During my fieldwork over Summer 2023, I investigated the ways that anime series Love Live: Superstar!! has transformed the Harajuku area. I was interested to see how Harajuku as a setting is re-imagined and animated in the world of the characters, and in turn how this reanimates Harajuku itself as space. As part of the layering of the 2D and 3D worlds, fans animate these tangible spaces in Harajuku and co-occupy them with their favourite characters. In this blog I provide an overview of what I observed, as well as a location guide for fans interested in visiting some of the places that appear in Superstar!!
Love Live: Superstar!! (2021 to present) is a anime television series that forms part of a wider franchise called Love Live! School Idol Project. At the time of writing, Superstar!! has two seasons with another scheduled for release next year. Set in Harajuku, the series tell the story of friendship and team work, following eight highschoolers as they form a school idol group called Liella! and work together to compete in local idol contests. While initially the Love Live! franchise was created with a male “otaku” audience in mind, its viewership has expanded considerably and it is popular among fans internationally, in particular among girls, sapphics and gender queer folk. From my observations in Harajuku, this expansion seems to also be mirrored in Japan to a similar extent.
During my fieldwork, there was also a town-wide Love Live event for all of September 2023, which attracted many fans to the area. The fans who came to see Leilla!! in Harajuku were quite diverse and very lively. I was really touched to see the young men who came to visit, wearing shirts with messages from the show about love and friendship and showing great care for each other. I also saw many young women and elderly couples there to meet their favourite girl!
In returning to Harajuku after 3 years of COVID-19 lockdown, I was struck by how the area has become increasingly more “cartoon like” in the ways in which characters are brought into spaces like Takeshita Dori. This is realised through new character-goods stores and collaboration cafes, but also through the ways in which the girls of Liella!! have also come to live there. As part of the collaboration event, characters occupy multiple spaces in town through signage, dressed in a hybrid of idol and Harajuku-inspired attire. (Update: Since this campaign, lolitas have complained that the dresses depicted here directly copy from Chinese lolita designers without credit. See more information via Stephano’s blog).
I was interested to see the visual resonances between the animated and the “real” that emerged through this signage. For instance, the juxtaposition of the photographic and illustrated signage below outside of Cute Cube presents an interesting dialogue between “real” and animated girl and animal.
A popular location for fans was a collaboration event at Cafe Stand, which is situated in the backstreets of Harajuku (“Ura-Hara”). Cafe Stand is an unusual venue, its “novelty factor” being that guests stand rather than sit at the tables. This invites a free and open way of connection making, conversation and movement between guests. The cafe was staffed by fans who animatedly spoke about their favourite character, and the space was occupied by the girls of Love Live through life sized posters and cutouts, repeated and layered through collectible postcards acrylic stand figures. Their voices were brought to life through a stream of all the musical numbers from both seasons of Superstar!!, which visitors would often dance along to while eating their appropriately themed snacks.
Some images taken from my two visits to Cafe Stand, September 2023.
I was struck by the kind energy fans brought to Cafe Stand, particularly the young men who in many ways were mirroring the behaviours of characters. Many came with friends, sharing their snacks and gently holding space for each other through touch. Overseas, I see a lot of assumptions made about Japanese men-fans of cute media like Love Live. I’ve certainly seen some bad actors online in my travels on platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter); there have been some incredible flame wars online about some of the ways these characters are presented in public spaces as well as what kinds of fannish conduct is acceptable. But here in Harajuku, it was evident to me that the characters provided a way for these men to access a girlish gentleness and softness in themselves that was very sweet. From my experience, as Harajuku is a safe space that is meant to encourage friendship and play, fans that would behave in ways that hurt others or appear disrespectful towards girls would not be welcome.
I was particularly touched by the fan guest book collections, which had 10 volumes already by the time I came to visit the cafe at the start of the campaign. The books were filled with messages and illustrations about love and friendship to both the characters and to other fans.
Harajuku Locations in Love Live: Superstar!!
Below I list some key locations in Harajuku that appear in Superstar!! with a side by side comparison, in case fans might like to visit these spots for themselves. (I apologise that the stills from the anime are not high quality- I am not able to take screen captures, it seems, but will explore other options. If you are a fan and might like to assist, I would love to hear from you and can be reached via my contact form).
As an important note, if you encounter any colourful Harajuku kids on your visit, you are welcome to admire from afar but please do not approach, call out to, photograph or touch them. This includes shop staff who are holding signage are minding store fronts along Takeshita dori. You are a guest in their safe space, so let’s respect their boundaries and participate according to their rules. Thank you!
