The Legend of Goros, Part 1: History and In-Person Experiences
History: Goro Takahashi
Goro Takahashi always had an interest in Native American communities and heritage growing up as a kid. The initial curiosity and empathy for the communities would spur Goro to seek out Native American culture later on in life, in search for immersion and a deeper understanding. While attending summer camp in Junior High school, Goro befriended an American soldier who was stationed in Japan. It was this individual who introduced Goro to the art of leather crafting and gifted him a set of leather crafting tools. This would spark the journey of Goro and his timeless creations.
After graduating schooling at the age of 16, Goro went directly into the leather crafting business. Out of his workshop in Aoyama, Goro would produce leather bags and belts, along with jackets, trousers, tables, and sofas. Inspired by the American soldier, Goro ventured out to Flagstaff, Arizona and met a silversmith named Jed who immediately recognized his talent and craftsmanship. In exchange for Goro’s leather goods, Jed taught him silversmithing. Their relationship was simply rooted in bartering and mutual respect for each other’s craftsmanship and dedication.
Goro’s adventures in the United States would eventually lead him to New Mexico, where he vividly recalls admiring Eagle feathers that were on display in the shops. He asked to purchase one of the feathers, but the shopkeeper refused, citing the cultural significance and symbolic importance of the feathers. Not just anyone can own them. So instead of haggling over a price, Goro bartered for the feathers by offering a silver ring he had crafted prior. Little did he know that this interaction would be the introduction to an intimate relationship with the Lakota Tribe, which would eventually lead to a life changing experience. Goro would bring all of these experiences back with him to Japan, as he opened up his own shop to eventually sell these products. This was the birth of his stamp in Harajuku history.
Goro’s Harajuku is a Native American inspired Japanese jewelry brand whose name is synonymous with craftsmanship, quality, and mystery. Without any social media presence, nor digital storefront, Goro’s is sold exclusively out of a single location in Harajuku, Tokyo. As a result, Goro’s draws hundreds of customers daily, queuing up for a chance to purchase the limited stock for the day. In this age of ever-increasing digitization, Goro’s serves as a reminder of our humanity. Goro’s is a representation of not only outstanding hand craftsmanship, but also their commitment to genuine and authentic human connection. It isn’t about clout, nor money - What’s important is the bond between people and their unique life story.
The Lakota Tribe played a significant role in Goro Takahashi’s life journey. His interaction with the shopkeeper in New Mexico led to his participation in the sacred rites of the naming ceremony within the tribe. The naming ceremony of the Lakota People is one of utmost reverence - a sacred rite where a spiritual leader bestows one with a name specific to one’s characteristics. The naming ritual is of profound importance and is very rarely extended to non-Natives in the community. Goro Takahashi would be one of the rare few to be invited to take part in this ritual and at the age of 40, would become the first officially sanctioned Japanese Lakotan.
A determined Goro sat down in the circle, surrounded by intense heat and engulfed in a powerful scent of sage leaves. The combination overwhelmed his senses to the point he almost fainted, but he remained steadfast throughout the ceremony. In this extreme state of altered consciousness, Goro experienced visions of an eagle perching proudly on a rock. Its talons gripped the rock firmly. Its neck feathers blew in the wind. Its eyes focused intensely on Goro. This vivid imagery would engrain itself into his psyche and thus form the visual basis of the jewelry revered today.
To commemorate the ending of the ceremony, Goro was given a pipe. Upon puffing it, he had a novel experience, in which he could visualize the smoke he had inhaled. He described it as wind blowing through his body. Following the ritual, he was invited to take part in the Sun Dance, as the first non-Lakotan ever to be granted entry. At the beginning of the ceremony, Goro would enter as Goro Takahashi; but at the conclusion of the ceremony, Goro would emerge with another name: Yellow Eagle.
The origin story of Goro’s is pivotal in understanding the ethos of the brand. It is the origin story that would lay the philosophical and cultural foundation of the brand and cement Goro’s as one of Japan’s most enigmatic brands. It is the origin story that weaves traditional themes of pilgrimage, ceremony, bartering, and spirituality onto a modern Harajuku cityscape. It is the origin story that leaves listeners wide-eyed and inspired to seek out The Legend of Harajuku Goro’s.
