It’s been a while since our first Tokyo Street Art report in 2017, but with the amazing weather of late, there is no better time for our second field report on the city’s wall-art treasures. This time we explore one of Tokyo’s most famously groovy neighborhoods: Harajuku. When you think of Harajuku, you probably think of trendy fashion boutiques and multicolored “cosplayers” roaming the streets, but if you look closely, you’ll also find some pretty amazing art backdrops hidden in the corridors.
TokyoDex sent their very own (now-former) intern Paul Clark into the depths of this iconic neighborhood to get a first-hand look at some of the backstreet works of art created by both local and foreign artists. Many of the works listed in this article are either at or nearby Design Festa Gallery, a place definitely worth checking out on its own when you visit Harajuku.
Details of each mural are below, complete with artist information (when available) and directions for finding the artwork in person. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other hidden gems along the way, so be sure to scan the walls as you walk the side streets. Happy hunting!
Now is Forever | Stephen Powers
Location: 8 mins from Harajuku Station. Walking down the famous Takeshita Street, going straight across Meiji Street will put you right in front of this impressive mural.
About the artist: Stephen Powers was a somewhat controversial graffiti artist in New York City, one who took the liberty to paint over run-down grates and businesses before resigning from this art spree to become a full-time studio artist. Since then he specializes in merging words with splashes of color in a way that conveys the emotion behind the words, doing his best to convey the emotions of the neighborhood inhabitants and giving them a piece to connect with as a community.
The piece: The famous “Now Is Forever” mural was completed by Stephen Powers in the summer of 2011, commissioned by Bookmarc (by Marc Jacobs) on a three-meter-high wall that spans the street outside the store. The piece symbolizes the sense of community health and mutual compassion that arose over personal ambitions in Japan after the 3/11 disaster.
HUG mural | Unknown
Location: HUG American Vintage Clothing. From Harajuku Station, walk down Takeshita Street and cross the large road at the end. Continuing on the small road opposite Takeshita Street, the small road leading to HUG will be the third street on your left.
The piece: This cute character and its soft curvy lines of greens/blues is about two meters tall and will lead you up the stairs to HUG. Completion date unknown.
HOLE mural | Ly
Location: HOLE, Cat Street Harajuku. From Harajuku Station, cross the road leading to Omotesando so that you are on the right side while walking towards Omotesando Station. After a short walk you will come across the entrance to Cat Street. After a five-minute walk down this fashionable alley you will find IAMI HOLE and Ly’s amusing mural peeking at you.
About the artist: Born in Tokyo, Ly has been absorbing landscapes and images around her since she was young. Having gone to art school and studying design for several years, she now decorates her black, gray and white creations with her “monsters”, bringing vibrance and awareness to her works.
The piece: This piece is a medium-sized mural in front of IamI Hole on Cat Street in Harajuku. It brings a sharp contrast to the bright surroundings of Cat Street and Harajuku beyond. Completed in February 2016.
Mmmozza Sandwich Shop (Harajuku) | Pier
Location: From Harajuku Station, if you head down Omotesando Street towards Omotesando Station, you will only have to walk about 8 minutes until you come across Flamingo Used Clothing on your right. Turn down this street and Mmmozza will be on your right, with its mozzarella-loving characters all over it.
The piece: Mmmozza Harajuku’s store front is decorated with sandwich loving girls, labradors, and a mozzarella mascot! Created by Pier, this cartoonish painting will catch your eye from down the road, and lead you to the sandwich store. Completed in May 2017.
Sakura-tei Bamboo Genkan Entrance (left) | Shinya Nishikata
Location: Harajuku Sakura-Tei, Design Festa East Building entrance, 8-min walk from Harajuku Station. Walk straight down Takeshita Street and continue across Meiji Dori, Sakura-Tei is down the third street on the left.
About the artist: Born in Niigata in 1989, Shinya Nishikata expresses the sometimes crazy nature of everyday life in neon outbursts of contorted faces and bodies. Bringing his talent to Tokyo in 2012, he displays his dynamic yet lighthearted style of poking fun at the emotions of society at live paintings and other works around the city.
The piece: In cooperation with Design Festa, Sakura Tei mixes the creativity of cooking and art into one location, surrounding the customers with dynamic murals while they themselves create their own okonomiyaki. This is one entrance to the colorful restaurant, a long entrance shaded by bamboo overhead with murals depicting the bold creativity of Harajuku. One half was created by Shinya Nishikata, with wild neon versions of traditional Japanese icons enjoying okonomiyaki. Completed on September 19, 2017.
Sakura-tei Bamboo Genkan Entrance (right) | Viki
Location: Sakura-Tei (see above)
About the artist: Born in Aoyama, Viki’s usual art is done through the use of a clothes iron and thermal-sensitive paper. By using the heat of the iron, Viki is able to create large elaborately detailed live creations with only black, gray, and white as colors.
The piece: Completed in August 2016 on the walls outside the entrance to Sakura-tei, this piece is a smooth gradient of colors with symbols of Japanese culture worked in. This long, gradual, calm piece stands opposite the wild painting of Nishikata Shinya (above). With both murals on either side of the entrance, this little path entrance is a reminder of the depth of the Harajuku atmosphere. Completed in August 2016.
Design Festa West Gallery (Alley Wall) | SICS
Location: Design Festa West Gallery (Alley Wall)
About the artist: SICS is a clothing designer with a love for black and white, skulls and crossbones, and intense detail. Their best artwork can be found on their online clothing store, where their hand-designed clothing acts as a canvas.
The piece: Much like the other black and white murals on this list, this piece looks almost muted against the colorful visual noise of Harajuku. However, you don’t want to miss the amount of detail that SICS can fit into his murals and drawings. This intricate mural is located in the alley running alongside the Design Festa West Gallery, bordering with Sakura-Tei. Completed in 2015.
Design Festa / Sakura-Tei Alley | AlexFace
Location: The alley between Design Festa Gallery West and Sakura-Tei. Make your way to the famous art gallery Design Festa, and head down the tiny alley to the left of the main entrance. You’ll find yourself at the Sakura-Tei cafe, and if you continue through the reception you will find AlexFace’s famous character looking down at you as you walk through the alleyway.
About the artist: AlexFace is a Thai graffiti artist who makes appearances with his favorite baby-esque character on walls all over the world.
The piece: This somewhat sad looking character is AlexFace’s favorite, and was inspired by his son. It has made appearances all over the world. Along with some of his friends, they are hiding out in the alleyway waiting to be discovered as people come to Design Festa to see a gallery or go to Sakurai-Tei for some okonomiyaki. Completed in 2007.
The piece: This last piece is on a very small street in Harajuku, almost out of sight from regular tourist traffic. Shining with blues greens and orange on a similarly colored wall, this piece will remind you how cozy Harajuku can be. See if you can find it!
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards