For 2 years straight I got off at Harajuku everyday. I still cannot say I know every store in the area, but I am pretty close to having the place memorized.
I was a student here at Tokyo Design Academy (a bit north of the Takeshita Dori entrance, if you want to check the school out) and I had a lot of fun there.
If you are a tourist in Tokyo, you really should try exploring Harajuku. If you are into alternative fashion, cosplay, or lolita dresses, then this should be one of your Meccas.
You can exit the station from the main exit, take a look at the shrine and the park, and then make your way around the neighborhood. There are many specialty stores here, like the Evangelion store, a Volks doll showroom, lolita fashion stores and so on. This is arguably one of the most interesting window-shopping areas in Tokyo.
Places of interest in Harajuku:
I made another semi-ghetto map. I hope you enjoy it.
Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) - This is one of the main attractions in the area. This tiny street is lined with clothing shops, crepe stores, accessory stores and what-not. It is trying to be a paradise for girl teens and preteens.
Things to look for on the street: Lolita fashion/alternative fashion girls, crepes (grab one!), boy band idol pictures (the boy bands play in a music hall close by), and for some reason, African men hawking on the street, selling hip-hop clothing and maybe knock-off bags (I am guessing).
Togo Shrine - Tucked in the corner of one of the side streets sits a serene, little shrine. It is right off of Takeshita Dori. You can go there to recuperate and sit by the pond.
Alleys – There are many cute little alleys and side streets in the area. Japanese addresses are extremely difficult to read and it is difficult to know where you are, so don’t get lost. But there are a lot of cute shops that you might want to explore.
- Alley near Cat Street. The shop is called “Pancake Days” http://www.pancakedays.jp/shop/harajuku/
- One of my favorite cafes in an alley near Omotesando. They serve a Japanese style risotto dish that is really good. http://www.cafe-master.com/cafes/harajuku/bio-ojiyan-cafe
Tokyu Plaza - The entrance is extremely interesting. It looks like an entrance to a mirror cavern. If you go all the way up to the top, you will find a pretty nice rooftop terrace lounging area where you can sit and soak in the sights of the city for free.
Yoyogi Park - It is the main park for central Tokyo-ites. It is also a prime spot for people-watching. You will see dance groups practicing here, people playing instruments, light saber fighting groups, falconry, etc. (I am not making any of those up. I have seen all of those happen at Yoyogi Park). On the weekends, across from the park, there is usually some sort of event happening with some kind of live music and food stalls.
Meiji Shrine – The biggest tourist attraction in the area, quite literally. Walk across to the park where you will be greeted by the enormous wooden gate of the shrine. Walk down the path and enjoy the forest. It was planted by the Meiji Emperor. Trees from all over Japan were gathered here to make a forest that would represent the country. This area is great in the summertime because it is heavily shaded and cool.
- Pic taken at Kiddy Land near Omotesando http://www.kiddyland.co.jp/en/index.html
Omotesando Hills- The place for big spenders. All the high-end brand names can be found here. There are also various small shops that sell interesting things. The basement of the building usually has an exhibition of some kind happening. World-renown architect, Tadao Ando designed the complex.
Cat Street - Street that goes from the Harajuku area to Shibuya. It has some interesting specialty stores on it, and the atmosphere is pretty nice. If you want to head to Shibuya after Harajuku, this is a good street to stroll down on.