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All You Need To Know About Harajuku Fashion

From the days of the Geisha to the current and trendy styles on the streets, Japanese fashion has trekked a long path and is a force to be reckoned in the fashion industry today. Ironically, and like the beginnings of most fashion trends, Harajuku started as anti-fashion.
Harajuku Station
Back in the day Harajuku was a small town in Japan populated by ninjas. Yes, real ninjas. That was in 1603. Japan surrendered to the allied forces during the Second World War and Harajuku Station was built.

For the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 the land was given back to the Japanese government, and shops and restaurants began to grow in the area. Then the fashion scene began to evolve.
A desire to be unique and express individuality created an emerging theatrical style as the younger generation in the 70s began to kick against the strict disciplinarian rules of the Japanese norm, a culture generally known for its reserved nature.
Harajuku - Takenoko-zoku


Harajuku - Takenoko-zoku

One of the origins was the Takenoko-zoku movement. In the late 70’s Japanese streets were regularly closed down weekly to create pedestrian zones. In 1977 a large area in Harajuku near Yoyogi park distric was made into a pedestrian zone every Sunday. Many would gather and the choreographed and dances of a group called Takenoko-zoku made the street famous. Tens of thousands of people would would come to watch the eccentric dances... from a rock n’ rolla style to avant garde and spinoffs of traditional dances. Takenoko-zoku means “Bamboo Tribe”. 

Harajuku Rockabilly
Through the 80s Takenoko-zoku was a huge event bringing thousands of young fashion lovers. Fashion shops sprung up and the spirit of Harajuku has remained ever since, evolved and grew, spreading throughout Japan and the world.


Harajuku include many styles put together to create a unique piece. The layering of clothes, colors, and costume like-designs make Harajuku different. Even though there are no set of rules when wearing Harajuku style, it urges the wearer to showcase their inner fashion sense and not hold back and be proud of their individuality. Most Harajuku is colorful, bold, daring and very avant-garde.


Gyaru Kei:

This is a fun, girly style which is a representation of the western teenage rebellion look with colored or bleached hair, false lashes decorated nails. It was an imitation of the California girl style, Gyaru, literally coming from the American pronunciation of the word “Gal”. The origin of the look was partially a rebellion against the conformative, perfect porcelain look of Geisha, expressionless and doll-like. Gyaru are full of expression, fun loving and party girls. They tanned their skin and bleached their hair as the look evolved and was called Ganguru, an offshoot of Gyaru. Gyaru girls were known as outcasts and rebels, always trying to get into clubs too young, and were many times runaways and dropouts.

Ganguru was a more extreme look, characterized by light/blonde and neon colored hair with makeup mimicking a deep, dark tan including light lipstick and light circles around the eyes. Clothes with Hawaiian and animal prints, sarongs, tie dye, platform boots and sometimes stickers and jewels on the face. Ganguru means “black-face” but has nothing to do with the western connotations of the word. Partly it was to mimic the look of the character by a comedian named Toshiro Shimazaki, called Adamo-chan, with the white make-up and the dark tan. Yamanba and Manba are two subsets of Ganguru, and there are many others, which would be a whole other article!

Harajuku - Ganguru

Manba girls wear their make-up above and below the eye kind of like Pandas. Yamanba only have white makeup above their eyes. A passion for both types is Hawaiian fashion and culture, Disney characters and cute animals (onesies and animal prints). The Yamanba word comes from the name of a yōkai (evil hag or witch) from Japanese folklore who was shunned during a famine and banned to the forests and mountains, developing matted, white-golden hair which hid a second mouth. Different interpretations say she is a cannabal, or misunderstood, or takes care of children.

Some say Gyaru Kei is a form of feminism, breaking the assumptions of how Japanese women are meant to look and act.

Visual Kei (or V-Kei)

...is punk, metal, rock, goth - this style was started mainly by musicians in an homage to American 70s hard rock/glam-metal like David Bowie mixed with 80s-90s punk-goth. The clothing includes dark pieces with pops of color, zippers, boots, piercings, ripped jeans, big “metal” or “emo” hair, makeup and androgynous aesthetics. Subsets are Oshare Kei, Angura Kei, Eroguro Kei, Nagoya Kei, Tanbi Kei, Kote Kei, Kurafu Kei and Iryou Kei.

