Harajuku-The Cat’s Meow

7 June 2013
Author: Kat Joseph – City and Regional Planning

We are now winding down to the last few days of our trip. It has been an amazing experience so far. Fortunately, we were able to dodge the rainy season and enjoy the beautiful weather while engaging in informative walking tours and educational seminars. Unfortunately, my umbrella took up an entire three inches in length and an inch of width in my bag! On a better note, today was a bit different from most of our days in Japan. Previously we visited a lot of local towns, rojis, neighborhood plazas, public spaces (ranging from small to large), and various shrines. This time around we visited what we Americans know to be the Newbury Street, Rodeo Drive or the 5th Avenue of Japan. Led by Gensler Tokyo architect Nakamura Akira, we visited Harajuku, Omotesando, and later in the day Hillside Terrace. Out of these three places my favorite was Harajuku, there we experienced another side of Japan. First we entered Harajuku through Takeshita Street. Once you enter you are immediately intrigued by the vibrant street, eccentric boutiques, and liveliness. Where color and characters become alive and the Japanese truly unveil fashion in a way like no other country.  

Once we made it through the mass crowd the true character of the streets became more visible. I began to notice a lot of the remarkable edge conditions, formation, and paths on Cat Street (one of the more popular streets that Takeshita eventually merges to). When I first stepped down onto Cat Street the first thing I noticed were the various street elevations. We started off going down a ramp that was about 4 meters in length – this placed us right at the beginning of Cat Street. Once you arrive at the middle portion of Cat Street the sidewalks began to form. Compared to some of the other prominent architectural sights we visited (i.e. Omotosando Hills and Tokyo Midtown Mall) Cat Street had a different environment. Most of the structures were at a human scale; the road, sidewalks, and store entrances were for the most part all at street level. Storefronts were very welcoming; at times I did not even realize how close I was to the entrance of a store until I would actually pass it. The concept of private versus public and how these two forces work with and against each other was a reoccurring discussion amongst the group throughout the trip. In this instance the boundaries between public and private were kept to a bare minimum.  However, due to the low-leveled sidewalks bollards and planters were used to create boundaries to differentiate the street from the sidewalk (Cat Street does not permit motored vehicles).

The further along we went down the street the more the walking paths and streets of this public space began to transform. At one point we arrived to a street median, which was raised and supported a shopping store. Although this store was not aligned with the others on the street it seemed to be organic in its placement because it resembled a tree house.

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Tree house, Harajuku. Kat Joseph, 7 June 2013.

There were also instances in which the street was raised and bordered by sidewalk curbs while, the sidewalk was on a lower platform.

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Sidewalk view, Harajuku. Kat Joseph – 7 June 2013.

Towards the end of Cat Street we arrived at an elevated open space going down the middle of the road. I was a bit confused at first because this open space had a very old-fashion jungle gym that I wouldn’t want to play on if I was a child, no seating, and hardly any shade. Shortly after a group of school children between the ages of 3-6 years entered and began disaster preparation drills.

Along this side of Cat Street there was an interesting diversity of built infrastructure mostly commercial. They varied in height, width, and building material. This to me reflected the various building materials, slopes, and elevations used for the pedestrian paths and roads throughout Cat Street.

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Annotated street front, Harajuku. Kat Joseph, 7 June 2013.

In addition to the many phenomenal Tadao Ando buildings we visited today, Harajuku has definitely left a lasting impression on me.

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