In-Person Experiences: Pilgrimage
My own journey began on a chilly, rainy morning around 8:00am Japan time, in October of 2017. It was my first time embarking on this trip. I stood there in the elements, clutching my packable umbrella against the windy downpour. I was not at all prepared for the inclement weather. I remember angling the flimsy umbrella to match the trajectory of the rainfall, but it was an uphill battle. My efforts were in vain, as my sneakers were completely soaked through, every fiber saturated from the frigid Tokyo rainfall. I watched hundreds of people line the street, stretching all the way down the busy Harajuku road and wrapping around the block. There had to be at least a couple hundred more, all as eager as I was. I observed the crowd and very quickly realized I was an outsider. An outsider in the sense of being a foreigner in Japan, but also an outsider in the sense that I was a complete Goro’s novice, a first-timer, in a sea of experienced veterans. I had no idea what I was doing.
After waiting in line for about 4 hours, the next phase of the process began: the draw. At the front entrance of the shop, a group of Goro’s staff members huddled and called us up, one by one. When it was finally my turn, I nervously approached the staff and received the queue number of “78”. One of the shop staff frowned and told me that I received a high number, and if allowed entry, would enter the shop between 7 and 8pm, about 8 hours from now. “You can always come back and try for a better number tomorrow” she said encouragingly, as she stared at my drenched clothing. I met her eyes with a resolute expression and told her that I would wait however long it would take for my chance to enter the shop. Was I being tested? Was this my rite of passage? My initiation? What was going on? She smiled and handed me a wristband with my number on it.
I soon realized I was not permitted to leave the line, except for brief moments of requeing and bathroom breaks. Although I would not be entering the shop for several hours later, I was to remain in line, patiently waiting my turn. I stood there in the Tokyo cold, grasping my umbrella in one hand and a mildly warm convenience store coffee in the other. The reality of the situation set in and it was then that I realized that Goro’s is not simply given, nor purchased, it is to be earned.
As I slowly and gradually crept up the line, I began to speak with others, taking in whatever bits of the Goro’s legacy and culture they would share with me. There are certain hidden rules and aspects of the culture that can only be observed and uncovered in person. Such unspoken rules included how one should wear the jewelry, how to conduct oneself once inside, and even strategies for purchasing rare items from the catalog. I happily soaked it all in and around 5pm, I had finally rounded the corner. The Goro’s shop was finally within view. The shop was a small and unassuming space with no signage to indicate its presence, despite its legendary status. As I awaited my turn, I observed customers ascending then descending the staircase. There was certainly a different energy from customers descending the staircase. Some of them proudly displayed their recent acquisitions around their necks, as if it was a medal of honor. In some cases, it was a representation of honor: a token of initiation for all new and existing members.
Right as I was about to gain admission, I noticed the shop staff peering down at my group and I from the shop’s location on the second floor. They were assessing our character and as I would later find out, they were also preparing the shop inventory according to our “level”. After about 10 hours in line, my legs were numb, my body was weary, but my mind was resolute and determined. Finally, around 7:30PM, we were granted entry into the shop. We marched up the narrow stairs, where we waited outside the shop for our turn. I was excited, nervous, and curious: the 3 emotions that got me started in this journey for Goro’s in the first place.
Looking around, I could see the shop was full of warmth, life, and character. In contrast to the dark, damp, and dreary Tokyo streets, this warm and inviting atmosphere was a welcoming change. I felt like I jumped through a portal, transporting me to somewhere far outside Tokyo. But most importantly, it felt like I was transferred back in time. The sounds of an old radio drifted lightly through the room, as customers conversed with the staff. The inside was cozy and charming with handmade furniture, leather goods, photos of Goro, and various relics from his travels. As I continued to scan the walls, my eyes were instantly drawn to the far side of the room where two jewelry displays hung on the wall. One was a glass case with Goro’s masterworks and sample necklace set ups, which were for display purposes only. The other case contained a peg board that showcased all the available inventory. I stared in awe at all the details and extensive craftsmanship. There were small silver feathers with gold accents, marijuana leaves, arrowheads, and several other unique designs. I noticed on the board that there were no large feathers, the piece that is synonymous with the Goro’s name. My first thought was that they had sold out prior in the day, that they went to the first batch of lucky customers. Maybe the large feathers were removed from the board prior to my entrance, as I had not earned their trust just yet. This initial experience is still something I struggle to explain, as it’s something that everyone should experience on their own.