Harajuku - Visual Kei


Lolita Kei:

this is an extreme Kawaii (cute) look based on the Victorian era with a long skirt, corset and many times a wig. A typical Lolita girl is dressed in knee-length cupcake skirt and stockings. The Lolita girl (or guy) is also seen with tutu skirts and ballerina gowns to invoke the cute, childish and doll like side of a girl. There are many subsets of Lolita Kei: Gothic, Sweet, Classic, Punk, Hime (Princess), Guro (Gory, horror), Sailor, Wa (traditional Japanese elements), Ero (Erotic), Kuro (all in black), Shiro (all in white), Kodona (boy style) and some call Fairy Kei a form of Lolita as well.

Harajuku - Lolita Kei

Fairy Kei:

This style is ethereal and pastel. It draws innocent and pale colors from retro cultural characters like My Little Pony, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. Many Fairy Kai use Decora, and Lolita Kei as well.

Harajuku - Fairy Kei

Decora Kei:

Coming from the root word from “decoration” Decora Kei is an extreme form of that. Bright neon color and many accessories - over abundance of hair clips, stickers and bandaids on the face, and layers or Kawaii purses and stuffed animals.  


or costume play, is dressing up in a costume to look like a well-known movie character or actor, wearers of this style must also act the part and not just look the part.

The Japanese Kimono is also included to create a vibrant and unique style. Harajuku is also reminiscent of Noh Theaqter, an ancient Japanese art form. 

Boys are not exempted from the Harajuku style as they too can express themselves and their inner fashion desires with Harajuku.

Harajuku - Cosplay


Although sometimes called its own Harajuku Kei, Kawaii in Japanese means “cute”. The term is used to refer to many of Harajuku fashion items, people, toys, pets and looks found to have a certain innocent, eggagerated cuteness. 


Harajuku has partially remained alive because of artists such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Gwen Stefani who adorn Harajuku styles and maintained it’s world wide popularity.



“J-Pop princess Kyary Pamyu Pamyu returns with another of her remarkable music videos, combining kiddie cute with the deeply trippy, bursting with a level of visual imagination that puts 99% of Western pop videos to shame.”


Although the style brings out the rebellious side of teenagers, it is loved and can be worn by all. The Harajuku fashion covers all the style basics from vintage to clean couture or just playing dress-up. The aim of the Harajuku brand is to enjoy fashion no matter your age, gender or interests.


To achieve the full effect of Harajuku, check out the tips below. The number one rule is to do what you love.


Layering is an essential part of  Harajuku fashion. You can mix and match colors, style and add dimension and depth to the outfit. The pieces that make up the outfit should explain your vision, purpose, values and passion for the character you are portraying.


Harajuku girls are unique because they aren’t afraid to create a style that enhances them. They will bring out scissors, thread, needles, and glue to recreate a design to make it their own. However, when customizing, consider the following factors namely: Who you are: Your fashion should represent you and what you believe or hold true. Don’t try to copy others or wear an outfit that is contrary to your ideology. Harajuku is about being unique and being you.


Accessorizing is important. Think 70s and 80s plastic jewelry, funky, and chunky earring, necklaces and colorful pieces that enhance your Harajuku kei. Other accessories include belts, bags, cartoon characters, fluffy bag packs, etc.

The look also calls for colored hair and outrageous hair-dos. The flashy and the colorful, or most kawaii, most edgy, or anything to push yourself a bit further, is what defines the Harajuku style. Art is always new and evolving.



Fashion trends come and go, but Harajuku still remains and is still shaping Japan’s fashion mainstream, breaking cultural norms and redefining what style is among the youth and fashionistas of the country. Harajuku fashion is not just about style, branding and expression, but it is a popular street look all over the world. Harajuku is all about self-expression, no matter what people say. 


1 comment

  • Jessi

    This is a cool post, I learnt a lot.

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