzled with its mixture of modern gleaming glass and geometric elements that look like they have been plucked straight out of the 80s bubble years.  The shop list too seemed at odds with area, with a mixture of brands that would be more of a natural fit to Shibuya, conservative American casual wear courtesy of American Eagle Outfitters and an incredibly lush flagship from Tommy Hlifiger.

The big question is – does it fit?  And in my opinion it is a resounding “yes” on that front, for the simple reason that it brings something back to the area that was gradually being edged out.  It is more mainstream, it is more conservative, but that is exactly where Japanese fashion is right now, and you can’t have a Harajuku that doesn’t represent Japanese fashion.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of spice inside, and it definitely feels like an accessible bridge from mainstream fashion into more artistic and creative fashion that should hopefully welcome more people into fashion that were pushed out by the perceived “wackiness” of Harajuku and high cost of Omotesando.

You can read my full introduction to the building which appeared in The Japan Times yesterday here, and I will have a another piece on the building for you tomorrow.  For now, I thought I would introduce the flavor of the building, and what better way than through its staff:

I should add that the staff at American Eagle outfitters (above) were unbelievably energetic, and I don’t know if that was just for the press day, or whether they are like that everyday.  I tried to go back after the official opening, but there was an hour long queue to get inside…  They must be doing something right.

The entrance of the Shel’tter – think somewhere between Urban Outfitters and 109.

Rady – don’t be fooled by the glitz, this is closer to the Harajuku / Shibuya mix exemplified by .Ruby magazine than straight Shibuya style.

The wonderful OMOHARA forrest on the roof.  Seeing as you can come and loiter here freely, I do wonder if this could be a new meeting place in Harajuku.

Oh and finally, the press day for me was entirely summed up as the day I met Tommy Hilfiger – my interview with him is here.  I had no idea that he had such an in-depth knowledge of 80s Japanese fashion, and he has a geographic understanding of the fashion of the city that would put many residents to shame.

Come back for part 2 tomorrow where we will be highlighting some of the significant shops and concepts in the Tokyu Plaza – see you then.

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12 Responses to Inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku Part 1 An Introduction

  1. Wim's says:

    Thanks for this article ! Really cool as usual.

  2. […] Inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku Part 1 An Introduction Inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku Part 2 Highlights By Samuel On May 3, 2012 · Add […]

  3. Andrew says:

    Wow, I really didn’t quite get it until I realized that this is located where the Gap used to be! I guess I’m 2 years late, I have no idea how the news that Gap was closing passed me by. I’m a little bit in shock right now.

  4. Samuel says:

    @ Andrew

    I think everyone has fond memories of that Gap! Sad times, but we must move on…

  5. Okay, this freaks me out just a little bit. I guess that sounds a little intense…I had heard awhile back that an American Eagle was going to be one of the stores put in at this location…Does it not feel a bit like the big corporations are kind of going in and diminishing a very unique culture? ..Let me explain what I’m saying before people read this and think I’m one of those people that thinks everything should be underground/hardcore, etc.

    First, I guess experiencing it for myself before making a quick judgement is important though, haha. I trust you guys when you say you don’t think it will suck out all of the creative force of Harajuku, as I realize you guys truly understand and appreciate what the core of Harajuku was originally about.

    With that said, I feel like before, when one is heading away from Harajuku station and going towards Omotesando, you can already see a lot of very big European/high fashion stores. I think it was kind of nice having a break from the GAP here, where different fashion tribes would kind of clash together. Sure, that existed when the GAP was there, but its interesting that the spot was bare during a lot of the time that H&M and Forever21 came along.

    My point is that I’m a bit worried that the mainstream/fast fashion aspect is going to wash out the small artistic side bit by bit..

    I understand what you mean when you say Harajuku kind of represents Japanese fashion now. Harajuku is kind of a brand name now, right? Sure, it shouldn’t exclude mainstream/fast fashion/high fashion culture, but isn’t what made Harajuku so appealing in the first place was the intense mixing and mashing of so many creative elements, the DIY, subcultural ties, etc?

