Tokyo: Shopping For Visitors
Image by Jlascar under Creative Commons License.

Japan, Tokyo Guide (D): Tokyo: Shopping For Visitors

It's hard to imagine any other city in the world competing with Tokyo for sheer quantity of shopping possibilities.

For foreign visitors, particularly those that love to shop, Tokyo should come with a health warning as it's liable to induce dangerous levels of excitement. Fortunately, with this guide, visitors will be shopping like savvy locals in no time, and will be leaving the city with heads full of memories and bags full of souvenirs.
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Attractions Map

Guide Name: Tokyo: Shopping For Visitors
Guide Location: Japan » Tokyo
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Destinations: 19
Author: Thomas Shuttleworth
Author Bio: Tom Shuttleworth is a British born freelance writer based in Tokyo, Japan. After graduating with a degree in Philosophy, he did about the only thing one can do with such a qualification, traveled the world. Numerous trips over five continents eventually brought him to Japan where he has been based for the last five years. He now, tentatively, calls Tokyo home and has published numerous articles covering 'expat' life in the world's largest urban area.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Loft, Shibuya
  • Tokyu Hands, Shibuya
  • 109, Shibuya
  • Don Quijote, Shinjuku
  • Mandarake, Nakano
  • Takeshita Dori, Harajuku
  • Roppongi Hills, Roppongi
  • Book Off, Nishi-gotanda
  • Itoya, Ginza
  • Natsuno, Ginza
  • Tokyo Character Street, Tokyo Station
  • Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara
  • Yamashiroya, Ueno
  • Mitsukoshi, Nihonbashi
  • Nakamise Dori, Asakusa
  • Kappabashi Dori, Asakusa
  • Oriental Bazaar, Omotesando
  • Tokyo Souvenir Shop Town, Tokyo Tower
  • Japan Sword, Toranomon
1
Loft, Shibuya

1) Loft, Shibuya

Friends who have made repeated visits to Tokyo haven't been able to control their giddy excitement at the prospect of spending some time in this huge store. Shibuya's Loft has 8 floors of finer versions of almost everything you could want in life, but don't actually need. Yes, it's a place of avarice and gluttony but it's great fun. And addictive!

The basement floor houses an extensive range of stationary, from the quirky to the classy, as well as a great collection of cute 'only in Japan' stickers to add a bit of J-pop flavor to your letters and files. Keep an eye on the first floor for temporary collections of posters, files, key rings and assorted goodies from alternative artists and designers.

The second floor is full to the brim with exotic soaps, creams and scents from parts of the world that are probably on your bucket list as well as those that have been produced in Japan. Head to higher altitudes for kitchenware (including plenty of Japanese culinary tools whose purpose may baffle) and home-ware. The 5th floor is bit of a mix and match affair with toys, party goods, smart-phone accessories and bags, all jostling for your attention.

If you need to buy a present for someone who has everything, or you've the urge to spent some money but you don't know what on, you'll surely find something here.

Nearest Station: Shibuya (various lines)
2
Tokyu Hands, Shibuya

2) Tokyu Hands, Shibuya

On the Tokyu Hands homepage the brand proclaims itself to be the place where “when you visit, you find what you want”. Well, if what you want is something to do with hobbies, crafts, D.I.Y and household, if you can't find it in the gargantuan Shibuya branch, it probably doesn't exist!

The store is divided into twenty-five sections that fill up three interconnected towers over eight floors. If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Finding ones way through the veritable jungle of products and swarms of shoppers can be a baffling experience. They key here is to relax and go with flow. Partake in the joy of aimless discovery rather than frantically try and cover the whole store. A fantasy land of browsing, prodding and poking awaits as you stumble upon affordable gems that a minute ago you didn't even realize existed but are now what you need to make your life complete.

Whether you're serious about creative design and crafts or you're looking for a silly gimmick, 'Hands' will almost certainly have something of interest, with products ranging from carpentry materials through to beer shampoo, and everything in between!

Nearest Station: Shibuya (various lines)
3
109, Shibuya

3) 109, Shibuya

Anyone in Japan who hasn't spent their life toiling away in rice fields will have heard of Shibuya's 109. This iconic department store is a leader in Japanese fashion, sometimes used by national J-pop stars for their wardrobes.

