A big reason that this blog has been really quiet lately is that I’ve been out of the country a lot. Back in May, I went on a two-week trip to Japan, and I recently got back from two weeks in Colombia. In this post, as you probably figured out from the title, I’ll be talking about some of my experiences in Japan.
I decided to go as a graduation present to myself, and I really had a great time. I was in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, with little day trips out to Himeji Castle and the Omiya Bonsai Village / Tokyo suburb. One of the things I was most excited about doing was dressing in lolita and wandering around Harajuku on a Sunday. Here’s my full report of that.
Note: Every single brand shop/store I went in had a clearly marked “no photography” sign. I tried to be respectful of that while also ignoring it, so I took pictures of the fronts but I don’t have pictures inside any of the shops.
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Since I’m not really a big shopper (or drinker) in general, there really wasn’t a whole lot for me to do by myself in Tokyo, and that just felt super weird. I stopped by Harajuku a couple of times, and the first time was on Thursday, May 14. If you don’t know anything about Japan, let me just tell you that the address system is super confusing and you’ll be relying on little cartoon “access” maps if you want to go anywhere. I figured that I should find where the lolita shops were ahead of time before I’d have to wander around in heels on Sunday.
It took a bit of wandering around to find Laforet, but that was just because I left Harajuku Station through the more inconvenient exit. Laforet is this big department store in Harajuku that has a lot of lolita or lolita- related brands inside. It has Alice and the Pirates (which also sells BtSSB), Angelic Pretty, Atelier Pierrot (which also sells items from Enchantic Enchantilly, Juliette et Justine, Mary Magdalene, Moi-meme-Moitie, Triple Fortune, Victorian Maiden, and a ton of other brands), h.NAOTO, Metamorphose, Putomayo, and Swimmer all on the same floor (B1.5). If you poke around the other floors, you can find Algonquins, Vivienne Westwood (Anglomania), and Jane Marple.
It was very exciting to see so many lolita clothes and accessories being sold in one place. I stopped by Alice and the Pirates and bought a parasol.
The shop girl really did not seem very interested in helping me, but I wasn’t wearing lolita and I think she assumed I was just some tourist looking at all the “weird Harajuku clothes.” She spoke English, as it turns out, and she was nice enough as she wrapped up my parasol. She still wasn’t very welcoming, but she did give me the option of choosing between an Alice and the Pirates shopping bag and a Baby the Stars Shine Bright one. I guess that’s something, right?
I’d meant to buy a pagoda-shaped umbrella, but I couldn’t resist this one’s fun handle. I wish I hadn’t bought it on my second day in Japan, though, because it ended up being too long to fit in my suitcase, and I had to lug it around by hanging it on my wrist whenever I needed to change hostels. It counted as my second free carry-on when I had to fly back, so there weren’t any real consequences to me buying a too-large parasol.
The one big exciting thing that did happen was that I saw Misako Aoki on floor B1 of Laforet as I was on my way out of the building. It was definitely her, and she was wearing a skirt with a big strawberry print on it. I didn’t stop and say hello because I assumed she was probably working. Plus, I didn’t want to bother her and ask for a picture since I wasn’t even wearing lolita. Still, it’s nice to have casually seen a lolita celebrity without having to go to some big convention or special meetup.
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On Thursday, Harajuku in general was fairly quiet except on the two main streets of Takeshita (the one with all the fun boutiques and personality) and Omotesando (the one with the bigger stores, like Dolce & Gabana and Jimmy Choo). Even there, it was no more crowded than any other place in Tokyo, and it was easy to avoid getting sucked into the crowds.
This was definitely not the case on Sunday.
Tokyo in general was really crowded, but Harajuku was completely crammed. I’m glad I did my exploring on Thursday, because I would not have been able to take my time and look around with all the people everywhere. Actually, this was the spot in Tokyo with the highest concentration of foreign tourists. I saw a bunch of tour groups, too. I’m pretty sure everyone went to Harajuku to see all the “weird people” and different J-fashions, but I honestly did not see very many people actually wearing J-fashion. One of the girls who worked my hostel’s front desk said that Harajuku is where hipsters go to hang out, so maybe I just didn’t recognize that some people were wearing alternative fashions?? I did see more lolitas walking around on the streets today than on Thursday, but barely. Harajuku was definitely not the lolita haven/Mecca that I was expecting. I don’t know if lolita isn’t as popular as it used to be, or if I always had a mistaken idea about how many lolitas actually hang out in Harajuku from the street snaps in the Gothic and Lolita Bible and other fashion magazines.
Regardless of how many other lolitas there were, I’m glad that I wore lolita on Sunday. It was super hot on the 17th, and I was wearing mostly black, but I was determined to wear lolita in Japan. I mean, I already went through the effort of thinking of a “travel friendly” coord and bringing it with me, so a little thing like weather wasn’t going to stop me. It was humid, though, and my bangs were completely puffy within minutes of me straightening them. Ah, well.