Only one customer or group was allowed to enter the shop at a time, so I waited patiently. I observed the customers before me and tried to glean for information - I could tell there was a special energy and importance given to the interaction. It felt like a ritual or rite where there was a high level of respect shown to the Goro’s staff. There was the feeling that even though you were the paying customer, it was the staff that would decide what you could and could not buy. It was they who determined your fate. The removal of the usual customer buying power entitlement was very humbling to experience. When it was finally my turn, I approached the counter and immediately, my eyes landed on a long silver chain with a medicine wheel and Eagle head clasp. I needed it. I asked to purchase it and was met with immediate rejection, as the lady responded calmly, “You cannot purchase a chain if you have nothing to put on it”. I was caught off guard, but I knew I had to regain composure and respond accordingly. I quickly inquired about a small silver feather with gold accents and a medicine wheel motif, but I also asked to purchase the chain with it. As customers were only allowed to purchase one item per visit, there was a slight hesitation. But ultimately, my wish was granted and I was able to purchase both pieces.
Payments in the shop were cash only and the entire transaction was handled by the same individual who assembled my newly acquired jewelry. This one-to-one interaction was so intimate and intimidating to an extent, but it felt so genuine. There were no bags, no boxes, no fancy packaging - what you received was what you wore out. One of the Goro’s staff members, Wi-Hihanni, which translated to Morning Sun in Lakota, gestured me over and showed me how to wear the jewelry properly. This was it. This felt like the initial ritual that Goro went through with the Lakota People. This was the foundation for heritage and tradition for future visits, a page right from Goro’s hidden lore. As my Goro’s experience was coming to an end, I realized Wi-Hihanni was originally the individual who gave me the queue number at the very start of the day. This brief moment of knighting was the full circle moment that would conclude the experience of Goro’s. I descended the staircase with a new chain and feather, as I became one of the new owners who would continue the legacy of Goro Takahashi.
Shopping, especially in luxury fashion and high-end jewelry, is often formulaic, predictable, and artificial. Most customers assume that with money, you can purchase what the store has to offer and interactions are governed by a typical customer and employee relationship built by strictly money spent. That specific mindset has established a modern day foundation of privilege, entitlement, and saturation. Everything is transactional and conditional now. Goro’s takes that shopping experience back to an earlier time, where the exchange of goods was more personal and meaningful. It challenges the seller and buyer relationship, as it invites rejection, self-reflection, fate, and humanity into the experience. The staff at Goro’s do not look at the buyers as a revenue stream or transaction, they are looking for something greater. There is an art to shopping at Goro's. Strategies are often formulated, to obtain the rarest and most desired items. Some of the most coveted items are not sold, but earned over time. A relationship must be built. Trust must be granted. Respect must be earned.
In the age of digital efficiency, algorithm-driven consumption, and maximum convenience, Goro’s boldness goes against the grain and transcends what is possible for a genuine customer experience. It provides an authentically human experience - the same experience that Goro Takahashi experienced during his journey with the Lakota Tribe. That experience doesn’t feel subjected to the rules of modern civilization and society; instead it recalls an old-world time and space. The hardship, the barriers, the reflection, the long queues, the joy, the fulfillment. They are all a component of the Goro's experience. They are a representation of the Lakotan naming ceremony that Goro had to go through during his initiation. It’s more than just jewelry and leather goods.
Be on the lookout for part 2 of our Goro's article series coming soon!
And to learn more about Goro's, check out our full scan of 'Legend of Harajuku Goro's, Volume 1'.
Writer: Jake Van Parys