109 came to prominence in the 90's when it became a center for gyaru (girl) subculture, which saw young women, mostly in their late teens/early twenties, dressing in dangerously short mini-skirts and terrifying heels, whilst covering themselves in heavy make-up.

These days 109 caters to a slightly broader crowd but is still predominantly the place to come for those that like to dress wild and aren't afraid of showing a bit of flesh.

For the visitor, and those with more conservative tastes, this 10 floor, 120 plus store shopping experience is potentially intimidating. It's packed to the rafters with fashion items that must be a parents worst nightmare, and the sales staff are either some of the most beautiful women on the planet or some of the strangest, depending on your taste. Either way, they're more than just shop assistants, with many acting as models for brands they are trying to sell. Be warned, taking pictures is not forbidden but you should ask for permission before hand.

As intimidating as it maybe though, 109 is undeniably a unique experience, and for those interested in Japanese fashion it's an essential destination. Oh, and despite it's fame (or notoriety) the prices here are low.

Nearest Station: Shibuya (various lines)
4
Don Quijote, Shinjuku

4) Don Quijote, Shinjuku

Shinjuku's Don Quijote is mad. Well, quite frankly, all the Don Quijote stores in Tokyo are a bit weird but the Shinjuku store's lunacy quota is exacerbated by it's location on the cusp of Kabukicho, the city's largest 'entertainment' district. Consequently the store operates as a sort of frontier post, balancing mass market consumerism with a taste of the underground and seedy.

Ultimately, the root of Don Quijote's madness is the bizarre miss-match of items on sale. Suitcases and travel bags are squashed next to lingerie and underwear. Burlesque Halloween costumes hang over imported snacks and bags of granola. Visitors can poke around among shelves of cosmetics, cut price watches and games and toys. Don Quijote is also a great place to shop for garish party items and one can even find a small corner dedicated to spicing things up in the bedroom!

The Shinjuku branch is sizable and covers four floors, but space is tight. Products are harassed into corners, bullied into precarious piles and crammed onto shelves in a manner that looks like they've fallen off the back of a truck.

Shopping here is definitely not a high-brow experience but it is ludicrously fun, if a little insane. And it's open 24 hours.

Nearest Station: Shinjuku (various lines)
Image by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Kakidai under Creative Commons License.
5
Mandarake, Nakano

5) Mandarake, Nakano

Fans of manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation) should need no introduction to Mandarake, but just in case, this store is the undisputed heavyweight, neigh the  center of worship for Japan’s massive army of otaku (manga/anime fanatics).  

Located in the Nakano Broadway Shopping Mall, just east of Shinjuku, Mandarake started out in 1987 selling used manga.  It now occupies over a dozen stores on the 3rd and 4th floors of the mall and commands respect the world over.  

‘Man’ comes from ‘manga’ and ‘darake’ means to be full of, or covered in.  And that’s exactly what you get, and more!  Each store covers a different aspect of otaku culture including vintage figures, cos-play (costumes), video games, idol goods, anime song CD’s, and of course, volume after volume of manga. Those in the know say there are some rare pieces to be found here so enthusiasts should calm themselves and take time to look around.

Despite it’s fame and success (Mandarake now has stores nationwide) it still retains the feel of a shop known only to a lucky few.  And it keeps true to it’s roots by selling doushinji, self-published works by amateurs, and those professionals looking to air their more experimental material.

Even if you’re not interested in this culture, a visit here is a very Japanese experience and the Nakano Broadway Shopping Mall itself, and the streets surrounding it, cater to a variety of shopper.

Nearest Station: Nakano (JR Chuo Line, Tozai Line)
6
Takeshita Dori, Harajuku

6) Takeshita Dori, Harajuku

Takeshita Dori is not of this world. This narrow, 200 m long street takes shoppers and oglers on a mad, hallucinogenic trip through an ethereal world of kitsch, cute, fetish and the, quite frankly, odd. It is one of the most unique Japanese experiences to be had anywhere and must be one of the most bizarre shopping streets in the world.

