Tokyo

Tokyo is Japan's showcase. The crazy clothing styles, obscure electronics, and new games found here are capable of setting trends for the rest of the country—and perhaps the rest of Asia, and even Europe and America.

Part of the Tokyo shopping experience is simply to observe, and on Saturday especially, in districts like the Ginza and Shinjuku, you will notice that the Japanese approach to shopping can be nothing short of feverish. You’ll probably want to resist the urge to join in the fray, especially since many of the wildly trendy clothes and accessories for sale will already be "uncool" by the time you get home. But shopping in Tokyo can also be an exercise in elegance and refinement, especially if you shop for items that are Japanese-made for Japanese people and sold in stores that don't cater to tourists. With brilliantly applied color, balance of form, and superb workmanship, crafts items can be exquisite and well worth the price you'll pay—and some can be quite expensive.

Note the care taken with items after you purchase them, especially in department stores and boutiques. Goods will be wrapped, wrapped again, bagged, and sealed. Sure, the packaging can be excessive—does anybody really need three plastic bags for one croissant?—but such a focus on presentation has deep roots in Japanese culture.

This focus on presentation also influences salespeople who are invariably helpful and polite. In the larger stores they greet you with a bow when you arrive, and many of them speak at least enough English to help you find what you're looking for. There's a saying in Japan: o-kyaku-sama wa kami-sama, "the customer is a god"—and since the competition for your business is fierce, people do take it to heart.

Horror stories abound about prices in Japan—and some of them are true. Yes, European labels can cost a fortune here, but did you really travel all the way to Tokyo to buy an outfit that would be cheaper in the designer mall at home? True, a gift-wrapped melon from a department-store gourmet counter can cost $150. But you can enjoy gawking even if you don’t want to spend like that. And if you shop around, you can find plenty of gifts and souvenirs at fair prices.

Japan has finally embraced the use of credit cards, although some smaller mom-and-pop shops may still take cash only. So when you go souvenir hunting, be prepared with a decent amount of cash; Tokyo's low crime rates make this a low-risk proposition. The dishonor associated with theft is so strong, in fact, that it's considered bad form to conspicuously count change in front of cashiers.

Japan has an across-the-board 8% value-added tax (V.A.T.) imposed on luxury goods. This tax can be avoided at some duty-free shops in the city (don't forget to bring your passport). It's also waived in the duty-free shops at the international airports, but because these places tend to have higher profit margins, your tax savings there are likely to be offset by the higher markups.

Stores in Tokyo generally open at 10 or 11 am and close at 8 or 9 pm.

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  • 1. Atelier Sogeikan

    Asakusa

    What better souvenir than one made by your own hand with the guidance of a master? Join a lantern making workshop and learn to paint your own name (or whatever you choose) in a traditional lettering style called Edomojii on your own paper lantern. A brush and sumi (black ink for Japanese calligraphy) will be provided.

    3–8–2 Yokokawa, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 130–0003, Japan
    03-3622–2381
  • 2. Beams

    Shibuya-ku

    Harajuku features a cluster of no fewer than 10 Beams stores that provide Japan's younger folk with extremely hip threads. With branches ranging from street wear to high-end import brands, as well as a record store, uniform gallery, funky "from Tokyo" souvenir shop that sells anime figurines, and one that sells manga alongside designer T-shirts inspired by comic books, shopping here ensures that you or your kids will be properly stocked with the coolest wares from the city.

    3–24–7 Jingumae, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 150-0001, Japan
    03-3470–3947
  • 3. Comme des Garçons

    Minato-ku

    Sinuous low walls snake through Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo's flagship store, a minimalist labyrinth that houses the designer's signature clothes, shoes, and accessories. Staff members do their best to ignore you, but that's no reason to stay away from one of Tokyo's funkiest retail spaces.

