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There’s a reason Harajuku has a colourful reputation. From Takeshita Street through to Cat Street, this Shibuya neighbourhood is exactly the hyper-mix of outlandish street fashion, J-Pop, unparalleled vintage shopping and sweet treats you’d imagine it to be.
Stand too long in front of the giant GAP store opposite Yoyogi Park and you’ll see it all – cosplayers, rockabilly couples, and teenage girls decked head-to-toe in frothy Lolita-wear, splitting sets of headphones to listen to the latest AKB48 track.
But while the kawaii capital of Japan is renowned for its saccharine aesthetic and sweet tooth in equal measure (and you’ll certainly want to try a strawberry-stuffed crepe or a Zakuzaku choux cream puff while you’re here), Harajuku’s more grown-up (and savoury) side also begs to be explored. Here’s some tips on where to eat and drink – and it’s all less than an hour’s train ride from Haneda Airport.
There are many places to eat a brilliant bowl of ramen in Tokyo, but this popular chain (with branches across Japan, and even one in Portland) is consistently good. It’s also really different to most other ramens you’ll try in Tokyo, which tend to have silky, creamy, viscous bases. The signature Afuri broth is light and almost transparent, and its chicken and dashi stocks are infused with fresh yuzu.
This location, just across the way from a Harajuku Station exit, is one of the busiest – so expect to partake in one of the favourite pastimes of Tokyoites, queuing. Once you’re in, you punch in your preferences on the vending machine – shio or shoyu broth, choice of meat (charred pork is a winner) and noodle weight. The rainbow vegan ramen, with lotus-root-blended noodles, is worth the wait.
3 Chome–63–1, Sendagaya, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-0051
Chef Yumi Nomura’s serene, garden-enclosed restaurant comes as a welcome refuge from the onslaught of colour in Harajuku. Eatrip is located in the middle of the neighbourhood’s busiest shopping enclave, but were it not for a set of mixers in the dining room, you could easily fancy yourself at a remote farmhouse.
Nomura seeks out the freshest organic produce – much of it from her father’s own farm – for every dish Eatrip prepares in its open kitchen, including the kaleidoscopic seasonal vegetable plate, silky “one-bite” pastas and herb-topped cocktails.
6 Chome–31–10 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
If you found your way into Koffee Mameya accidentally, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into an exquisite Aesop store. But the yakisugi (charred timber) entrance is actually a window into another world, one where stone gardens, minimalist wooden interiors and cherry-blossom bonsai are standard fare.
The gradient of packages across the inside wall isn’t skincare, but coffee beans, arranged from lightest roast to darkest – which Koffee Mameya founder Eiichi Kunitomo sources from top roasters across Japan and internationally, including Melbourne’s Code Black.
There’s a team of lab-coated “coffee sommeliers” (including Takamasa Miki, formerly of Melbourne cafe Addict) to guide customers through their bean selections. The somms will also give you detailed instructions on how to brew your purchase, or you can enjoy a cup there.
4 Chome–15–3 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
Harajuku Gyoza Lou
The crowd at this popular gyozaya changes throughout the day – during daytime hours, it’s a speedy lunch spot for local workers and travellers. In the evening, groups of skater boys in Tokyo streetwear labels gather out front. Frustrated drivers move down this street at a snail’s pace, because the line of people waiting for a table always spills out onto the road.
At 290 yen (around $4) for a serve of dumplings, this really is one of Tokyo’s best cheap eats. There are two varieties of gyoza (original pork or garlic and chive), which you can order steamed or pan-fried, and basic sides like miso cucumbers and bean sprouts with a meat sauce. There’s not much more to it.
The best part? Harajuku Gyoza Lou is open until 4am most nights – so if you’re coming in from a late-night stint at Tokyo mega-clubs Bonobo or Contact, your recovery is sorted.
6 Chome–2–4 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
Feel like you’ve tried everything there is to try in Harajuku? Consider the lobster roll. Luke’s Lobster, which originated in New York, is a great example of how you can get pretty much anything your heart desires in Tokyo – even if that’s a crustacean that’s travelled 10,000 kilometres. Most of Luke’s lobsters are shipped over from Maine, and once they cross the Pacific, they’re boiled, scooped clean and squished into buttery toasted buns with mayo, lemon butter and secret spices.
The rolls come in two sizes – regular and “US-sized” – but you ought to order the heftier one after you’ve braved the wait. There are also crab and shrimp rolls on the menu, and sides such as Kettle potato chips, coleslaw and bisques.
1F, 6 Chome–7–1, Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
This article is produced in partnership with Virgin Australia.