This is where those famed Harajuku girls (and some guys) come to shop for their Tim Burton inspired, burlesque maid outfits and all the accessories, wigs and make-up needed to finish them off. Other sub cultures are catered for, too. From London inspired punk and high-school 'skater' boy through to hip-hop retailers that fancy themselves in the ghettos of South Central L.A. (although nowhere could be more different). It's not all about troubling teenage angst, though. You'll find a number of more 'normal' fashion outlets here as well as fast-food joints and convenience stores. The banal 'normality' of the latter, though, only serves to exacerbate the weirdness.

As a fitting touch, this area specializes in crepes, which match their teenage counterparts for bizarre combinations of taste and extravagant flourishes.

Takeshita Dori doesn't cover a large area but with crowds, the epic people watching, and the insane amount of stores crammed in, you could easily pass a whole afternoon here. Come on a weekday if you need more space.

Nearest Station: Harajuku (JR Yamanote Line)
7
Roppongi Hills, Roppongi

7) Roppongi Hills, Roppongi

Tokyoites love Roppongi Hills and you will, too. It compresses everything one could want from a city experience into a neat, hassle free, half-day package. Centering around the monolithic 54 story Mori Tower, you’ve got fine shopping, fine dining, fine arts and fine views. To be honest, most of the shopping here can be found in other parts of the city or even in your own country, but you’ve come for the overall experience. You’ve come to treat yourself to something nice and then chat about it with friends over a coffee or some food before taking in a movie or an art exhibition. You’ve come to see beautiful people and to marvel at one of the best panoramas of the city (the observation deck of the Mori Tower).

Most shopping here is divided between high end urban fashion and style conscious interior. A stand out for the latter is Bals Tokyo. It’s an inexplicable name for a really good store that has a great collection of traditional Japanese home-ware, some fun (if rather pretentious) coffee table photography books, and plenty of what ‘young executive’ Japan is decking out it’s flat with.

Keep your ear to the ground for events held at Roppongi Hills. In October they host an unsurprisingly popular ‘Oktoberfest’ and during winter a cute German market helps to make things festive.

Nearest Station: Roppongi (Hibiya Line, Toei Oedo Line)
Image by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:TigrouMeow under Creative Commons License.
8
Book Off, Nishi-gotanda

8) Book Off, Nishi-gotanda

It might seem brazen to assume that people still buy books (of the paper kind) but judging by the collection housed in this branch of Book Off, people still like the feel of a paper-back. Or maybe they’re just trying to off-load them! Either way, this store has possibly the best collection of used English language books in the city. It’s an important resource for readers, as brand new books command seriously off putting prices in Tokyo, and no collection of the latter can match this Book Off for variety and, err, randomness!

Take time to peruse the shelves here as there are plenty of gems to be found. There is also an interesting selection of books dedicated to Japan and Japanese authors, which offers an insight into how Tokyo’s expat community has tried to make sense of their place in this country.

Of course, being a store that specializes in trading second hand books, you can come here to rid yourself of any unnecessary weight before you head home.

There are also smaller collections of other foreign language books and shelves full of CD’s and DVD’s.

Nearest Station: Gotanda (JR Yamanote Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyu Ikegami Line)
9
Itoya, Ginza

9) Itoya, Ginza

Those with a fetish for stationary will find nine-floors of desk-based finery to fawn over in this Ginza store.

Professionals and collectors can get their teeth into an extensive range of writing implements including a collection of ‘money is no object’ pens, safely locked-up in a glass case. Japanophiles, too, will rejoice at the range of calligraphy utensils to choose from.

If you’re looking for gifts with a touch of Japanese class you should check out Itoya’s range of washi, gorgeous hand-made paper that actually is rather tough and serves a number of purposes relating to traditional Japanese culture. Most of these applications would be redundant to foreign shoppers but the paper looks stunning and will, at the very least, make for some exotic wrapping paper.

Stumped for something to buy for mom? Then have a look at Itoya’s collection of furoshiki. These lovingly hand-dyed cloths are a staple in Japan and are put to task as wraps, mats, head-wear and improvised carrier bags.

Japan doesn’t really ‘do’ greetings cards so decent collections can be hard to come by. Make use of Itoya then, if you want Mt. Fuji as the center piece for your Christmas cards.

