After WCS we visited several places in Tokyo and will be reporting on them shortly. I went to JOL in Harajuku with my translator Anna and we were lucky enough to be shown around by the staff there. We found out how recently Harajuku has changed from our sterotypical image of the area. Read on to find out more!
Immortalised in Gwen Stephanie’s 2004 song “Harajuku Girls”, for many the Harajuku area of Tokyo epitomises the colourful street fashion which Tokyo is famous for. However times have changed, and although many Lolita and alternative brands still have their flagship stores in Harajuku, current visitors to the area may be surprised to see more tourists than goths hanging out there on weekends.
It seems Harajuku’s alternative fashion scene peaked about five years ago, and the face of the area has been gradually changing eversince. Does this mean that Harajuku is no longer the place to go for the latest trends in Tokyo? In fact, the opposite! We visited Dream Station JOL, one place where youth culture is well and truly booming.
A popular after-school hang out for teens, JOL stands for “Joy of Life” and is located on Harajuku’s famous shopping street, Takeshita-dori. One of five stores located across the country, Dream Station JOL is a mini mall housing everything from clothing brands to food outlets – and even the JOL Studio – a place where girls can change clothes after school and try out the latest make-up products and hair straighteners.
So if punk rock fashion is gradually going out of style with Tokyo teens, what’s replacing it? According to JOL Harajuku staff, Koichi Ogawa, Harajuku is becoming more like Akihabara. Harajuku’s unique teen culture has a new focus, based around a love for idol groups and anime. Usually associated with anime characters, the latest “hot” fashion accessory is cat ears, while the popularity of idol groups like AKB48 has seen a revival of school uniform (seifuku) fashion. Many school students choose to change into a more fashionable version of their school uniform after school or on weekends, and Harajuku teens are no exception. Phantasian store in JOL sells a range of affordable uniforms similar to the “western” style sported by AKB and other groups.
“The most popular stores here are WE GO, which sells affordable street fashion, and Repipi Armano which stocks more girly styles”, says JOL Harajuku’s manager, Mika Ando. Accessories are available at Pink Latte (famous for its themed store, decorated in the style of a large pink aeroplane) and US brand Claire’s. It seems the Harajuku punk style still has some influence, with “creepy cute” accessories such as hair clips with eyeballs on being as popular as ever. Even Claire’s stocks a range of gothic and fairy-kei style accessories which are exclusive to their Harajuku store. Other popular brands are Dollywink eyelashes and Korean footwear Bubbleflop – flip flops emblazoned with bubbles, plastic sweets, dolphins and other decorations.
Unsurprisingly, character goods are as popular as ever and Harajuku has its own take on classic characters. Vintage character Monchichi has seen a recent revival, with JOL selling original versions of the little monkey designed by their customers. Another popular character is Mameshiba (a cross between a small dog and a talking bean), with JOL carrying a new pink version in the style of Harajuku celebrity Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Upstairs, JOL has a stage where they host regular shows and talent competitions. When we arrived, local idol group AmoYamo were performing their new single and they seemed to have a lot of fans! It’s no surprise that local singers are becoming more popular after the success of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (Kyary was spotted by local fashion magazines in Harajuku before going on to launch her own singing career). Here’s yet another example of Akihabara’s influence in Harajuku – once upon a time, wannabe idols would perform on the streets of Akihabara, hoping to attract fans. Nowadays JOL gives teens a platform to perform in a safe environment, on a real stage in front of their peers.
Behind the audience area lies a range of food and drink stands – so teenagers can relax with a hot curry or cool bubble tea while checking out the latest acts. We tried a kind of giant takoyaki (fried octopus ball), except the octopus had been replaced with cheese, shrimp and other ingredients – it was delicious!
The best thing about JOL is that it’s much more than just a consumer experience – they have a very active local and online community. There are over 20,000 registered JOL members across Japan, who can sign up to review products or model for the JOL magazine, which is given out free at stores across the country. JOL Harajuku even runs a monthly in-store meet-up for members where they can talk about problems at home, get careers advice and give their opinion on the latest fashions and trends. All the food and drink at these meetings is provided free of charge by the store, which shows how much they value their young customers.
If you are visiting Japan and would like to witness the blossoming of new trends, or if you’re a young person who would like to experience Japanese youth culture first hand, we recommend checking out what Joy Of Life is all about.
Visit the Harajuku store at Dream Station JOL, Takeshita-Dori, Tokyo, Japan
(nearest station is Harajuku or Meiji Jingu-Mae)
For more information, please visit the Dream Station: JOL website.