Antiques & Curios
In recent years, it has become a buyer-beware market in Japan, mostly due to fake antiques produced in China infiltrating the Japanese market. You shouldn't have any problems with the reputable dealers listed, but if you're buying an expensive piece, be sure to ask whether there are any papers of authenticity.
In addition to the listings, other places to look for antiques include the Oriental Bazaar and Tokyo's outdoor flea markets.
Arcades & Shopping Malls
Arcades In Hotels -- Shopping arcades are found in several of Tokyo's first-class hotels. Although they don't offer the excitement and challenge of rubbing elbows with the natives, they do offer convenience, English-speaking clerks, and consistently top-quality merchandise. The Imperial Hotel Arcade (station: Hibiya) is one of the best, with shops selling pearls, woodblock prints, porcelain, antiques, and expensive name-brand clothing like Hanae Mori. The Okura and New Otani hotels also have extensive shopping arcades.
Underground Arcades -- Underground shopping arcades are found around several of Tokyo's train and subway stations; the biggest are at Tokyo Station (the Yaesu side) and Shinjuku Station (the east side). They often have great sales and bargains on clothing, accessories, and electronics. My only complaint is that once you're in an arcade, it seems as if you'll never find your way out again.
Shopping Malls -- Sunshine City (station: Higashi Ikebukuro or Ikebukuro) is one of Tokyo's oldest shopping malls, with more than 200 shops and restaurants spread through several adjoining buildings. Its popularity, however, is now challenged by newer and grander shopping malls. Caretta Shiodome (station: Shiodome), a 47-story monolith just southwest of the Ginza (and across from Hama Rikyu Garden), contains 58 shops and 33 restaurants. While there, stop by the Ad Museum Tokyo, Japan's first museum of advertising with cool posters from bygone eras; admission is free. Just across the harbor, on the man-made island of Odaiba (station: Odaiba Kaihin Koen), is Palette Town, an amusement/shopping center that contains the sophisticated, upscale Italian-themed Venus Fort, an indoor mall that evokes scenes from Italy with its store-fronted lanes, painted sky, fountains, plazas, and Italian name-brand boutiques. NearbyTokyo Decks targets Japanese youths with its international goods, including imports from the United States, Europe, China, and Hong Kong; I especially like its Daiba 1chome Syoutengai section (on the fourth floor of Tokyo Deck's "Seaside Mall" section), a remake of mid-1900s Japan, with crafts, food, an old-fashioned games arcade, and TV shows of the period; and the sixth-floor Daiba Little Hong Kong department with its Chinese accessories, souvenirs, and restaurants (in the "Island Mall" section of Tokyo Decks).
Tokyo's biggest mall is undoubtedly LaLaport (station: Minami Funabashi) on the eastern outskirts of the city, with a staggering 500-plus shops and restaurants and unbelievable crowds on weekends. It's sensory overload for me, but true mall fanatics might find the experience invigorating. Although it's not a mall per se, another good destination is Roppongi Hills (station: Roppongi), an urban renewal project with approximately 130 shops spread throughout several buildings and along tree-lined streets.
The Ginza has the highest concentration of art galleries in Tokyo, with more than 200 shops dealing in everything from old woodblock prints to silk-screens, lithographs, and contemporary paintings. In addition, Japanese department stores almost always contain art galleries, with changing exhibitions ranging from works by European masters to contemporary Japanese pottery. Check the free giveaway Metropolis for exhibition listings.
Yasukuni Dori in Jimbocho, Kanda (station: Jimbocho), is lined with bookstores selling both new and used books, with several dealing in English-language books. Keep in mind, however, that English-language books are usually more expensive in Japan than back home. Still, no bibliophile should pass this street up, especially if your interest is in books related to Japan. Oriental Bazaar also carries books on Japan.