Nearest Station: Ginza (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, Hibiya Line)
Image by Colin McMillen from Stationer Ito-Ya in Ginza, Chuo, under Creative Commons License.
10
Natsuno, Ginza

10) Natsuno, Ginza

Come here for chopsticks. This diminutive store has all its wall space covered in them. They have around 2,500 sets for sale, some of which fetch prices over 100,000 yen (about US$1000), and look like they might have been designed for an Emperor. If that’s out of your price range then you can find plenty of choice at around the 2,000 yen mark.

Of course, you could just pop into a 100 yen shop and pick up a set for that price, but the chopsticks in Natsuno are of the one of a kind variety that display loving artisanship and can’t be bought anywhere else. If you care about picking up original, thoughtful souvenirs, make this store a priority.

Besides the chopsticks, Natsuno has a fine selection chopstick rests and, rather strangely, a very sorry looking collection of knives and forks.

You’ll find the store just off the main Ginza thoroughfare of Chuo Dori.

Nearest Station: Higashi-ginza (Toei Asakusa Line, Hibiya Line)
11
Tokyo Character Street, Tokyo Station

11) Tokyo Character Street, Tokyo Station

Travelling with kids? Need to pick up something for nephews and nieces back home? Make a stop at Tokyo Character Street. You probably won't have to go out of your way to get here as it's in the basement of Tokyo station, one of the cities main transport hubs, and itself one of the most impressive buildings in Tokyo.

Located on the first basement floor, Tokyo Character Street is a thoroughfare of 14 shiny (newish) stores that sell just that, characters. Characters from the nation's favorite cartoons and kids TV shows including such icons as Doraemon and Ultraman. Doesn't mean anything to you? Doesn't matter. They are heroes in Japan and the little ones will love them, as will anyone with a fetish for all things cute and Japanese.

Each of Japan's major TV studios have stores here plugging wares based on their signature characters and most successful dramas. Again, much of this merchandise might be lost on many visitors but they make for cheap and humorous souvenirs. And as they're not designed with overseas shoppers in mind they are arguably more authentic than those plastic ninja throwing stars you were thinking of buying.

If nothing here takes your fancy, Tokyo station is also home to Tokyo Okashi Land. Okashi means snack and here you can find an abundance of the nations favorites. Perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

Be warned, Tokyo station is an impressive building (inside and out) but it is huge. Be patient, use the maps and follow the signs.
12
Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara

12) Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara

Branches of this chain electronics store can be found throughout Tokyo. There are two reasons for choosing this location in particular. One is that it acts as a great entry/exit point for shopping in Akihabara, a district specializing in electronics. The other is that it's massive. In fact, so huge is this store that it seems to exert it's own gravitational pull, drawing in an international crowd of feverish tech-heads straight from the train station.

Even with nine large floors the stock still seems to be pushed for space. This is probably because the product range covers everything from, well, just everything! You could spend an age here staring into 60 inch plasma TVs, vacuuming a bit of the floor, playing with the latest smart-phone or just opening and shutting disk trays, drawers and appliance lids.

Befitting of the store's name, you'll find the third floor occupied with all things camera.

Announcements are made throughout the store in English, German and Chinese and there is an army of staff on hand to help.

As was mentioned at the start, the Akihabara district is full of electronics stores. Use Yodobashi Camera to see what's available and at what kind of price then go out and explore some of the other options, returning if you see fit. Although whether you'll be able to escape the store is another matter entirely!

Nearest Station: Akihabara (JR Yamanote, Keihin Tohoku, Sobu Lines, Hibiya Line)
Image by Rs1421 under Creative Commons License.
13
Yamashiroya, Ueno

13) Yamashiroya, Ueno

If your living space back home is beginning to look like that of Steve Carell’s character in The 40 Year Old Virgin, i.e shelves, mantelpieces, and stands loaded up with ‘cult’ plastic figures and toys, then a visit to Yamashiroya in Ueno will, temporarily at least, be everything you’ve ever wanted. Until you want more.

