Harajuku is known around the world for its ever-changing street fashion. Trends come and go week to week. What’s new is suddenly old. What’s next is always what’s important.
While many Harajuku shops boom and bust before their two-year lease is up, a few have held on for decades. A select group have been around long enough – and remained so relevant – that they’ve become part of the very glue that holds the Harajuku scene together. Independent Japanese footwear boutique Tokyo Bopper has definitely earned that distinction.
Tokyo Bopper’s shop – opened on Cat Street in Harajuku in 1994 – has been a popular gathering spot for generations of fashionable Japanese young people. Before most people had Internet, before FRUiTS magazine was born, before Harajuku’s kawaii culture became popular around the world, Tokyo Bopper was hard at work producing their unique (and proudly “Made In Japan”) shoes. Today in Harajuku, almost 20 years later, Tokyo Bopper remains one of the most popular footwear icons of the Japanese streetwear scene.
Tokyo Bopper – lovingly referred to by most Harajuku kids as “Bopper” or “Bop” – is the name of the shop that opened on Cat Street in Harajuku in 1994. Many people refer to everything that comes from the shop as simply “Tokyo Bopper”, but the actual brands produced by the Tokyo Bopper founders are Belly Button and UNBILICAL. Belly Button was founded back in 1991, even before the shop opened. UNBILICAL is a more recent addition to the Tokyo Bopper lineup, launched in 1999.
The brand concept behind the original Tokyo Bopper brand Belly Button is, in their own words:
…”being initiative”, “being innovative”, “being domestic” and “never belonging to others” – Belly Button is the potential brand standing by its turn with running actively or awaiting and creeping for the next trend.
The UNBILICAL brand concept, again in their words, is:
UNBILICAL is almost same as Belly Button, but there is a little difference, “dislike ordinary, but simple as normal”. It seems opposite of Belly Button, but in fact it is the same. UNBILICAL is the brand for people’s delicate feeling.
Tokyo Bopper shoes and boots are beloved by girls – and guys too – from just about every Tokyo street fashion tribe. Whether you’re talking about experimental Bunka Fashion College students, vintage lovers, punks, dolly kei, fairy kei, those into the recently popular Bubbles Harajuku style, or even some sweet lolitas – we’ve seen just about every type of Japanese street fashion lover wearing Bopper. In addition, several of the Tokyo Bopper staff have become Harajuku fashion icons themselves, and can easily be recognized from their numerous appearances in popular Japanese fashion magazines.
Belly Button footwear collections over the last few seasons have tended to lean towards tall platforms, but they also create everyday-wearable boots and several styles that are similar to a platform sneaker. The collections change season to season, and some models disappear forever once they’re out of stock. All of the Tokyo Bopper and UNBILICAL shoes are “Made in Japan”, with quality of craftsmanship being a top priority for the brand’s founders.
When talking to the Tokyo Bopper crew while working on this article, we asked them if they had any thoughts they would like to share with international fans of Japanese street fashion. They tend to speak philosophically about fashion, so please forgive any imperfections in our English translation of their message:
I am always thinking about TOKYO BOPPER. “Shoes and clothes are only objects, but fashion is not an object!”
I am continuing to think about TOKYO BOPPER seriously. “The meaning of BOPPER existing in Harajuku…”
The products that we deal with are “shoes,” but they do not stop at simply being objects; they contain both the power of Harajuku and the atmosphere of an era.
To not stop in place, to not be washed away, to keep wanting, to keep changing… this avid sense of smell has blown away all preconceived notions to create a very rare, free and stylish town (Harajuku).
Belly Button is a shoe brand which will continue running across the ever-changing eras here in Harajuku. Sometimes it will stop, wait, and continue to stimulate its followers’ styles through “shoes.” We believe that, through our shoes, this chemical reaction we call fashion will also happen to you, so far away from Japan and Harajuku!
Tokyo Bopper has recently reached out to lovers of Harajuku fashion around the world by launching an online shop in English with international shipping. For those looking to add an authentic taste of Harajuku to their daily lives (and wardrobes), a pair of Tokyo Bopper shoes definitely fits the bill. Be warned, though: for the fashionable young people we photograph in Tokyo every day, no matter how many pairs of Tokyo Bopper shoes they own, the next visit to Harajuku may leave them wanting more!
Enjoy our pictures of the Tokyo Bopper shop on Cat Street in Harajuku, and check the bottom of the article for more detailed information. You can click any of the photos to see them in high resolution. Also, if you’d like to see pictures of real people wearing Tokyo Bopper in Harajuku, check out our Tokyo Bopper street snaps.
Click any of the Tokyo Bopper pictures to enlarge them.
We’d like to send out a big “thank you” to everyone at Tokyo Bopper for allowing us to photograph their store and for answering our questions about their footwear brands. We see various Tokyo Bopper shop staff around Harajuku every week, and they are always extremely friendly and fun. Definitely stop in and say hello them them the next time you’re in Tokyo!
Here is all of the important Tokyo Bopper info:
- Shop Name: Tokyo Bopper
- Location: Cat Street in Harajuku
- Brands: Belly Button & Unbilical
- Address: 4-25-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan 150-0001
- Hours: 12:00 – 20:00
- Phone: 03-3497-5528
- Map: Tokyo Bopper Shop Map
- Tokyo Bopper English International Web Shop
- Tokyo Bopper Official Shop Blog
- Tokyo Bopper Japanese Web Shop
All photos by Kira.
About the photographer:
Born in Japan, educated in Japan and the US, Kira shoots exclusively with Canon DSLRs. Photography assignments include fashion, bands, sporting events, and portraiture for various companies and bands throughout Japan & the world. His portfolio can be viewed at Artist-Photo.