Tokyo’s vibrant districts make for interesting retail venues. Whether it’s high fashion you’re looking for or edgy anime items, the city’s various shopping areas breathe distinctive vibes and are drastically different from one another. If you have the liberty of time in the Japanese capital post a work trip, our guide to Tokyo’s versatile localities will help you plan some retail therapy.
Ginza’s high-end boutiques and luxury labels appeal to travellers who are searching for a premium shopping experience. A part of the special ward of Chūō, this upscale district is also known for its sophisticated restaurants and coffee houses. International fashion brands such as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci have their outposts here. There is an Apple Store and Sony showroom here as well. On the weekends between noon and 5pm, the main street through Ginza turns into a no-car zone. You can also find fine arts at Takumi, stationery at Itōya and boutiques at Marronier Gate.
Also known as Akihabara Electric Town, this area is the hub for video games, anime, manga and electronic items. Everything from the latest computers, cameras, televisions, mobile phones to electronic parts is available here.It is also known for its maid cafés, that are cosplay restaurants where waitresses are dressed in maid costumes and treat patrons as their masters. Heavily driven by Tokyo’s otaku (a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly the anime and manga fandom) culture, Akihabara’s streets are dotted with manga and anime icons and cosplayers who attract customers into their shops.
The centre of Tokyo’s youth culture and fashion is Harajuku. Takeshita Street and its side streets are lined with unconventional, thematic fashion boutiques, cafes and pancake stalls. Tokyo’s Champs Elysees, Omotesando also lies within Harajuku. This one-kilometre stretch is an array of high-fashion labels, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Here you may want to head to Omotesando Hills that consists of almost 100 beauty salons, premium shops, cafes and eateries. A few other options are LaForet Harajuku that targets the young female audience, Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku for lifestyle labels or Daiso Harajuku – 100 Yen Shop if you’re on a budget.
Handling more than two million passengers every day, Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station. This is Tokyo’s colossal entertainment, business and shopping area and is certainly overwhelming with the high energy surrounding it. However, this area is your go-to hub for all types of department stores and megastores and truly embodies the “big city feel” for which Tokyo is famous. Here you can find Japan’s quintessential stores — BicCamera, Don Quijote and Isetan Shinjuku Main Store (read more about them overleaf) — as well as book stores, music shops, souvenir stalls, restaurants, bars, and even a Barneys New York.
A district in Taitō, Asakusa is famous for the Sensoji Temple that’s dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. It’s practical to spend some time around its shopping areas after you visit the temple. Literally translating to “low city”, this area’s ambience is reminiscent of Tokyo’s bygone era with its rickshaws, quaint streets, and traditional shops. Nakamise Shopping Street, accessible from the main grounds of Sensoji Temple, has over 50 shops that offer local specialities and versatile souvenirs. Running perpendicular to Nakamise Shopping Street is Shin-Nakamise or “New Nakamise”, a covered shopping arcade filled with stores and restaurants. Kappabashi Street has shops vending culinary and cutlery, some unique to Japan.
WHERE TO SHOP
Isetan shinjuku main store
Based in Tokyo, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings has spread its wings not just all over Japan, but also the world, with branches in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Shanghai and others. One of the flagship stores, Isetan Shinjuku Main Store is considered to be one of the most influential in the city, as it is often the first to exhibit new trends. There is a whole building dedicated to men’s fashion — called Isetan Men’s — next to the main building. From bespoke shoes, a dedicated section for men’s cosmetics, stationery, luggage and of course, clothes, this building is a one-stop-shop for men’s lifestyle and hobbies. They also host private events with their select clientele that are sought after soirées in the city’s fashion circles. Isetan Men’s also houses the privately-owned “Salon de Shimaji” by the former editor-in-chief of the Weekly Playboy where he entertains connoisseurs over single malts, cigars and conversation.
• 3 Chome-14-1 Shinjuku; tel: +81 3 3352 1111; isetan.mistore.jp/int.
One of the largest electronics companies in Japan, BicCamera dates back to 1980 when it was founded in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro area. While it specialises in cameras, computers, visual and audio equipment and other electronic items, it also retails jewellery, watches, sporting goods, liquor and toys. Their store in Shinjuku — BicQlo — is an integration of two Japanese giants: fashion brand Uniqlo and the electronics behemoth BicCamera. In this massive outlet sprawling almost 11,000 sqm and eight storeys, you can shop for an array of products under one roof. From the latest in fashion to newest gadgets, BicQlo is a fascinating hub that combines these two worlds.
• 3 Chome-29-1 Shinjuku; tel: +81 3 3226 1111; biccamera.co.jp.
Also known as Donki, Don Quijote is a discount chain store that has over 160 outlets in Japan. This chain store is an interesting way for travellers to get a peek into Japanese tastes as it houses a wide range of local products including groceries, electronics, cosplay-themed products, souvenirs and clothing. It is here that you’ll find the flavours and varieties of Japanese snacks, which are not easily available in other grocery stores. It’s an eclectic shopping experience with its pulsating atmosphere and expansive range of quirky items. Its Asakusa outlet is open 24 hours and is walking distance from Sensoji Temple. Don Quijote is known for its iconic penguin mascot and the distinctive song, Miracle Shopping that plays in its stores.
• 2 Chome-10-14 Asakusa, Taitō; tel: +81 3 5826 2511