    5–2–1 Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 107–0062, Japan
    03-3406–3951
  • 4. Daikanyama T-Site

    Shibuya-ku

    This oasis within the metropolis is a calming respite with a leafy garden, trendy terrace eatery, gallery, and, of course, the main business, a shop selling books, music, and videos with a focus on art and design. Almost all 30,000 books here can be taken to the lounge to read, as can a large selection of foreign magazines. Many locals come here to be seen, bringing along their lapdogs dressed in designer duds from the store's pet boutique.

    17–5 Sarugakucho, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 150-0033, Japan
    03-3770–2525
  • 5. Decks Tokyo Beach

    Odaiba

    Overlooking the harbor, this six-story complex of shops, restaurants, and boardwalks is really two connected malls: Island Mall and Seaside Mall. For kids (or nostalgic adults), check out the Lego Discovery Center, Joypolis mega-arcade, Trick Art Museum, and Madame Tussauds Tokyo. At the Seaside Mall, a table by the window in any of the restaurants looks out to a delightful view of the harbor, especially at sunset, when the yakatabune (traditional-roofed pleasure boats) drift down the Sumida-gawa from Yanagibashi and Ryogoku. You can also try shopping at the equally large Aqua City mall next door.

    1–6–1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 135-0091, Japan
    03-3599–6500
  • Recommended Fodor’s Video

  • 6. Disk Union

    Shinjuku-ku

    Vinyl junkies rejoice. The Shinjuku flagship of this chain sells Latin, rock, and indie at 33 RPM. Be sure to grab a store flyer that lists all the branches, since each specializes in one music genre. Oh, and for digital folks, CDs are available, too.

    3–17–5 Shinjuku, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 160-0022, Japan
    03-5919–4565
  • 7. Dover Street Market

    Chuo-ku

    This multistory fashion playhouse is a shrine to exclusives, one-offs, and other hard-to-find pieces from luxury brands all over the world. Curated by Comme des Garçons, the selection may leave all but the most dedicated fashion fans scratching their heads, but the unique interior sculptures and rooftop shrine with Japanese garden alone warrant a visit.

    6–9–5 Ginza, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 104-0061, Japan
    03-6228–5080
  • 8. Ginza Natsuno

    Shibuya-ku

    This two-story boutique sells an incredible range of chopsticks, from traditional to pop motifs, and wooden to crystal-encrusted sticks that can be personalized. Children's chopsticks and dishes are housed in their own boutique behind it, but it's a must-see no matter your age.

    4–2–17 Jingumae, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 150-0001, Japan
    03-3403–6033
  • 9. Haibara

    Chuo-ku

    Founded in 1806, this sleek, modern grey cube just off Chuo-dori in Nihonbashi, the elegant designs in the gorgeous notebooks, letter sets, fans, and traditional washi paper found here date to the Meiji and late Edo periods. Look for gampi paper, an artisinal paper made from the bark fibres of gampi trees.

    2–7–1 Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 103-0027, Japan
    03-3272–3801
  • 10. Hanashyo

    Koto-ku

    This showroom and shop features exquisite examples of Edo Kiriko glassware, a traditional art that dates to the end of the Edo Period (1603–1868). Artisan Ryuichi Kamukura opened this store in the 1980s and is one of the most respected names in glassware. His subtle rice-chain patterns are especially popular.

    3–49–21 Kameido, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 136-0071, Japan
    03-3682–2321
  • 11. Issey Miyake

    Minato-ku

    The otherworldly creations of internationally renowned brand Issey Miyake are on display at his flagship store in Aoyama, which carries the full Paris line. Keep walking on the same street away from Omotesando Station and also find a string of other Miyake stores just a stone's throw away, including Issey Miyake Men and Pleats Please. At the end of the street is the Reality Lab with a barrage of Miyake's most experimental lines like BaoBao, In-Ei, and incredible origami-like clothing.

    3–18–11 Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 107-0062, Japan
    03-3423–1408
  • 12. Japan Sword Co.

    Minato-ku

    Aspiring samurai can learn how to tell their toshin (blades) from their tsuka (sword handles) with help from the staff at this small shop, which has been open since the Meiji era (1868–1912). Items that range from a circa-1390 samurai sword to inexpensive or decorative reproductions allow you to take a trip back in time.

