TOKYO — Lined with clothing shops and confectionaries, Harajuku’s fashion-forward Takeshita Street is bustling with youths and busy even on weekdays. But amid the high-energy hubbub, authorities are moving to deal with the area’s darker side: disreputable establishments luring in summer visitors and forcing them to buy counterfeit designer goods.
“It was a very frightening experience. I still think about it from time to time,” Manato Nishiyama from Japan’s southwestern Kyushu region said bitterly. The 18-year-old went to Takeshita Street as a third-year high school student in November 2022, while visiting Tokyo with a classmate for a job interview. At noon a day before their interview, the two stopped by the famous street just to have a look.
As the pair were walking along the main avenue, they were approached by a foreign man. He virtually forced them up to a second-floor clothing shop after saying, “Hey brother, do you want to see some clothes? I know a great place.” Nishiyama explained, “The man was tall and scary, so I had no choice but to go into the store.”
Inside the store, another bulky foreign man was waiting for them. The shop worker showed the two a gray T-shirt that was apparently for sale. There was no price tag on it. It had a small logo on it, but Nishiyama had no idea what it was as he was unfamiliar with fashion brands.
The shop worker said the T-shirt cost over 10,000 yen (about $71). When Nishiyama replied that he didn’t have any money, he was ordered to show how much he had in his wallet. The employee changed the price to 5,000 yen after realizing that the teen was telling the truth. He couldn’t refuse and ended up buying the shirt at that price. He didn’t get a receipt, and the T-shirt was handed over in a plastic bag.
The money Nishiyama used was an allowance given to him by his father, who told him to “go see what you like if you’re going to Tokyo.” Unable to explain the situation to his parents, he threw the shirt away.
“I thought about filing a police report, but I didn’t want to cause a stir before job hunting. I felt very depressed at the time,” he told the Mainichi Shimbun. Even now, he has not been able to talk to his parents about what happened.
A 73-year-old man who has lived near Takeshita Street for more than 60 years said he began to hear about malicious touting cases “about 20 years ago.” He says many of them are foreigners, and has even seen 10 people follow a young pedestrian. “I want the children (who come to Harajuku) to go home with good memories. I hope that the police and the government will take proper measures to deal with this issue.”
According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), complaints relating to clothing stores on Takeshita Street has been on the rise, from less than 20 in 2022 to nearly the same number just from January to May this year. Many of the complaints are reportedly about being forced to buy counterfeit goods and wanting refunds.
The increase in cases is thought to be partly due to the coronavirus pandemic receding and crowds coming back to the area. An investigative source explained that the touts “often target young people visiting from outside Tokyo for a long vacation.”
The MPD is increasing vigilance and busting scammers. In June and July, Harajuku Police Station arrested two men, aged 33 and 53, who run a Takeshita Street clothing store for allegedly violating the Trademark Act by stocking and intending to sell fake Balenciaga hats.
The two were handed fresh warrants for also selling fake Nike T-shirts and other items. Of the roughly 260 items seized in the investigation, including clothes, more than 170 were found to be counterfeit. Among them were knockoffs of Stussy and Chrome Hearts goods, which are popular mainly among young people. An investigative source says the men were selling the fakes at about twice their purchase price.
The two men were arrested after talking up a customer. A high school student from Niigata Prefecture, who visited Harajuku during his spring break in March, was lured into the store. There, he was forced to buy a fake Supreme hoodie and other items at prices dictated by the store worker. Wondering why the items he had bought were much cheaper than he had anticipated, the student took them to a second-hand goods dealer. The products turned out to be counterfeit and the student reportedly notified Harajuku Police Station, asking for officers to intervene.
Heightened vigilance during summer break
Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, where Takeshita Street is located, is also taking action. Four security guards have been posted along and around the 350-meter-long main street each day, holding signs that reads “Please Do Not Follow the Tout!” and calling for caution. The effort was launched in May 2020 in response to many complaints that students on school trips and others were being lured to buy fake goods.
As the number of tourists increases during summer break, Harajuku Police Station and the local business association began working together to patrol the area including Takeshita Street on July 21. An investigative source told the Mainichi, “If you become aware that you have been scammed, we ask that you consult with the police immediately.”
(Japanese original by Shohei Kato, Tokyo City News Department)