    I do believe that this side of Japanese fashion isn’t going away anytime soon..I think even if every part of Harajuku becomes bombarded with these stores(the kind that are dying out in America, but want to reach a Japanese market, American Eagle, Abercrombie, etc), theuniqueness will still exist. But when you talk about different fashion groups being sucked into different areas, I really think that could happen again. (Gyaru-O’s going to Shibuya, etc).

    The good news is that I think the creativity isn’t going anywhere for awhile, but I could easily see Harajuku continue to change and lose its original flavor. Even if the underground movement continues to thrive, or even get larger due to this continuation of fast fashion, it will still be sad if the “fruits” of Harajuku no longer exist IN Harajuku, if you know what I mean.

  6. Samuel says:

    @ Lactose Intoler-Art

    Don’t you worry, I said in my opening that everyone is quite sensitive when it comes to anything that might change the Harajuku ecosystem – it would be stranger if you didn’t worry!

    Harajuku has always been a conflict between mainstream and counterculture. You need one to create the other. Places like Tokyu Plaza bring a huge amount of money into an area that keeps the rest of the shops alive and kicking. Visitors to the area may not shop at DOG, but they might go to the Cafe nearby, or pick up some little accessories from a small vintage shop. In the end it all supports the area and as long as they don’t start buying up the smaller buildings where the rates are low, there is not all that much to worry about. There are also a huge amount of really mainstream Japanese shops that have been in Harajuku for decades, which have become something of a white noise to regular visitors. They don’t damage the ecosystem too much, and often flesh out the appeal of the area. People don’t just jump into “fashion”, sometimes they come in looking for a beige blouse and see something on their travels that makes them think and tempts them on in.

    In the case of Harajuku, what I would worry about is the number of (very) popular shops (I will not mention names) who claim to be “Harajuku” style and actually just sell cheap versions of the real things. One of the biggest still sells fake Tokyo Bopper shoes, and by the time you have ripped off a Harajuku icon you can no longer claim to be supporting the culture. In my opinion, it is those who pose the biggest threat to creativity in the area.

    I think Harajuku will always be the gathering point of Japanese fashion, but that is not to say that people want it to be. Serious fashion types who orbit Ebisu/Daikanyama will look down on it, people who live the lifestyle will be in Koenji and real bohemians will call Shimokita their home. Harajuku is just the central point that they happen to pass through, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    It comes down to this simple point – did Gap kill underground fashion in Harajuku? If it can withstand that, I think we are going to be OK.

  7. Andrew says:

    Ok, I’m chiming in here as someone disconnected from Harajuku by a few years, so take this with a grain of salt, but I thought I’d throw in a few quick thoughts here as well. Please let me know where I’m off the mark though, as I’m sure I am on a few points.

    Anyway, after reading the above comments and mulling it all over in my head for a little while, I’ve come up with a question, and the gist of it is basically, what is the long-term future of Harajuku? In 2007 I knew pretty much nothing about fashion at all, but I knew that if I wanted to see fashion in Tokyo, I had to go to Harajuku. I did not know about Daikanyama, even though I passed it on the train almost every day, or about Koenji or Shimokitazawa, and to me Shinjuku was cool, but not a place for fashion. Shibuya to me was 109 and Zara and nightclubs, but Harajuku was really the place to be.

    My point is, there is a huge amount of hype around Harajuku, and rightfully so–however, Samuel you said above, the serious fashion types have moved somewhere else, gyaru-o have moved somewhere else, bohemian lifestyle is better represented somewhere else, those who want to live in the underground scene live somewhere else. And of course we also have Akihabara fashion cropping up these days.To put it bluntly, when I think of Harajuku today I think as much of Omotesando as I do of La Foret and Candy, and Takeshita-dori could hardly be called underground in Tokyo anymore. That’s old news now, but of course it wasn’t always that way.

