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Harajuku: probably the only place in Japan where you can see a traditional Japanese wedding at the Meiji Shrine, shop for designer clothes, enjoy a strawberry crepe and get a free hug from a teenager dressed as a cyborg all in the same morning.

Located in Tokyo between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote train line, the area around Harajuku has become sort of a gathering area for Japanese teens.

On Sunday mornings, groups of teens dressed in outlandish costumes ranging from anime characters to something you would see in a Michael Jackson video converge on Harajuku. There are also several sporting the popular “Gothic Lolita” look, which combines the lace and petticoats of Victorian clothing with the black makeup and styling of modern goth culture.

Standing on the bridge overlooking the train station, the teens mingle with friends, make adjustments to their costumes and just hang out as flocks of tourists hover nearby with their cameras snapping.

“The costuming that goes on really is an art form,” said Will McMaster, an English teacher living in Japan who checked out scene one recent Sunday.

He explained that he has been to Harajuku several times to take pictures of some of the more interesting costumes.

“It’s a great place for photography and a really cool outlet of Japanese youth culture,” he explained.

Some of the teens hold up signs written in English offering “free hugs” to any passers-by who are interested, while others are just there to visit with their friends and tend to shy away from the cameras.

Street performers also get in on the action. From artists and small local bands who set up shop to sell their wares, to the downright awesome rockabilly dancers dressed in jeans, leather jackets and slicked- back hair, it makes for an enjoyable day.

These dancers come out, set up a boom box full of great music and just rock out. But they don’t really play to the crowd that inevitably gathers around them. They seem to just be there to rock and have a good time.

While you could spend a good part of your day taking in the sights and sounds that go on around the bridge, it is also worth your time to check out the vast amount of shopping potential.

Wandering down Takeshita Street, there are all sorts of stores, selling everything from socks and stockings to elaborate costumes. Farther down the road is Omotesando Hills, a mall that caters to a more affluent crowd, housing stores including Harry Winston, Jimmy Choo and Dolce and Gabbana.

In all, Harajuku is a must visit while you are in Japan. Even if you are not into fashion or shopping, it provides a fascinating glimpse into a different, younger side of Japan.

And who can really say no to a free hug from a teen dressed as a cartoon character?


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