Set your compass to cool in Harajuku

by Denise_Tench

Harajuku, a district propelled into western consciousness by moody gothic Lolitas and a certain Ms Stefani, has much more to offer a visitor than a bizarre photo opportunity.

It's true that in some ways, Harajuku is as fickle as the teenage girls that screech over the plastic phone charms dangling from its jam-packed shopfronts and only moves as fast as the latest fashions.

However, those who dig a little bit deeper will find that there is more to the world's fashion capital than one-off boutiques and sweet shops, although this is certainly the place to start.

Whether you like shopping or not, upon leaving the metro station for the first time walk straight ahead down the narrow but lengthy cornerstone of the area – the devastatingly quirky Takeshita Street.

There is no shopping strip like this in the world. Although many may shy away from even considering trying on some of the apparel on offer here – from the ballerina tutus and knee high socks to the gents' embroidered cowboy boots and skinny purple jeans – just browsing at both the clothes and the shoppers is truly unmissable.

If your inner fashionista is not impressed by amazing attire at dirt cheap prices, then the child inside will surely be enticed towards the street's many sweet shops.

Outside, glass cases display plastic models of folded pancakes and family-sized ice creams, which provide a great opportunity for a quick photo and are enough to make anyone throw calorie counting to the wind.

High on sugary treats, continue along to the end of the street, past open-mouthed tourists, perfectly made-up teenagers and extreme gothic outfit shops telling you in no uncertain terms that photographs aren't appreciated.

A much more laid-back spot of shopping can be had as the street bends around and meets the major artery of a road that is home to the designer playground of Omotesando.

Plastic flashers will no doubt dip into the opulent stores on offer here - from Tag Heuer and Christian Dior to Bulgari and Chanel, but arguably, exteriors are the hottest accessory around. The architecture doesn't get flashier than in the modestly-sized Omotesando area.

Fumihiko Maki's elegant Spiral Building inhabits the same blocks as the rubix cube-like Prada Aoyama, the handiwork of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

However, the stone in the designer crown is Omotesando Hills - a lavish palace of a shopping mall on the main strip designed by Tadao Ando, the construction of which caused no end of controversy.

After these wallet-weeping delights, go back down the road past the irresistible Kiddyland for a glance in the moreish and completely affordable towering Laforet store.

Once back outside, cross the road and walk past the playful Condomania and down Meiji-dori until you come to a rickety staircase, at the top of which balances Volontaire – a jazz-themed cafe where you can crank down the pace and enjoy some cheap but tasty cake and iced coffee.

Luckily, even the most low-key cafes in Harajuku are heart-stoppingly cool and Volontaire is no exception. With room for about three people, the alarm bells ring when you spot the drum kit, mic and instruments in the corner. The walls are thick with tightly-packed vinyl records and the bar is worn from countless great times gone by.

Back towards Laforet and left at the junction of Meiji-jingumae station is the area's largest redeeming patch of green, Yoyogi Park. On Sundays especially, this is home to the iconic gothic Lolitas that Harajuku, and even Japan, is famed for. Dressing to express and shrug off the codes of society, these girls are made up so perfectly that they could be mistaken for dolls.

When it comes to winding down and holing up for the night, there is only one place to head after a day in Harajuku. Forget Lost in Translation and the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Find a special deal well in advance, or else stump up the cash to spend a night at the Cerulean Tower Hotel.

A twenty-minute stroll south of central Harajuku will take you to Shibuya station, close to which the hotel stands proudly over a bustling neighbourhood full of potential customers.

While it looks slightly unspectacular from the outside, the interior is decked out in blindingly polished marble. An eager uniformed bell boy will escort you to the brass-adorned lifts and take you to a gravity-defying ultra-contemporary room, with simple, angular lines and muted browns setting the ambient tone.

The showers are not just showers but rooms in themselves - all decked out in black marble, silver and glass.

However, the real reward is a look out of the window for a sweeping panorama of night time Tokyo. This is when guests will know for sure exactly where their money has gone.