Research Project: The Harajuku Diaries

Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar. These are the few names that tend to pop into my head when I think of fashion. Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Hermes. A showcase of tall, lean models clothed in jewel embellished gowns, tailored to perfection, holding their heads up high as they stride down long, flashing runways.

For myself, I’ve have always grown up viewing fashion from a purely Western/European perspective. Having learnt about “what’s in trend” from reading reputable magazines as mentioned above, high-end has always played a forefront in my perception of fashion and style. Like Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wear’s Prada  would say, fashion is an ever-growing industry – “one that represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.

Now I’ve always considered myself to be a well-dressed individual. Minimal, polished, and as best put together as my student budget allows. But with every new item I acquire, I know that my style will inevitably change, as the fashion industry a constantly shifting thing. I’ve always admired the changing of styles in each era, the roaring 20s, groovy 70s, and even the grungy 90s, but no style has particularly caught my eye quite as much as the streetwear of the early 80s’ Harajuku fashion.

Now, I am aware Tokyo is very much a fashion capital as New York, Paris and Milan, however I’ve never stopped to truly think about what kinds of styles have emerged in the land of the rising sun. With such strong contrasts between rich, traditional clothing such as the kimono and the yukata, it’s hard to imagine that Harajuku street fashion could co-exist in the same city.  So, what better way to steer my curiosity towards this style than to focus my independent research project on it.

For those who are unfamiliar with Harajuku street fashion, Harajuku simple refers to a district in Tokyo. Well known for its distinctive fashion scene, Harajuku is a place where Japanese youth often congregate to show off their bold, expressive streetwear. Unlike the clothing I’ve seen in mainstream magazines, and tv shows like, America’s Next  Top Model, I’ve noticed Harajuku street fashion tends to go beyond the conventional. It aims to push the boundaries of societal norms and embrace a mix of traditional and urban/modern influences.

“The first craze was mixing traditional Japanese attire with western clothing. Harajuku fashion is a movement against strict societal rules and the pressure to fit the norm.”Marasigan, C.


Gwen Stefani and the Harajuku Girls (x)

Looking back, I believe my first real encounter with Harajuku fashion occurred as early as the 2000s, thanks to pop star Gwen Stefani. Along with her Harajuku girls/backup dancer, she made it quite clear to the public that her style aimed push boundaries. She created a brand modeled off Harajuku street fashion: bold, bright and completely unconventional. To be honest, I didn’t really like it.






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Initially, I thought Harajuku fashion was just another form of cosplay. People dressing up into characters just for fun. However, upon further inspection, I’ve come to realise that the style itself is an evolution of a culture, a lifestyle as it were. As Yuniya Kawamura states:

“It’s not just about a group of youngsters in distinct clothes. Their stylistic expression is a reflection of their values, norms, beliefs. The emergence of a subculture means that there is a community trying to send a social message to the public.”

Because of this, it’s become more apparent that it’s not just dress-up. People spend countless hours accumulating and curating specific items to contribute towards their own individual sense of style. Harajuku street fashion itself branches into a collection of sub-genres, all possessing their own unique system of styles and aesthetics.

For example: Sweet lolita, Gothic lolita, Visual Kei, Cosplay, Decora, Gyaru, cutesty fairy kei and punk rock clothing”


Through this research project, I want to explore and understand the history and influences of this distinct street style. I want to uncover why is so important, both intrinsically and geographically, to the district of Harajuku and what inspires people to take on its certain attributes. To do this, I’ll be researching into and collecting items to help build my understanding towards these unique styles and try to immerse myself in the experience of a Harajuku girl.

To put it quite simply, I want to transform myself into a Harajuku girl. 


Japanese street style magazine FRUiTS (x)

As fashion is a highly visual thing, I’m hoping to produce a series of vlogs to document my transformation from an everyday uni student into a Harajuku girl. Within these videos, I am aiming to showcase the sources of my inspiration, talk about my understanding and opinions towards the different sub-cultures,  and finally share the sources of where I find certain Harajuku inspired items (ebay, kmart, etsy, etc). Likewise I’ll be following Harajuku style icons (@KyaryPamyuPamyu, @kurebayashiii, @tokyofashion). Although I could have just blogged about the style itself, I felt it would be more fun to try and re-create this style in real-life, to further enhance both my understanding, and even appreciation towards this certain fashion.

Drawing on Ellis’ methodology of autoethnography, I want to eventually be able to use my personal experiences to help illustrate and communicate a new cultural experience, “and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.”(Ellis et al, 2011)



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8 thoughts on “Research Project: The Harajuku Diaries

  1. elenabozic says:

    I remember when you first tweeted about this, my first thoughts were “that sounds really interesting” but also “that sounds like it could cost a lot”. I suppose your budget would probably depend on how far you want to go with it, and where you’ll be getting the items.
    I found this video on the price of clothing IN Harajuku, but I’m not sure how useful it will be to you:

    Do you have a specific fashion style in mind? I’d be interested to hear which one you’ve picked and why.