    Based on the take you guys give of it here, including the response to Lactose Intoler-art above, I think Tokyu Plaza sounds pretty cool, and definitely in theory it seems to fit in Harajuku more than it probably seemed like the Gap would 12 years ago. But what I’m wondering is, does it seem that the creative drive that birthed Harajuku, even if it is thriving, really IS moving away from Harajuku? I suppose I’m echoing Lactose Intoler-art’s point here–if we take the last 10-20+ years of Harajuku history (which admittedly I am spotty on at best), is the current momentum towards something more commercial? Samuel I think you make a great point about how you need both commercial and underground (mainstream / counterculture) for an area to thrive creativly, but in the end, does Koenji (or somewhere else) feel more like the Harajuku of old that spawned such a mythos around it, than the Harajuku of today does? And if that’s true, is it necessarily a bad thing?

  8. Samuel says:

    @ Andrew

    I think the long term future of Harajuku is pretty much a continuation of its history. Takeshita will always be a bit geeky and not all that cool, Ura-Hara will always be outright cool and Omotesando will get classier the closer you get to Aoyama. I think because there isn’t the aggression, criticism and elitism that surrounds people’s opinions of the fashion of others that exists outside Japan, disperate fashion existing side by side in Tokyo is not seen as that big of a problem. Like I said before, as long as the street culture still exists, the culture as a whole survives. Who would have guessed that Gap would have been the gathering point for so much cool? (not that anyone was shopping inside!)

    As for where the creativity comes from, I think this is one of the few things I will be very negative on as I really can’t put a positive spin on it no-matter how hard I try! When I first came to Harajuku you had people putting in studs on the street, more street art, more DIY, people working at sewing machines in shops and generally more of a creative atmosphere – that has all but gone I am afraid. It is still the focal point for fashion, but that spark of creativity just doesn’t seem to be weaker.

    I was talking to Hachi (designer of Balmung) at a party recently and he said that he feels like that DIY spirit is coming from Akihabara these days. I would agree, but add Koenji to that list as well. Not only have you got lots of remake fashion coming from skilled designers (i.e. Kitakore), but also on a real amateur level. Only the other day I went to a free remake fashion party that someone was just holding in a random apartment building. That felt like a taste of how Harajuku used to be.

    As for whether this is good of bad is not so much of an issue for me – it is all Tokyo after all! As long as the creativity exists in some form, somewhere, who is to mind? People thought that losing the Radio Kaikan in Akiba and all the vast buildings that sprang up around the same time would kill Akihabara culture, if anything it pushed the culture to a different area where due to everyone being pushed together, the culture thrived.

    As far as I am concerned Japanese fashion has weathered many storms in the last couple of years and it still has strength, mainly because creators still create. Against the rise of internet shopping, cheap fakes, fast fashion and so on, there is one thing that cannot be taken – street culture. Certainly in the UK (where I am originally from), we have been very careless in giving that away, and in effect robbed ourselves of places to actually wear fashion. If Tokyu Plaza supports an area that allows you to wear your fashion, then it is always going to be a good thing by me.

  9. Very interesting responses, guys, and Samuel, I really liked this ” I think because there isn’t the aggression, criticism and elitism that surrounds people’s opinions of the fashion of others that exists outside Japan, disperate fashion existing side by side in Tokyo is not seen as that big of a problem. ” That was one of the coolest and first things I noticed about Fashion culture in Tokyo compared with other cities, especially the humble and laid back attitude of shops and designers that you KNOW have huge potential…And your comment with English street culture is interesting, because magazines like “STREET” that feature London issues make it seem like London (in my opinion) is #2 for creative/hyper mixed style. Then again, it is made by the same people as FRUiTS and TUNE, so I’m guessing there’s a huge Japanese twist..One of my other English friends said they happen to just find the rare people..But the thing that’s so cool is about Tokyo is like we have discussed before, the “average” is just much higher and so interesting, as far as street fashion culture goes in my opinion..