The store’s narrow, and potentially annoying, staircase takes enthusiasts up through seven floors of toys, characters, and collectibles. Space is tight throughout the whole store, a combination of the floor plan and the vast amount of products on sale, so watch that rucksack on your back. One false move could end in disaster.

Popular Japanese pieces are represented here from Gundam through to Dragon Ball, and Western classics like Star Wars and Batman are afforded shelf time, too (look out for the hilarious light saber chop-sticks).

Although Yamashiroya is most popular among shoppers who have nightmares about taking their toys out of the boxes, there’s plenty here for the more casual shopper and for the little ones as well.

Nearest Station: Ueno (various lines)
Image by Stéfan under Creative Commons License.
14
Mitsukoshi, Nihonbashi

14) Mitsukoshi, Nihonbashi

Make no mistake about it, Mitsukoshi is posh. From the regal lions that guard it’s main entrance (presumably eyeing up the riff raff) to the rooftop garden and it’s manicured bonsai trees, it’s at pains to remind shoppers that it’s a cut above the rest. It’s hardly necessary though, as the brands that are housed here and the prices that come with them are reminder enough. From Burberry to Bvlgari, Armani to Ferragamo, Mitsukoshi is armed to the teeth with credit-card sapping items. There’s also a branch of Harrods for your sundry items as well as Japan’s own brand heavy-weight, Mikimoto.

Rumor has it that this is the oldest department store in Japan and despite the high prices, there’s plenty here for even the budget conscious traveler to enjoy, from grand renaissance architecture to temporary art exhibitions, and even marble wall tiles decorated with prehistoric fossils (real ones)! Best of all though, it’s in Japan and as such is refreshingly void of the latent snobbery that often lingers in high end establishments elsewhere. Everyone is welcome here and it’s a great spot to get a taste of how Japan’s ‘other half’ lives.

If you’re intending to spend, then Mitsukoshi goes all out to help. There are English and Chinese language/translation services available, duty free options for foreigners, and they’ll even deliver purchases to your hotel (so long as it’s one of the 5 Star variety!).

Nearest Station: Mitsukoshimae (Hanzomon Line)
15
Nakamise Dori, Asakusa

15) Nakamise Dori, Asakusa

Nakamise Dori forms the main approach to one of the most revered and popular temples in Tokyo, Sensoji. This is the heart of Asakusa, the once upon a time ‘good time city’ for rowdy traders, merchants and mysterious travelers. Although the entertainment has moved on to parts more salubrious the area still maintains an atmosphere of old school trading, craft and tradition, best sampled on Nakamise Dori, one of the oldest shopping areas in the city.

The narrow street runs for about 250 m from the dramatic (and much photographed) Kaminari Gate through to the expansive grounds that surround the temple. Some 80 open fronted stores hold their breath and just about find enough space on either side of the street to plug their wares. And what wares. If you’re looking for reasonably priced souvenirs of a more traditional bent then you’ll find happy hunting here. Fans, clogs, traditional dolls, yukata (a sort of summer kimono), folk art, chiyogami (colored paper) and more are begging you to fit them in your suitcase. More conventional tourist tack can be found here too, from keychains through to ‘I love Japan’ t-shirts.

Whilst you’re browsing you can gorge on a variety of traditional, often seaweed based, Japanese snacks. Be warned though, this street can get incredibly busy on the weekends so come during the week if you want to dawdle.

Nearest Station: (Tobu Skytree Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Ginza Line)
16
Kappabashi Dori, Asakusa

16) Kappabashi Dori, Asakusa

Tokyo is often at the top of 'best food city in the world' lists, with the city being home to tens of thousands of restaurants. All of which need supplies. Kappabashi Dori is where their owners come to get them.

Located in Asakusa to the East, Kappabashi has been in business since about 1912. Today, the 800 m long street packs in over 170 stores, all jammed to the rafters with every conceivable item one might need to operate a restaurant.

Japanese Jamie Olivers aside, there's much to be enjoyed here for overseas visitors looking to take home some unique souvenirs. Those delightful plastic and wax models of dishes and foods that visitor will often see outside of restaurants are sold here. They are by turns hilarious and remarkably realistic. They also come in the requisite key-chain and fridge magnet form.