    You’ve mentioned that you’d like to know what inspires people to adopt these super distinct fashion styles. I’m no expert, but I believe Japan is still a very conformist society, so these individualistic styles might be a way to rebel against that, as well as being a form of self expression? I had a quick look on wikipedia and from what I can tell most of these styles originate in the 1990s or later, so I was wondering if maybe the internet’s prominence and people’s ability to share their unique outfits has contributed to the rise in popularity of Harajuku street fashion. I don’t know if that might be the type of thing you’ll end up researching, but I thought I might throw my thoughts out anyway.

    I’m super interested to see how and where you’ll go with this. Hope it goes well for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • phiphinguyen says:

      Hi Elena, thanks for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate your thoughts and advice! In terms of my budget, I’m hoping to keep the whole thing under $50. As a way to utilise my pieces after the project, I’m going to try and cater to my own taste while looking for items. Likewise, I’ll also try borrowing pieces from friends and family to minimise my costs!

      For this project, I’ll most likely be focusing on the subcultures of mori kei, fairy kei and decora. I just feel as though these pieces will be a bit more accessible, and I just love their aesthetics! I think what you said about Japan as a conformist society is very important, and something I’ll definitely need to address during my project. Thanks for your insight, really appreciate it!


  2. Virginia Hodgkinson says:

    Hey PhiPhi!

    Your research project is really interesting, and seems like it is going to be so much fun to create! I am excited to see the final product!

    You’ve already picked up on and are using the key aspect of autoethnography, through linking a past cultural experience (Gwen Stefani) to help understand a new cultural experience (Harajuku fashion), this is what Ellis (2011) defines as autoethnography!

    Additionally, I found this article which recounts the current and changing state of harajuku fashion( I’m not sure how relevant this will be towards your research project, however it is still an interesting article!

    Good luck with the rest of your project, PhiPhi

    Liked by 1 person

  3. briloulaw says:

    Hi Phi Phi, loved reading this blog post. A few interesting epiphanies were discussed in your experience with Harajuku fashion here. Initially, you mentioned that when you thought of fashion, traditional and classic imagery came to mind including “A showcase of tall, lean models clothed in jewel embellished gowns, tailored to perfection, holding their heads up high as they stride down long, flashing runways.” However, after delving more into the realm of fashion you have noted that it is much more diverse and broad. Something which also stood out to you as a memorable moment was Gwen Stefani’s representation of the bold, bright and colourful Harajuku fashion. Ellis notes that these epiphanies are a significant part of the autoethnography process. “Most often, autobiographers write about “epiphanies”—remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyze lived experience, and events after which life does not seem quite the same.”

    As a westerner also, I too share this epiphany. Gwen Stefani’s portrayal of Harajuku played an important role in shaping what I believed Harajuku to be. Being exposed to this portrayal of the fashion style has deeply shaped how I see and interpret Harajuku today. I didn’t know that there are more than one Harajuku style, I thought it was all ‘child-like’, bold and colourful. But there is mori kei, a less colourful, vintage subculture within Harajuku fashion which I was entirely unaware of until now. ( I think something which I have noticed, an epiphany, for me when looking at all these examples of Harajuku fashion, is that extensive layering plays an important role in all the subcultures. Despite the differences aesthetically between the subcultures, they all involve putting layers upon layers and accessories upon accessories- making it both expensive, time-consuming to put on, and of course physically heavy to wear! These aspects would be quite interesting to see in your research project and how you deal with them! Here’s one of my favourite Youtubers, Safiya Nygaard’s own experience with having a “Tokyo makeover”:

    Liked by 2 people

  4. montagueblogsite says:

    Hi Phi Phi, I personally have always been close minded towards ‘out there fashion’ as I’ve never been particularly fashionable myself; most of fashion consisting of baggy shirts from Vinnies as I cant bring myself to spend the small amount of money I have on fashionable clothes. Despite this, your autoethnographic idea sounds super interesting, recalling on your knowledge of Gwen Stefani in understanding Harajuku fashion as a foreign experience.

    After reading your blog I also watched a YouTube video as you‘d only just introduced me to Harajuku fashion, and it explained it even more in case you want to watch it.
    Great post!


  5. Mia Iorfino says:

    Hey ☺
    I actually love this idea!
    Fashion is a great way to express yourself and explore culture. I’m a sucker for street-wear and have never really understood why a lot of brands do exclusive releases in Tokoyo. But by reading your post and other articles, it turns out that fashion is a huge part of Japanese culture. I think you’ve bought out a great topic that is overlooked, it seems that fashion and these trends really have a big impact on the fashion industry as a whole.
    I had no idea what was going on behind Gwen Stefani’s fashion label, as a westerner especially at such a young age I thought she was playing ‘dress-ups’ and mimicking sailor moon.
    It’s great that you’re going to create vlogs! It’s an awesome way to show how easy/difficult it is to achieve these looks and give a westerners perspective on the effort that goes towards achieving this style.
    For some of your items – there is a cool little store up in China Town in Sydney (not sure of the name sorry ☹) that sell a lot of items that flow with this style! The shop assistants are also really nice if you want to sit and chat too, as I read you mentioned you wanted to know what inspires style. You could make a quick little voxpop, as some westerners what they think of the style and ask some people who actually embrace this style.
    I love this post about self-expression! If you would like take a look and maybe it may spark some different ideas or questions for your study.
    Am looking forward to seeing how your project turns out!


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