Takeshita dori, a shopping street that attracts many tourists and young people, makes the occasional appearance across Superstar!! While many shots were re-imaginings of the space, I recognised this part of Takeshita immediately, which has reimagined Marion Crepes, a dessert stall, and Bodyline, a cosplay and part costume store. Marion Crepes is one of the first stalls to open in Takeshita in 1977, bringing to the street its most iconic desert. The attention to detail is interesting also- the glass case belonging to the local punk shop underneath Bodyline is also depicted, as is a lolita buying a crepe (perhaps taking advantage of the rain and quiet period to brave the street).
If you walk past Marion Crepes, you will quickly come upon Togo shrine and garden, hidden behind Takeshita dori. As we can see by the comparison, the shrine itself has been transformed to suit the world of Love Live. I noticed that the building is in fact flipped and some new statues have been introduced to frame the shot.
“Brahms path” refers to a series of side streets that run parallel to Takeshita dori from the train station to a large shopping mall called La Foret. To avoid the crowds, unwanted attention and harassment that occurs on Takeshita dori, many Harajuku kids walk through these series of side streets to reach La Foret and Harajuku street. In the opening sequence of Superstar, episode one, we see Shibuya taking a similar shortcut down Mozart street. As Takeshita is dangerously crowded on most days, it makes sense that the girls would be looking for other ways to get to school. The fountain incorporated into the scenery is also a favoured photo spot for Harajuku kids.
Throughout both seasons, the girls are seen meeting and walking through Omotesando highway, a key pedestrian area in Harajuku. Here are some key spots that you can visit for yourself and compare!
Tokyu Plaza Omotesando
The girls are seen crossing the intersection of Meiji dori and Omotesando highway a number of times across both seasons. This shot from Episode Four caught my eye in the way Tokyu Plaza is reimagined in the background. Opened in 2012, and designed by Hiroshi Nakamura, we can see a hint of its iconic mirror entrance to the far right. In the background we can also see part of La Foret and other shops along Meji dori. These shops have changed considerably over the past 10 years. Lolita fashion store, Innocent World, was tucked away here until it recently closed. Recently a Fender store has opened in the tall buildings towards the back of this shot.
Jingumae Pedestrian Bridge
This pedestrian bridge is featured in a number of television dramas as a romantic spot. For Harajuku kids, the base of the bridge on the Harajuku side was a popular spot for taking street snaps for magazines like KERA (1997-2017). While the street snap evokes the idea of spontaneity and chance encounter (and indeed many photographers roam the area) in reality many photos for publications like KERA were actually somewhat planned.
The girls standing on Jingumae Pedestrian Bridge, Episode One, Season Two.
As another popular backdrop for “romantic dates” in TV dramas, the Omotesando Illumination even in Winter also makes an appearance in Superstar!! Over December and January, the zelkova trees that line Omotesando Highway are lit up with 90,000 LED lights.
Omotesando Illuminations for the Season Two finale.
Jingu Bridge and JR Harajuku Station
The new JR Harajuku station, renovated in 2020, makes a timely appearance at the end of season one. Originally built in 1906, the station was unfortunately proving to be quite dangerous with its narrow platform that couldn’t accommodate the crowds coming to visit Takeshita dori. The renewed building has been a welcome change!
The girls on Jingumae Bridge with JR Harajuku Station in the background, Episode Five, Season One.
Jingu bridge itself appears quite transformed with the large station building forming part of its backdrop. This bridge, which links Harajuku to Meiji Shrine, was a popular meeting place for Harajuku kids in the early 2000s. The bridge served as a safe space for practitioners to meet “in real life” with new friends they had made on online forums. Visual kei fans and lolita fashion practitioners in particular came to this space, along with some early decora fashion practitioners (who at the time were mostly wearing black rather than rainbow!) Unfortunately, tourist guides at the time decided it was appropriate to promote this safe space as an “entertainment” location, and after a number of cases of sexual harassment from tourists, this lively spot collapsed.
Throughout both seasons, the girls are also seen walking through Cat street, which runs through both Harajuku and Omotesando. It’s difficult at times to place where exactly where they are, as it seems many of the backgrounds are composites. But its distinctive two story glass buildings and wide streetscape stands out. Cat street is a key part of Harajuku culture, as a quiet part of “Ura-Hara” where Harajuku Kids meet. On the Harajuku side of Cat street, I’ve seen skateboarding, street photography and large gatherings of Harajuku kids (including those participating in Harajuku Fashion Walks).
Keke and Sumire on Cat Street, Episode Nine, Season Two.