Lacquer-ware makes for an important part of Japanese culinary culture, being used for tableware in traditional restaurants, and homes across the nation. A great selection of items is sold in Kappabashi. It's light, it couldn't look more Japanese if it tried, and it's very affordable.

To be honest, listing everything one can buy on Kappabashi Dori would be a Sisyphean task. It is, quite simply, the best culinary shopping street in the world. It also offers a remarkable insight into Japanese culture and is remarkably under-published. But don't take our word for it, come and see for yourself.

Nearest Station: Tawaramachi (Ginza Line)
Image by User:Kentin under Creative Commons License.
17
Oriental Bazaar, Omotesando

17) Oriental Bazaar, Omotesando

You can't miss Oriental Bazaar. The store front is a garish red temple replica that looks like it belongs in Disneyland rather than on exclusive Omotesando Dori. Still, it's enough to attract a steady stream of souvenir hunters through it's doors.

The key word here is 'accessibility'. For Oriental Bazaar is well known, easy to find, and has information in English and staff who speak it well. Ultimately, though, it's about having every kind of 'traditional' Japanese souvenir you could think of under one roof. Or over three floors. It's perfect for those who are pushed for time, intimidated by language barriers, or, well, lazy.

The store started out as a small antique dealer but boomed in the post-war years. Most of what you'll see today though has been made for the tourist but there are still authentic pieces to be found. Particularly the kimono. That said, for most shoppers, the only tangible difference between that which is authentic and that which isn't, is the price. And you can be sure the people back home you're buying them for/showing them to, won't have a clue!

Oriental Bazaar comes highly recommended for those that don't like souvenir shopping.

Nearest Station: Omotesando (Chiyoda Line, Ginza Line, Hanzomon Line)
18
Tokyo Souvenir Shop Town, Tokyo Tower

18) Tokyo Souvenir Shop Town, Tokyo Tower

Iconic Tokyo Tower may have lost it's job in radio communications to Tokyo Sky Tree, but it remains a much loved landmark. It is, however, very tacky and it knows so. As such it shamelessly flogs off a gluttony of plastic, fake, nonsensical and, quite frankly, joyous tat.

So you've been warned, visiting wanna be shoguns and Haiku scribbling Zen thinkers would do well to give Tokyo Tower a wide birth. This is a shopping experience for the visitor who wants to squeal in delight, 'I went to Japan, and here's the T-shirt, fridge magnet and mug to prove it!'

Spend thrifts will also delight that you don't actually have to pay to summit the tower in order to access this shopping experience. It's all available in Tokyo Souvenir Shop Town, part of the three floor complex known as Foot Town (you see what we're dealing with here) located at the base of the tower and free to enter.

You'll find every kind of souvenir you've probably seen before, but with images from Japan on it. What you won't find else where though, are the boxes of cookies and sweet treats, garishly decorated to let everyone know where you've been, gift wrapped and ready to go (just as the Japanese like them).

Any enthusiast of Japanese plastic tack will know that no trip to Japan would be complete without bringing back some Hello Kitty. There's a great selection here.

Nearest Station: Akabanebashi (Oedo Line)
Image by Parag.naik under Creative Commons License.
19
Japan Sword, Toranomon

19) Japan Sword, Toranomon

What could be more Japanese than you're own samurai katana (sword)? World renowned for their sharp blades (we've all seen that scene from The Bodyguard), and their exquisite iron work, these impossibly cool shaped swords have an almost mythical status in the West. But with most things in life, if you've got the money, you can make it happen. And at Japan Sword in Ginza, visitors with deep pockets can get their hands on perhaps the ultimate souvenir from Japan.

Japan Sword is one of the most respected dealers in town and has been in business from around 1900. It's two floors of all things sword has more the air of a museum (in fact some of what you see is 'exhibition only')than a shop, and is populated by knowledgeable, English speaking samurai, sorry, staff.

Here you can buy authentic and antique blades and fittings, as well as helmets, and armor. There are also more affordable reproduction items for sale which shouldn't be confused with lazy fakes you might find elsewhere in the city.

Japan Sword will export purchases to your home country and assist with the paper work that requires.

Nearest Station: Toranomon (Ginza Line)

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