Hamuka from Harajuku Kawaii Tour on the Future of Harajuku
Harajuku is a well-known tourist hotspot, but what happens when the tourists aren’t there? Prior to COVID-19, the Harajuku Kawaii Tour was leading the way in uncovering the mystique of Harajuku. Hamuka, decked out in full Gothic Lolita attire, spent many a day gleefully showing off the area’s hidden gems to curious visitors. But with tourism at a standstill, two questions hang in the air: How has Harajuku Kawaii Tour fared in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic? And will Harajuku survive this difficult period?
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Hamuka and I love Harajuku street styles like Lolita and punk. I work in an office, but I also sometimes work as a tour guide for Harajuku Kawaii Tour.
Tell us about Harajuku Kawaii Tour.
Our tour is a walking tour that shows you the sights around Harajuku with tour guides kitted out in Harajuku street styles like Lolita. The tour takes you from Takeshita-dōri up to Omotesandō. We introduce the people who take our tours to kawaii things and activities that are unique to Harajuku like fashion, food and entertainment.
Describe the kind of people who usually go on your Harajuku tour.
Our tour guides are people who are into Harajuku street styles like Lolita and want everyone around the world to enjoy kawaii culture. While our sightseers are a diverse group of people who want to experience kawaii culture, or have an interest in Lolita fashion. Most of our visitors are from the West.
So, your tour showcases Harajuku and Harajuku style, but social media is quickly becoming the home of alternative style. What are your opinions on this shift?
People who haven’t had many chances to experience Harajuku or Harajuku fashion have been able to do so because of the popularity of social media. There are things that can only be experienced in Harajuku, but I have high hopes for it as I think it is a gateway to experiencing Harajuku’s unique culture.
How has your tour changed since the Coronavirus pandemic?
The tour, in a typical year, receives bookings domestically and internationally, but this year there have been absolutely no visitors. Many of the shops that we visit in our tour have also closed temporarily or permanently due to the Pandemic, and unfortunately, the tour has become unsustainable as a result.
It seems like tourists won’t be allowed back into Japan for some time. How are you planning to keep up the Harajuku Kawaii Tour?
We have had to suspend our local tours for the time being. Until restrictions on travel within Japan and from abroad are relaxed, we are thinking about creating content that allows people to experience Harajuku and kawaii culture online—if there is a demand for it.
Local Harajuku artists and businesses have been forced to close. Is the Pandemic speeding up the decline of Harajuku?
Yes, I think so. There have always been unique shops in Harajuku, but many of these shops are being forced to close their doors because of the Pandemic. Even Takeshita-dōri, which has always been full of colour, is becoming a lonely place. It’s so sad that Harajuku, the fashion mecca, is in such a state.
Do you spend time in Harajuku when you are not doing a tour? How has it changed since you first became part of the Lolita community?
There used to be a lot of events like tea parties in Harajuku, but a lot of those have been cancelled. Lately, people have been enjoying Lolita fashion through online tea parties using Zoom.
Is there a way for the Japanese street fashion community outside of Japan to support Harajuku businesses?
The situation is different depending on the country, but I think everyone has been hit badly by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I hope that we can revitalise each other’s style when the Pandemic is over and people can come to Japan.
What about the Japanese street fashion community living in Tokyo?
The street fashion community is also dealing with the same difficulties as Harajuku. I think it is important to build a partnership so that we can both get out of the COVID-19 Pandemic and come back with a bang.
Should the government give more financial support to Harajuku considering its importance?
Yes, I think so. Harajuku and Harajuku fashion are an important part of our culture and a cornerstone. Harajuku has been neglected because of a general approach of “putting off the unnecessary” during the Pandemic. But, as long as there are people—past, present and future—who value the culture, it should not be allowed to die out.
Do you think Harajuku will recover?
It may be difficult right now, but I believe that Harajuku can go back to being the vibrant place it used to be. So we, the Lolita and the rest of the Harajuku fashion community, would like to give it a boost by organising all kinds of events and activities.
Any last words?
To all the people who love Harajuku, I know that it’s hard to get together like we used to. I believe that we will one day be able to get together again in Harajuku. We hope to see you when Harajuku is once again full of kawaii ♬
Introduction and questions by Ash, interview translated by Anna.
Images courtesy of Hamuka.