    And I do agree that originality is definitely not lacking at all, especially on a global perspective. Yo make a good point, that GAP was there forever, and even the most eclectic people hung out right around it. I know some “Koenji type” people that were actually very sad to see the GAP close, and not because they even shopped at the GAP, but just because of the memories that happened there!

    If this just provides another cool gathering of intense street culture, than I’m totally cool with it. And I totally agree with you when you talk about the types of people living in different locations. I guess my biggest hope is that there will continue to be somewhere that all of these subcultures can meet and be seen and have time hanging out together in Harmony. I mean maybe I’m weird, but I could just sit in front of Lawson on Omotesando forever and just sketch, and talk with people and even just people watch for hours on end.

    Here’s another thought…I’m wondering with even more of an unbalance of the fast fashion vs. underground fashion, if we will see more underground/creative movements increase within the next couple of years kind of a as a reaction to what’s going on? That would be cool!

  10. Samuel says:

    @ Lactose Intoler-Art

    On the subject of UK fashion, don’t get me wrong, there are pockets of the country where the fashion is great and STREET could go anywhere and get a mag’s worth in a day. It is like you say, about the overall average and the fact that it is not just a handful of clubs and areas where “fashion” is acceptable. In Tokyo I don’t have to think twice about what I wear when a leave the apartment, but when I lived in London there were whole areas of my wardrobe that had to be ruled out. It is gratifying on days like today when I see someone at my local conbini wearing Gareth Pugh as well.

    Glad to hear I have hopefully put your mind at rest about this place. I am sure you will have a good time sitting on the roof and watching the people go by, or like you say, sketching and chatting.

    On your last point, I am with you in crossing fingers and hoping for a new creative movement. But then again, I don’t think there will be an anti-fast fashion trend, because there isn’t really that element of aggression that would cause people to be against it in Japan. Personally, to place a bet on where the next movement might come from, you look at the periphery culture, i.e. music, club or street scene. First you see where the people are wearing the clothes to, and then you work backwards to who is behind the clothes they are wearing.

    Whatever happens, it is going to be a fun ride.

  11. Michel says:

    Firstly, trends come and go and that will always be the case. Therefore, just like people were against Omotesando Hills, you will have the old guard against the new Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku.

    The Kings Road in London once was vibrant and alive but today it is “a shell of the past” because the past moved on and if no change then it will just become “a shell.” So either adapt or just fade into oblivion….either way, the end result isn’t going to be good.

    Harajuku and Omotesando have different energies and the back streets are full of casual culture. When surveys are done about what boutiques individuals like best in this area – then the hype of Harajuku often falls flat because most pick brands which never hit the headlines which are related to the “Harajuku scene.”

    Yes, in a world of unreality the vibes of 6%Dokidoki and others which hog the limelight would appear to be the “real Harajuku” but the real Harajuku belongs to people who visit and shop – and often they prefer more mainstream brands or independent vibes outside the attention of the media.

    Everything turns to dust and for individuals who prefer Ikebukuro to Harajuku, nothing will change currently; for individuals who prefer Daikanyama over Ikebukuro, nothing will change currently. However, if these districts become stale and out of touch – then it will change, because people will move on and shop somewhere else.

    Harajuku is big enough to have vast number of trends and providing the independent scene remains vibrant, then nothing to fear. Punk music was all the rage for many in the UK in the late 1970s to early 1980s and the fashion angle was vibrant – but like trends, it turned into “a shell” whereby only dreamers keep it alive in the modern world.

    The overwhelming of individuals who shop in Harajuku were mainstream before and will be mainstream after Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. If the smaller unique cultures are to remain then this depends on their internal creativity. Harajuku, just like any fashion district, can’t stand still and remain within “a bubble” because “bubbles soon pop!”

  12. Samuel says:

    @ Michel

    Thank you for your poetic words that I think few could disagree with. As long as we support the people who actually create the culture I think we will have nothing to fear.

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