    3–8–1 Toranomon, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 105-0001, Japan
    03-3434–4321

    Shop Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun.
  • 13. Kama-Asa

    Taito-ku

    This elegant store specializing in handcrafted knives and kitchen utensils was first opened in 1908 in Asakusa's Kappabashi ("kitchen town"). It's now split into two neighboring buildings, one selling more than 80 varieties of knives made by leading makers around Japan, the other focusing on high-grade items like Nambu cast ironware. Allow extra time to have your knives engraved with Japanese symbols or your name at no extra cost.

    2–24–1 Matsugaya, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 111-0036, Japan
    03-3841–9357
  • 14. Kiddy Land

    Shibuya-ku

    The Omotesando landmark commonly regarded as Tokyo's best toy store carries the cutest and most kitschy of everyday goods. This is the leader in making or breaking the popularity of the myriad character goods that Japan spits out seasonally. Like caterpillars with businesspeople faces, some of the items may be odd or surprising, but they're never boring.

    6–1–9 Jingumae, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 150-0001, Japan
    03-3409–3431
  • 15. Kukuli

    Shinjuku-ku

    This tiny textiles store in charming Kagurasaka sells items made of vintage textiles from different regions in Japan and transforms them into contemporary fashions and gifts. Look for tote bags made from kendo and judo uniforms, fabrics off the roll, handkerchief squares, and silk scarves crafted from high-quality kimono fabric.

    1–10 Tsukudocho, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, Japan
    03-6280–8462
  • 16. Marui O1O1 Main Building

    Shinjuku-ku

    Easily recognized by its red-and-white "O1" logo, Marui burst onto the department store scene in the 1980s by introducing an in-store credit card—one of the first stores in Japan to do so. The four Marui buildings—Marui Honkan, Marui Annex, Marui One, and Marui Mens—make up the largest department store in the area by a large margin. Women flock to the stores in search of petite clothing, and you can find the largest concentration of Gothic and Lolita clothing in the city at the Annex.

    3–30–13 Shinjuku, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 160-0022, Japan
    03-3354–0101
  • 17. Maskshop Omote

    Sumida-ku

    “Omote” means “face” or “mask,” and this chic little boutique on the old-fashioned Kirakira Tachibana shopping street near Tokyo Skytree stocks every variety imaginable. The selection includes Japanese-style clown masks, Venetian masks, contemporary Japanese masks, and masks from many periods and regions in Japan, and across many budgets. A perfect resource for unique gifts.

    3–20–5 Kyōjima, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 131-0046, Japan
    70-5089–6271
  • 18. Matsuya

    Chuo-ku

    On the fourth floor, this gleaming department store houses an excellent selection of Japanese fashion, including Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. The European-designer boutiques on the second floor are particularly popular with Tokyo's brand-obsessed shoppers. The rooftop terrace is a welcome respite for the weary.

    3–6–1 Ginza, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 104-0061, Japan
    03-3567–1211
  • 19. Midori-Ya

    Ueno

    Established in 1908, this family-run bamboo crafts shop on a traditional shopping street offers the wares of three generations of bamboo artists. Look for insect cages (with bamboo bugs), flower baskets, chopsticks, cups, lotus-root coasters, and lunchboxes. The shop is located near the base of the staircase on Yanaka Ginza's shopping street.

    3–13–3 Nishi-Nippori, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 116-0013, Japan
    03-3828–7522

    Shop Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Mon.
  • 20. Mikimoto Ginza Main Store

    Chuo-ku

    Kokichi Mikimoto created his technique for cultured pearls in 1893. Since then his name has been associated with the best quality in the industry. Mikimoto's tower in Ginza is a boutique devoted to nature's ready-made gems; the building, like the pearls it holds, dazzles visitors with a facade that resembles Swiss cheese.

    4–5–5 Ginza, Tokyo, Tokyo-to, 104-0061, Japan
    03-3535–4611

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