Japanese department stores are institutions in themselves. Usually enormous, well-designed, and chock-full of merchandise, they have about everything you can imagine, including museums and art galleries, pet stores, rooftop playgrounds or greenhouses, travel agencies, restaurants, grocery markets, and flower shops. You could easily spend a whole day in a department store -- eating, attending cultural exhibitions, planning your next vacation, exchanging money, purchasing tickets to local concerts and other events, and, well, shopping.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the Japanese department store is the courteous service. If you arrive at a store as its doors open at 10 or 10:30am, you'll witness a daily rite: Lined up at the entrance are staff who bow in welcome. Some Japanese shoppers arrive just before opening time so as not to miss this favorite ritual. Sales clerks are everywhere, ready to help you. In some stores, you don't even have to go to the cash register once you've made your choice; just hand over the product, along with your money, to the sales clerk, who will return with your change, your purchase neatly wrapped, and an "Arigatoo gozaimashita"("Thank you very much"). Many department stores will also ship your purchases home for you. A day spent in a Japanese department store could spoil you for the rest of your life.
The basement of the store is usually devoted to foodstuffs: fresh fish, produce, and pre-prepared snacks and dinners. There are often free samples of food; if you're hungry, walking through the food department could do nicely for a snack. Many department stores include boutiques by such famous Japanese and international fashion designers as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo (creator of Comme des Garcons), Hanae Mori, Takeo Kikuchi, Vivienne Westwood, and Paul Smith, as well as a department devoted to the kimono. Near the kimono department may also be the section devoted to traditional crafts, including pottery and lacquerware. To find out what's where, stop by the store's information booth located on the ground floor near the front entrance and ask for the floor-by-floor pamphlet in English. Be sure, too, to ask about sales on the promotional floor -- you never know what bargains you may chance upon.
Department Store Hours -- Japanese department stores are generally open from 10 or 10:30am to 7:30 or 8pm. They used to close 1 day a week, but now they rarely close, or they close irregularly, though always on the same day of the week (say, on Tues) in no apparent pattern. One month they may be closed the second and third Tuesday of the month, but the next month only the first or not at all. In any case, you can always find stores that are open, even on Sundays and holidays (major shopping days in Japan).
In Shibuya -- Shibuya is a shopping mecca for the fashionable young, with so many stores that there's a bona fide store war going on. Tokyu and Seibu are the two big names.
The largest concentration of electronics and electrical-appliance shops in Japan is in an area of Tokyo called Akihabara Electric Town (Denkigai), centered around Chuo Dori. Although you can find good deals on video and audio equipment elsewhere (especially just west of Shinjuku Station, where Yodobashi -- see "Cameras" below -- dominates with several stores devoted to electronics), Akihabara is a must-see simply for its sheer volume. With more than 600 multilevel stores, shops, and stalls, Akihabara accounts for one-tenth of the nation's electronics and electrical-appliance sales. An estimated 50,000 shoppers come here on a weekday, 100,000 per day on a weekend. Even if you don't buy anything, it's great fun walking around. If you do intend to buy, make sure you know what the item would cost back home. Or you may be able to pick up something that's unavailable back home. Most of the stores and stalls are open-fronted, and many are painted neon green and pink. Inside, lights flash, fans blow, washing machines shimmy and shake, and stereos blast. Salespeople yell out their wares, trying to get customers to look at their rice cookers, refrigerators, computers, cellular phones, video equipment, digital cameras, CD and DVD players, TVs, calculators, and watches. This is the best place to see the latest models of everything electronic; it's an educational experience in itself. In recent years, some shops have branched out to include anime products and manga (Japanese comic books).
If you are buying, be sure to bargain and don't buy at the first place you hit. One woman I know who was looking for a portable music device bought it at the third shop she went to for ?4,000 ($38) less than what was quoted to her at the first shop. Make sure, too, that whatever you purchase is made for export -- that is, with instructions in English, an international warranty, and the proper electrical connectors. All the larger stores have duty-free floors where products are made for export. Two of the largest areYamagiwa, 3-13-10 Soto-Kanda (tel. 03/3253-2111); and Laox,15-3 Soto-Kanda (tel. 03/3255-5301). Also worth a browse isAKKY International, 1-12-5 Soto-Kanda (tel. 03/5207-5027), with its knowledgeable salespeople and inexpensive Japanese souvenirs in the basement. If you're serious about buying, check these stores first.
The easiest way to get to Akihabara is via the Yamanote Line or Sobu Line to the JR Akihabara Station. You can also take the Hibiya subway line to Akihabara Station, but it's farther to walk. In any case, take the Akihabara Electric Town exit. Most shops are open daily from about 10:30am to 8pm.