Despite all the lolita shops in Laforet, my first stop was actually to go to MAM Maxicam. Honestly, I was really hoping that I’d be able to buy a dress during this lolita shopping adventure, and I figured I had the best chance of finding something that would fit me here. They’re located right outside Harajuku Station in this building called Le Ponte, and the brand even had a little flag/banner outside the building. The actual shop was right on the first floor when I walked in. It was a little bit bigger than the lolita stores in Laforet, but not by much, especially since they needed to fit the brand’s three lines in one little space. The shop girl didn’t seem interested or very welcoming, ans she was doing something on a tablet the whole time I was looking around. I didn’t end up buying anything from MAM Maxicam, though. None of the dresses were really my style, so it didn’t matter if they would fit or not.
I took a brief break to get something to eat before heading off to do more shopping. I had no idea, but Harajuku is full of crepe shops and vendors. They’re literally everywhere, and I could not find any other street/quick food to eat. So, anyway, I grabbed a “hot chocolate cheesecake” crepe from this little stand that claimed to be the oldest crepe place in Harajuku. They were right next to the Bodyline store (which was gigantic and ostentatious).
After eating, I went to Closet Child, and it was very cool. I wasn’t at all interested in the bottom floor, which I don’t even know if Closet Child owns or if it’s another store entirely. The second floor was the main “lolita,” floor, although it was mostly sweet lolita. I saw lots of Angelic Pretty, Mary Magdalene, Victorian Maiden, and a few other big brands. I don’t think I saw Baby the Stars Shine Bright, though. There were a fair number of people shopping at Closet Child, but only one other customer was actually wearing lolita. Besides the staff, everyone was just wearing regular “jeans and a T-shirt” street clothes. The second floor was packed with things, but it was all just too sweet and pink for me.
The third floor of Closet Child was the “gothic lolita” floor. I liked this floor a lot. They were playing music from overhead speakers, unlike the other two floors I explored, that I would have called metal but was probably VK since it was in Japanese. Half the floorspace was devoted to punky/gothy clothes like pants and strategically ripped T-shirt cutsews. The other half of the floor was more gothic than lolita. They had some MmM, and this was the first time I got to touch one of that brand’s dresses. I honestly couldn’t really tell if the materials were nice enough to justify the brand’s pricing because I was a little in brand-awe, as embarrassing as that sounds. I was actually able to find a couple of Black Peace Now skirts that I liked and that also fit me, but they weren’t long enough for me to wear them with lolita, so I gave them a pass.
The fourth floor was also labeled “lolita,” but it was mainly filled with Emily Temple Cute, and it was a lot more expensive than the downstairs lolita floor. The decor going into this floor/room made me think it was going to be more classically-inclined, but it was mainly otome. I did see a couple of dresses and skirts from Innocent World and Angelic Pretty on this floor, but they were definitely more otome-like than lolita. I was amused that Closet Child, besides having “no photography” signs everywhere, also had a sign saying that note-taking inside the store was prohibited. I guess they don’t want people writing down what they have in stock and/or the prices, which makes sense but still amuses me.
After Closet Child, I headed over to Laforet and finally saw other lolitas. Laforet wasn’t super crowded, but there were basically only lolitas walking around the B1.5 floor. I stopped by Alice and the Pirates again, but the two store attendants were ringing up other customers. Since I didn’t see anything new that I wanted, my visit was pretty brief. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t really have anything in stock that was geared towards gothic lolita, despite it being an Alice and the Pirates store. (I would have understood if it had been a BtSSB store.)
The next shop, however, was Atelier Pierrot. There were two shop attendants; the girl was very nice but hardly spoke any English, and the guy didn’t talk at all. It was really exciting to go through all the items in this particular boutique since they sell a lot of brands and I don’t like navigating their website. I saw a beautiful white MmM dress and a bunch of Enchantlic Enchantilly dresses. I would probably have been able to find one of their dresses in my size, but I didn’t like the materials they used. It was so nice to be able to see all these clothes in person first instead of trying to piece together a complete idea from pictures online. When I went over to the sock area, the female assistant came over to help me. Between her little English and my little Japanese (and many, many gestures), we managed to have a little conversation about the items. I got the last pair of blue and black checkered Chantilly OTK socks and swooned over some beautiful bonnets that would never have survived the trip home in my suitcase. I was hoping to be able to find one of Atelier Pierrot’s magnificent shirred corset dresses, but I didn’t see any.
Angelic Pretty has the corner spot after Atelier Pierrot, and I did stop in briefly to look around. The shop staff smiled and seemed welcoming, but they stayed behind the counter. I didn’t see any of AP’s occasional gothic wonders in stock, so I left pretty quickly.
The next stop was Putomayo. I’ve always adored this punky little brand, but most of their stuff is just too short for me, and I’ve never really considered buying anything from them. There was a girl behind the counter wearing lolita, and another girl on “floor duty” wearing ouji. She was super cheerful and friendly, and I managed to ask her some questions about another pair of socks in my broken Japanese. I ended up buying another pair of OTKs from Putomayo, and they even gave me a tourist map of Tokyo at the register.
