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Creative culture in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park on the Sunday

See, Japan is not all about modesty and Samurai! Japan accepts quite a bit of eccentric freedom.

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It is hard not to drool cliches when writing about Japan these days, especially when talking about the eclectic youth culture located in Harajuku, Tokyo. Just about every guidebook (this site included 10 Free Things to Do in Tokyo) recommends “people gawking” along the Jingu Bridge where you can usually catch Japan’s insanely strange youth fashion. You’ll find everything from Lolita to goth, french maids with a sweet spot for fake blood, to cross dressing little bow peeps.

At times the Jingu Bridge area just next to Harajuku station feels a bit contrived, teenagers dressed up waiting to have their picture taken by photographers, hoping to land in a fashion magazine. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to gawk, and if you are headed to Meiji Shrine you have to pass over the bridge anyway (this is another must see in Tokyo). But if you are looking for a slightly more authentic creative spirit continue past the bridge towards Yoyogi Park.

Travel Tip: Your best chance at premium gawking is on a Sunday when most people are out on the bridge and running around Yoyogi Park (yes, rebellious youth have to work and go to school on the weekdays too).

Map of Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park

To get to Yoyogi park, just cross the Jingu Bridge and instead of turning right into the Meiji Shrine with the large, beautiful, shaded, wooden torii gate, take a left and follow the sidewalk around the corner to the right. You’ll see the Harajuku entrance to the park right in front of you along with some delicious street food vendors!

Do you like these maps? Let me know if you find these helpful and I will try to include more detailed instructions on retracing my wanderings for those who want to follow along.

Guide to Yoyogi Park Tokyo

Yoyogi Gyoen (park) is Tokyo’s largest and has a number of wonderful wooded areas that will make you forget about city life for a short while. The park comes into its own on Sundays when groups gather from all over Tokyo to meet and share their mutual interest in just about anything you can think of. This includes everything from skateboarding, to freestyle cycling, African drum circles, dance troupes, cross dressing senior citizens, bird watchers, musicians, jugglers, martial arts and students practicing for upcoming plays.

For me this is where the excitement of the Japanese culture is on display best. You will still get outrageous fashions of the young and bored. But what you will get more of is the Japanese predilection for forming groups and trying to perfect a certain task. It doesn’t matter what that task is, what matters is being part of the group and progressively getting better (or trying to).

Click the Video Below to Watch My Day in Yoyogi

So while most guidebooks will tell you to come and witness “crazy” Japanese society, I’d challenge you to come and witness “normal” Japanese society. Sunday is a time for groups to gather, for creativity to be let loose, and for people to polish their stones with a singular conviction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dancing elf, a cross-dressing little bow peep, or a juggler. They are all welcome in Yoyogi, they are all involved in the same cultural experiment, just expressed differently at times.

Once your done in Yoyogi don’t forget to take a walk around the Meiji Jingu grounds for a more subdued expression of Japanese culture. Once you are calm you’ll be ready to shop for the crazy costumes in Harajuku’s back streets and especially along the always crowded Takeshita Street, just across the street from the train station.

What do you think? Are the Japanese youth in Yoyogi creative or conformists? Is this a must see for a visitor to Tokyo?

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19 Responses to “Experience Tokyo’s Creative Youth Culture in Yoyogi Park”

  1. XightsNo Gravatar says:

    Japan, you just surprised me. Yeah we know they mostly wear their traditional dress, Kimono. The fashion style of the youngsters is probably one way to express themselves. And as how you describe it ‘strange fashion’, I think more would be curious to visit the place.

  2. SophieNo Gravatar says:

    Looks like such a fun place just to hang about!
    Sophie´s recent [type] ..Reading the past with the Rosetta Stone

  3. Oh, I’d love to check this out! The phrase “insanely strange youth fashion” really makes me pay attention. That kind of stuff is awesome.
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy´s recent [type] ..Photo teaser #13: Large cat statue

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Scott, yeah the fashion can be quite shocking at times. Seeing a bloodied (sexy?) nurse and then realizing she is only 16 years old can be “insanely strange”

  4. ayngelinaNo Gravatar says:

    While I am drawn to the Latin America culture I have to say Japan fascinates me with its quirkiness and I would love to go there. Great video.
    ayngelina´s recent [type] ..Home sweet home

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Ayngelina, I think I me definitely an “asia” guy but I love Latin America as well. For Japan there is so much quirkiness that it is hard not to overdo it in posts and articles :) Most people only see the differences that are on the surface but there is more structure to these fits of creativity that most people see up front. Let me know when you visit and I’ll give you some recommendations :)

  5. Great entry! I’m a big fan of Harajuku and Yoyogi Park–that area is one of my favorite Sunday haunts.

    By the way, I’m hosting this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri on the theme of “Reasons to Visit Japan.” Places, people, food, sports, events, customs, seasons, abstract concepts or feelings—you name it, it’s fair game. It would be great if you would consider contributing a post. Click here for more information!

  6. Great entry! I’m a big fan of Harajuku and Yoyogi Park–that area is one of my favorite Sunday haunts.

    By the way, I’m hosting this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri on the theme of “Reasons to Visit Japan.” Places, people, food, sports, events, customs, seasons, abstract concepts or feelings—you name it, it’s fair game. It would be great if you would consider contributing a post. Click here for more information!

  7. I’d say this is definitely a must-see, Todd!
    I work at a Japanese bank (very corporate) but every so often, we go out and I see how they can cut loose. Thanks for sharing.
    InsideJourneys´s recent [type] ..Travel Photo Thursday – Harlem

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, the Japanese have these set times where they can cut loose and basically do anything they want. I was at an event where a number of Japanese diplomats, bankers, and government employees dressed up a friend in a suite with huge Balls (yes the penis variety) and swung them around the room. Funny and it would never happen in US politics :)

  8. People watching is one of my favorite things to do in a new city, so I would definitely hit up this area. I like your tip to go on a Sunday.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Stephanie, Sunday is the best day to go and unofficially the day for everyone to gather. People watching is one of my favorite things as well :)

  9. A great place for Japanese Street Fashion and some people watching :)

    Japan Australia
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  10. I still haven’t had the chance to visit Japan, but I would love to someday. The culture seems beautiful and I love the fashion aesthetic (well, what I’ve seen of it online). =)
    Christy @ Technosyncratic´s recent [type] ..Princess Di Lived Here?! London’s Creepiest Palace.

  11. Sounds really interesting. I love people-watching!
    Michael Figueiredo´s recent [type] ..Where in the world am I? (#13)

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