Cameras -- You can purchase cameras at many duty-free shops, including those in Akihabara, but if you're serious about photographic equipment, make a trip to a shop dealing specifically in cameras. If a new camera is too formidable an expense, consider buying a used camera. New models come out so frequently in Japan that older models can be snapped up for next to nothing.
The department stores and shopping malls listed are all good places to check out the latest trends. For inexpensive, basic clothing (think Japanese version of Gap), look for one of the 40Uniqlo shops in Tokyo selling T-shirts, jeans, socks, shirts, and other clothing for the whole family. Convenient locations include 5-7-10 Ginza, on the fifth floor of the New Melsa Building on Chuo Dori (tel. 03/5537-6795; station: Ginza); 6-10-8 Jingumae (tel.03/5468-7313; station: Meiji-Jingumae, on Meiji Dori in the direction of Shibuya); and 16-17 Udagawacho (tel. 03/5728-8431;station: Shibuya).
Otherwise, Harajuku and Shibuya are the places to go for hundreds of small shops selling inexpensive designer knockoffs, as well as fashion department stores -- multistoried buildings filled with concessions of various designers and labels. The stores listed are two of the best known and largest.
Designer Boutiques -- The block between Omotesando Crossing and the Nezu Museum (currently undergoing renovation) inAoyama (station: Omotesando, 2 min.) has become the Rodeo Drive of Japan, the showcase of top designers. Even if you can't buy here (steep prices for most pocketbooks), a stroll is de rigueur for clothes hounds and those interested in design. Most shops are open daily from 11am to 8pm. Comme des Garcons,on the right side as you walk from Aoyama Dori (tel. 03/3406-3951), is Rei Kawakubo's showcase for her daring -- and constantly evolving -- men's and women's designs. The goddess of Japanese fashion and one of the few females in the business, Kawakubo has remained on the cutting edge of design for more than 2 decades. Across the street is Issey Miyake (tel. 03/3423-1408), with two floors of cool, spacious displays of Miyake's interestingly structured designs for men and women. (His very popular Pleats Please line is around the corner on Aoyama Dori, 3-13-21 Minami Aoyama; tel. 03/5772-7750.) Of the many non-Japanese designers to have invaded this trendy neighborhood in recent years, none stands out as much as Prada (tel. 03/6418-0400), a bubble of convex/concave windows on the right side of the street. One of Japan's newer designers, Tsumori Chisato, has a shop on the left side of the street (tel. 03/3423-5170). Also worth seeking out along this stretch is Yohji Yamamoto on the right (tel.03/3409-6006), where Yamamoto's unique, classically wearable clothes are sparingly hung, flaunting the avant-garde interior space.
On the other side of Aoyama Dori, on Omotesando Dori, is Hanae Mori (tel. 03/3400-3301), the grande dame of Japanese design, with everything from separates and men's golf wear to haute couture and wedding gowns on display on three floors of a building designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.
Flea Markets -- Flea markets are good places to shop for antiques as well as for delightful junk. You can pick up secondhand kimono at very reasonable prices, as well as kitchenware, vases, cast-iron teapots, small chests, woodblock prints, dolls, household items, and odds and ends. (Don't expect to find any good buys in furniture.) The markets usually begin as early as dawn or 6am and last until 3 or 4pm or so, but go early if you want to pick up bargains. Bargaining is expected. Note that since most markets are outdoors, they tend to be canceled if it rains. Tokyo also has huge antiques fairs several times a year, including the Heiwajima Antique Fair, held for several days in May, June, July, September, and December near Ryutsu Center Station on the Tokyo Monorail Line, and an antiques fair held at Ueno Shinobazu Pond for several weeks in April, July/August, and the month of October. Contact the Tourist Information Center for an update.
Togo Shrine, on Meiji Dori in Harajuku (near Meiji-Jingumae or Harajuku stations), has an antiques market on the first, fourth, and (when there is one) fifth Sunday of every month from 4am to 2pm. It's great for used kimono as well as small furniture and curios and is one of my favorites.
Nogi Shrine, a 1-minute walk from Nogizaka Station, has an antiques flea market from dawn to about 2pm the second Sunday of each month except November. It has a lovely setting; the shrine commemorates General Nogi and his wife, both of whom committed suicide on September 13, 1912, to follow the Meiji emperor into the afterlife. Their simple home and stable are on shrine grounds.
