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Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear

Exploring The Significance Of Tokyo’s Streetwear And Where To Buy It

By Jane Pipkin
October 19, 2023
Art & Culture, Fashion

In this series, we will be exploring all the fashion subcultures that have made Japan the fashion powerhouse it is today. Starting as a subculture in the back streets of Harajuku, Japanese streetwear has since gone on to become a global sensation, with many still dressing and replicating the style today.

When it comes to Tokyo’s fashion subcultures, streetwear is by far one of the most iconic and legendary. Starting life in the streets of New York, streetwear can loosely be defined as a type of casual clothing that incorporates elements of sportswear and skateboarding with influences from music genres including hip-hop and punk. Think oversized silhouettes and comfortable clothing such as oversized t-shirts, jeans, sneakers and hoodies.

The History and Cultural Significance of Japanese Streetwear

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Although the history of Japanese streetwear can be traced back to the 1950s and 60s, with the new generation of young Japanese beginning to adopt more American fashion trends and taking inspiration from pop culture trends, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and 1990s that the fashion trend became what we know today.

It was in the 90s that the subculture movement Urahara meaning “the back streets of Harajuku”, pioneered by Nigo (creator of BAPE), Jun Takahashi (owner of Undercover) and Hiroshi Fujiwara, drew together creatives with a shared interest in hip-hop, punk, surf and skate culture and iconic American brands like Levis. Over time, the subculture grew and those involved in the movement started to construct their own more distinctive style of streetwear which differed from that in America.

Interestingly, despite streetwear being initially more popular with men, by the late 90s more women were putting their own stamp on the style, with many opting to embrace more oversized fits and increasingly straying away from traditional feminine silhouettes favored a few decades before.

Why is streetwear still popular? 

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Japanese streetwear brands such as BAPE and Undercover are super renowned in the world and loved by many celebrities and fashion enthusiasts alike. This is partly due to the fact that these designers were unafraid to push style boundaries and were known for their expectational craftsmanship. Over the years, these designers also cleverly integrated themselves into the global fashion scene by collaborating with American brands like Nike.

The impact that Western brands like Supreme, Stussy and Huf also have had on the continued popularity of streetwear in Japan can not be denied. These brands, with their quintessentially American feel, became overnight successes the moment they landed in Japan and a blueprint for Urahara followers.

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Streetwear appears to be one of the fashion subcultures that has seamlessly transcended into different social eras. One of the reasons that it has outlasted other subcultures such as the Lolita style is the fact that the clothing items that make up streetwear are fairly versatile and can easily be worn on the day-to-day. There is also a sense of nostalgia when it comes to the streetwear subculture since much of its influences derive from past music, art and youth culture.

Where to Shop Streetwear

Nowadays, streetwear has become more of a mainstream than a subculture meaning that it is easy to buy streetwear pieces. Given that Japanese streetwear found its humble beginnings in Harajuku, this area is by far the best to go.


Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

One of the most hyped Japanese streetwear brands, BAPE (A Bathing Ape) is most known for its cloud camo print and legendary items like the shark hoodie and Bapesta sneakers. Many of the designs take influence from hip-hop and have a contemporary and casual feel to them, making them true streetwear staples. You can find the main BAPE flagship store in Jingumae, with womenswear being on the first floor.

Address: 4-21-5 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo

Comme des Garcons

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Founded in 1969 by designer Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garcons has become a household name in the fashion industry. Most famous for its take on avant-garde fashion and use of unique silhouettes, over the years the brand expanded and formed other sub-labels including Comme des Garcons Play and Comme des Garcons Homme Plus. Both of which are popular within the streetwear subculture.

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Comme des Garcons Play is one of the more accessible labels in regard to price and is designed for those who prioritize logo-based streetwear. The Heart Face logo is instantly recognizable, with many celebrities including Kayne West and Alexa Chung having worn something with the famous Heart Face on.

Address: 107-0062, 5 Chome-2-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 


Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Located on the fifth floor in LaForet, a department store in Harajuku, GR8 is a streetwear lovers’ dream and offers a unique shopping experience. The boutique itself has beautiful interiors, using zen-like architecture to contrast with the contemporary and out-there clothing on display.

Despite being mostly filled with international streetwear brands, there are some Japanese brands which you can find there including Neighborhood, a Harajuku-born brand characterized by the edgy and biker-gang look of its clothes. It is a great place to discover new designers and uncover upcoming trends.

It is worth checking out the other floors in LaForet as some of the other brands sell more affordable alternatives. Make sure to take a walk around the first floor as well, as there are often exclusive brand pop-up stalls that are set up there.

Address: LaForet 5F, 1-11-62 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo


Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Founded in America in 1994, X-girl is one of the most loved streetwear brands among Japanese girls. X-girl mainly stocks items such as graphic t-shirts, sweatpants and cargo trousers, all of which have a rock and sporty feel to them—perfect for anyone wanting to possess a “90s cool girl aesthetic”. Although you can find a number of branches across Japan, the main store is located in Jingumae.

Address: 4-25-28 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo

Thrift & Resale Stores

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Streetwear pieces from the big brands can be rather pricey, that’s why many young Tokyoites often choose to rummage through different thrift stores to find what they are looking for. In Harajuku itself, you will find several carefully-curated thrift stores including Kinji, Chicago and 2nd Street which all have high-quality and unique streetwear pieces. These stores are particularly good if you want items from other streetwear brands like Nike, Adidas, Carhartt and Dickies.

Another alternative is to consider going to a specialist brand resale shop like Brand Collect or Fool’s Judge. Here, you can buy second-hand authentic streetwear items, though it should be noted that these tend to still be fairly expensive given their condition and rarity. Highly recommended for those searching for items from a specific drop or designs that are no longer sold in retail stores.

Uniqlo & GU

Tokyo Fashion Subculture: Japanese Streetwear© Photo by iStock: BestForLater91

You don’t need to have a wardrobe filled with designer streetwear items to be able to effectively pull off the style. Fast fashion brands like Uniqlo and GU sell basics such as cargos and graphic t-shirts which work just as well. If you are someone who prefers branded stuff, Uniqlo is also famous for its world-class collaborations with top artists such as Kaws and Takashi Murakami who are popular in the streetwear world.

What are your favorite streetwear brands in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!

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