I walked by Meta, and it looked like there was some event going on. There were lolitas lined up to talk to someone that I vaguely recognized, and I decided to keep walking to the next shop. The store area is very small, and I didn’t want to take up any space if I wasn’t interested in meeting the guest. Plus, the stock was mostly sweet. One thing I did notice about Meta’s store is that they have the drawings of their new releases actually paired with big swatches of the print/fabric in all the colorways so you can touch it and better visualize the finished product. I honestly wish that Meta would release more things that I liked, because I really like some of the little details about them like that.
I briefly walked through h.NAOTO again (I spent some time in the boutique on Thursday) and pined over their accessories. All of them were incredibly cool, but they’re all very expensive and I didn’t want to spend any of my money on them since I know that I just don’t accessorize well. All the shop attendants were just as kind and welcoming to me in lolita as they were when I wasn’t in J-fashion.
On my way out of this floor of Laforet, I passed by Maison de Julietta, the “lolita makeover” salon. Honestly, I thought that they were some indie brand I’d never heard of. I didn’t embarrass myself by going in to check out their “stock” though, thankfully, because it was all sweet or sweet/classic and I wasn’t interested.
By this point, though, I was getting pretty tired. The day was really hot and humid, and I was tired of being on my feet. I was looking for a place to maybe eat and rest for a bit before heading back to my hostel room to unwind when I suddenly found the Innocent World store location. I honestly hadn’t expected to just casually find it. I thought the location was a bit undignified, as it was on the seventh floor of a building above a very busy (and loud) kebab place on a non-J-fashion street. Once I got up there, though, it was everything I dreamed a lolita boutique should be. (The elevator let out right outside the shop door, so I wasn’t able to get any pictures inside.) Innocent World had the whole seventh floor to themselves. While it wasn’t much bigger than one of the Closet Child floors, they were able to spread out their stock and display everything so delicately. They were playing nice, soft, classical music over the sound system, and I can’t think of a single word to describe it except “lovely.” Even the decor was lovely. I didn’t buy anything here, either, but it was a good way to end the day. While I’m sure being in Laforet is good for those brands’ businesses, I can’t help but wish that they all had more control over their physical stores.
From here, I went back to my hostel. I now have a profound appreciation for Japanese lolitas. It was very hard to not feel super rude while wearing lolita on a crowded train. I was gawked at a lot by foreigners on Sunday, but I had about the same number of confused stares from the Japanese people as when I wasn’t in lolita. I did notice, though, that most people went out of their way to not sit next to me on the train, even though there was hardly standing space.
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I had a couple of different reactions to me wearing lolita throughout the day. The two girls at the hostel’s front desk were both really excited that I was wearing lolita, and they were both really happy when they found out that I was on my way to Harajuku for the day. The one girl said that lolita looked good on me, and she got my picture posing with a prop paper parasol they had. The other girl told me she was glad I was enjoying their culture. None of the other lolitas I saw in Harajuku acknowledged me, but I did get a couple of smiles and nods from a few cosplayers. Someone actually called me “kawaii,” and I felt absolutely precious. Still, when I was leaving Harajuku, a Japanese tour guide got super excited and pointed me out to her group (who I guess were Spanish-speaking), saying “se visten como ‘maido.'” (They dress like maids.) I was wearing black and white, so I guess I can’t really have expected anything else.
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To end this, I’d just like to list off some random lolita-related observations about Japan.
- Not all young Japanese women are thin. Yes, most of them are, but there were one or two girls at every decent-sized station or big tourist spot that would have been considered fat, even by American standards.
- I saw one brolita while I was out shopping on Sunday. He was wearing Meta, and his dress fit just fine, even though he was fairly tall and broad-backed. There are definitely options out there for people who are tall or have broad torsos to own and fit into brand.
- Not all lolita coords I saw were good. I even saw two coords that would have seemed really ita if the girls had not had perfect hair and makeup that made it all look intentional, if costumey.
- The gothic lolita coords I saw were really gothic, much more so than I’m used to seeing from the international community. Think h.NAOTO, not Alice and the Pirates.
- I saw hardly any classic lolitas. The majority of coords I saw were sweet or a kind of sweet/country look, and then gothic lolita was the next biggest group. It was really cool to see so many gothic coords since I just feel that the international community hardly has any gothic lolitas, but maybe that’s just my experience.
- I did not see a single Japanese lolita wearing Bodyline (although I do admit that I wouldn’t have recognized Bodyline shoes). The two Bodyline store locations I saw were actually a lot easier to find than the brand stores (Osaka!), and it was only foreign tourists that I saw either going in or out of the shops. I was actually fairly impressed by both their storefronts, but there was no point to me going inside (since I can already just buy Bodyline from home and get free/cheap shipping) so I don’t know what the stores are really like.