Hanazono Shrine, near the Yasukuni Dori/Meiji Dori intersection east of Shinjuku Station (a 5-min. walk from Shinjuku Sanchome Station), has a flea market every Sunday from dawn to about 2pm (except in May and Nov due to festivals).
The Oedo Antique Fair, held in the courtyard of the Tokyo International Forum beside Yurakucho Station, claims to be Tokyo's largest fair of international antiques. Held the first and third Sunday of the month from 8am to 5pm, it features Western antiques (at highly inflated prices), as well as Japanese glassware, furniture, ceramics, furniture, kimono, woodblock prints, and odds and ends.
Finally, the closest thing Tokyo has to a permanent flea market isAmeya Yokocho (also referred to as Ameyokocho or Ameyacho), a narrow street near Ueno Park that runs along and underneath the elevated tracks of the JR Yamanote Line between Ueno and Okachimachi stations. There are about 400 stalls here selling discounted items ranging from fish, seaweed, and vegetables, to handbags, tennis shoes, cosmetics, watches, and casual clothes. The scene retains something of the shitamachi spirit of old Tokyo. Although housewives have been coming here for years, young Japanese recently discovered the market as a good bargain spot for fashions, accessories, and cosmetics. Some shops close on Wednesdays, but hours are usually daily from 10am to 7pm; early evening is the most crowded time. Don't even think of coming here on a holiday -- it's a standstill pedestrian traffic jam.
The department stores listed have furniture and interior-design sections: Ikebukuro's Seibu has an especially well-known and popular department, but my favorite is the Design Collection on the seventh floor of Ginza's Matsuya.
In addition, a domestic chain worth checking out is Muji, which offers plain products, many of them made from recycled materials, in simple packages at affordable prices. Clothing, housewares, cosmetics, and other practical goods are offered at more than 280 locations in Japan, including its biggest store at 3-8-3 Marunouchi (tel. 03/5208-8242), open Monday to Saturday 11am to 9pm and Sunday 11am to 8pm.
Japanese Crafts & Traditional Products
If you want to shop for traditional Japanese folk crafts in the right atmosphere, nothing beats Nakamise Dori (station: Asakusa), a pedestrian lane leading to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It's lined with stall after stall selling souvenirs galore, from wooden getashoes (traditional wooden sandals) and hairpins worn by geisha to T-shirts, fans, umbrellas, toy swords, and dolls. Most stalls are open from 10am to 6pm; some close 1 day a week.
Another good place to search for traditional crafts is department stores, which usually have sections devoted to ceramics, pottery, bambooware, flower-arranging accessories, and fabrics.
The Oriental Bazaar has a good selection of new and used kimono, including elaborate wedding kimono. Department stores also sell kimono, notably Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi in Nihombashi and Isetan in Shinjuku. They also have yearly sales of used, rental wedding kimono. Flea markets are another good option for used kimono and yukata, particularly the antiques market at Togo Shrine .
Kitchenware & Tableware
In addition to the department stores and interior design shops listed, the best place to shop for items related to cooking and serving is Kappabashi-dougugai Dori (station: Tawaramachi), popularly known as Kappabashi and Japan's largest wholesale area for cookware. Here, approximately 150 specialty stores sell cookware, including sukiyaki pots, woks, lunch boxes, pots and pans, aprons, knives, china, lacquerware, rice cookers, plastic food (the kind you see in restaurant display cases), and disposable wooden chopsticks in bulk. Although the stores are wholesalers selling mainly to restaurants, you're welcome to browse and purchase as well. Stores are closed on Sunday but otherwise open from about 10am to 5pm.
Mikimoto, on Chuo Dori not far from Ginza 4-chome Crossing, past Wako department store (tel. 03/3535-4611), is Japan's most famous pearl shop. It was founded by Mikimoto Koichi, who in 1905 produced the world's first good cultured pearl. Open Thursday to Tuesday 11am to 7pm. Otherwise, there's a Mikimoto branch (tel. 03/3591-5001) in the Imperial Hotel Arcade of the Imperial Hotel (station: Hibiya), where you'll also find Asahi Shoten (tel. 03/3503-2528), with a good selection in the modest-to-moderate price range; and K. Uyeda Pearl Shop (tel. 03/3503-2587), with a wide selection of pearls in many different price ranges.
Listed are two shops where you may find shoes in your size.