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Harajuku

What does Harajuku mean?

Harajuku is an area of Tokyo famous for its youth culture and street fashion. Harajuku can refer not just to the geographic region but also to the styles and cultural attitudes it's known for.

image of Harajuku

Where does Harajuku come from?

The word Harajuku means “meadow lodging” in Japanese, according to the online Japanese dictionary Jisho. As a town or village, it’s been around since at least the 12th century. The Harajuku district is a part of modern Tokyo (near the Harajuku train station in central Tokyo) and has had a distinct identity of its own since World War II, when US army barracks were built there, bringing with them new shops for military families. When Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, a new wave of tourism and crowds of curious young people fueled more commercial development.

High-end fashion designers set up shops in Harajuku, and by the 1970s, it was a popular destination for shopping, particularly after the Laforet mall opened in the district in 1978. In the 1980s, it became yet more popular when the roads were closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, opening up the area for young people to hang out and for artists to perform.

By the 1990s, Harajuku had come to represent more than a geographical location. It stood for changing fashion trends and an ever-shifting exploration of new styles.

A few things to note…

Harajuku is an adjective as well as a noun as used in constructions like Harajuku girls and Harajuku style. Harajuku fashion doesn’t represent one single style, but rather a certain creative, theatrical flair that can incorporate many styles and embraces freedom of expression. Common street styles associated with Harajuku are Lolita (a doll-like look inspired by Victorian children), Decora (a style that emphasizes bright clothes), and Gyaru (a look based on an exaggeration of fashions associated with American teenagers).

In 2004, Gwen Stefani released a popular song and music video called “Harajuku Girls.” While many considered it an inaccurate representation of Harajuku, if not offensive portrait of Japanese culture, the song did help put Harajuku in the Western spotlight.

For example…

“The end of mags like KERA and GLB =/= the end of harajuku fashion. It's just the end of print media- this has been happening for ages”

@astrallatte Twitter (March 31, 2017)

“Meet this 19-year-old green-haired Harajuku Girl named Aya in Pleated Plaid Skirt, Never Mind The XU & Chanel.”

Tokyo Fashion Facebook (October 13, 2016)

“How much do we love these two #Harajuku cuties?!!! Love them! Pink blush 🌸 - cherry blossom emoji #kawaii #tokyo #harajuku #girls #harajukufashion #igarimakeup”

Lisa Eldridge lisaeldridgemakeup Instagram (March 26, 2016)

This is not a formal definition of Harajuku like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Harajuku that will help you expand your word mastery.