Anime & Manga
Although Akihabara has long boasted Japan’s largest concentration of electronics shops, in the past decade it has also gained a reputation as the place to shop for manga (Japanese comic books and graphic novels) and items related to anime (Japanese animation) and cosplay (costume play), as well as for its maid cafes. One of the best anime/manga chain stores in Japan is Mandarake, which first opened in 1987 as a secondhand shop for manga. Its shop in Akihabara, about 4 minutes from JR Akihabara Station at 3–11–2 Soto-Kanda (www.mandarake.co.jp; tel. 03/3252-7007), offers eight floors of both new and secondhand goods, including pop and vintage figurines, video games, manga, and posters (some products are definitely X-rated; even the website is an eye-opener). A branch in Shibuya lies deep underground beneath Shibuya BEAM on Inokashira Dori, 31–2 Udagawacho (tel. 03/3477-0777; station: Shibuya). Serious shoppers, however, will want to make a pilgrimage to Nakano Broadway Mall at 5–52–15 Nakano (tel. 03/3388-7004), a 5-minute walk from the north exit of Nakano Station and known throughout the country as otaku (geek) heaven for its slew of cubbyhole-size shops dedicated to both new and retro pop goods from Japan and overseas, including software, games, manga, figures, and anime and cosplay fare. Having gotten its start here, Mandarake is the biggest player, and the biggest in the world, with 30 different departments spread throughout the mall, each specializing in particular products, from manga and cosplay clothing to CDs of anime songs and figurines (tel. 03/3228-0007). All Mandarake stores are open daily from noon to 8pm.
Back in Akihabara, Radio Kaikan, just outside the Denkigai exit of JR Akihabara Station at 1–15–16 Soto-Kanda (www.akihabara-radiokaikan.co.jp; tel. 03/6450-8272), offers 10 floors of anime-related goods, including figurines, trading cards, manga (including X-rated comics), capsule toys, dolls and doll clothing (for adults, not kids), posters, DVDs, and other items from 10am to 8pm daily. Animate Akiba Girls Station, off Chuo Dori around the corner from Edion at 1–2–13 Soto Kanda (www.animate.co.jp/shop/akibags; tel. 03/3526-3977), is unique for catering almost exclusively to female fans. It’s also worth popping into Don Quijote, on the main drag of Chuo Dori. It has to be seen to appreciate its jumble of everyday goods too numerous to mention, including maid costumes and even an @home maid cafe (I don’t even want to get into why these are so popular) on the fifth floor. If maid cafes are why you’re here, however, there are more @home Cafés in the nearby Mitsuwa Building, 1–11–4 Soto-Kanda (www.cafe-athome.com), with maid cafes on the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th floors and open Monday to Friday 11:30am to 10pm and Saturday and Sunday 10:30am to 10pm. It costs ¥700 to get in (discounts for students and children) and you must order a minimum of ¥570 in food or drink. Frankly, I find maid cafes more cheesy than titillating, but you might still want to have your picture taken with a maid at an extra cost.
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 here, but if you're buying an expensive piece, be sure to ask whether there are any papers of authenticity.
In addition to the listings here, 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 such as 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 (tel. 03/3989-3331; 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 centers, including chic Omotesando Hills (www.omotesandohills.com; station: Harajuku, Omotesando, or Meiji-Jingumae), with a varied mix of boutiques and restaurants; Roppongi Hills (tel. 03/6406-6000; www.roppongihills.com/en; station: Roppongi), an urban renewal project with approximately 130 shops spread throughout several buildings and along tree-lined streets; and Tokyo Midtown (www.tokyo-midtown.com/en; station: Roppongi), with its mix of tony shops, restaurants, and offices.
Caretta Shiodome (www.caretta.jp/english; 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 changing exhibits; admission is free (closed Sun-Mon).
Just across the harbor, on the man-made island of Odaiba (station: Aomi, Tokyo Teleport, or Odaiba Kaihin Koen), is Palette Town, an amusement/shopping center that contains the sophisticated, upscale Italian-themed Venus Fort (tel. 03/3599-0700), an indoor mall that evokes scenes from Italy with its store-fronted lanes, painted sky, fountains, plazas, and expensive Italian name-brand boutiques. Nearby, DECKS Tokyo Beach (tel. 03/3599-6500) targets Japanese youths with its Joypolis games arcade and international goods, including imports from the United States, Europe, China, and Hong Kong. I especially like its Daiba 1-chome Syoutengai section (on the fourth floor of Tokyo Deck's "Seaside Mall" section), a remake of mid-1900s Japan, with crafts, kitsch, food, and an old-fashioned games arcade, and Daiba Little Hong Kong department, with its Chinese accessories, souvenirs, and restaurants (on the sixth and seventh floors of the "Island Mall" section of Tokyo Decks). DECKS is connected to Aqua City (tel. 03/3599-4700; www.aquacity.jp), with many more clothing boutiques plus a Toys "R" Us, both a Daiso and Three Minutes Happiness discount shop, and Ramen Kokugikan, a ramen theme park with six restaurants from various parts of Japan offering their own takes on the popular noodle dish.
One of Tokyo's biggest malls is LaLaport Tokyo Bay (tel. 0120-355-2312 or 03/5446-5143; http://tokyobay.lalaport.net/lala_eng; 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. Urban Dock LaLaport Toyosu (tel. 03/6910-1234; http://toyosu.lalaport.jp) is smaller (190 shops and restaurants) but is more accessible (station: Toyosu) and even has a woodblock-print museum, flower garden, and Kidzania, a career-oriented theme park where kids can play in various job environments, from a bank to police station.
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.
Crafts & Traditional Japanese Products
If you want to shop for traditional Japanese folk crafts in a festival-like 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 hairpins worn by geisha to T-shirts, fans, umbrellas, toy swords, and dolls. Most are open daily from 10am to 6pm; some may close 1 day a week. The side streets surrounding Nakamise Dori, including Demboin Dori and a covered pedestrian lane stretching from both sides of Nakamise Dori, are also good bets.
Another good place to search for traditional crafts are flea markets, as well as department stores, which usually have sections devoted to ceramics, pottery, bambooware, flower-arranging accessories, and kimono.
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, send them to your hotel, or hold them until you're ready to leave the store. A day spent in a Japanese department store could spoil you for the rest of your life.
Most department stores include boutiques by famous Japanese and international fashion designers, like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo (creator of Comme des Garçons), Tsumori Chisato, Vivienne Westwood, Armani, and Paul Smith, as well as departments devoted to the kimono. Near the kimono department may also be the section of traditional crafts, including ikebana vases, pottery, and lacquerware. Many famous restaurants maintain branches in department stores, but not to be missed is the basement (nicknamed a depachika, which is a combination of depa—from department store—and chika, meaning basement), where you’ll find one or two levels devoted to foodstuffs: fresh fish, produce, green tea, sake, prepared snacks and dinners, and delectable pastries. There are often free samples of food; if you’re hungry, walking through the food department could do nicely for a snack.
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 English-language pamphlet. Be sure, too, to ask about sales on the promotional floor—you never know what bargains you may chance upon. Department stores also have tax-free counters where you can get an immediate cash refund on taxes paid for items totaling more than a specific amount, so make sure you bring your passport. They usually also have ATMs that accept overseas credit cards, foreign currency-exchange machines, and free Wi-Fi.
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, but in addition to these two, see the "Fashions" section, below.
Department Store Hours -- Japanese department stores are generally open from 10 or 10:30am to 8 or 9pm. 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 Tues of the month, but the next month 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).
Several areas around town are known for their electronics stores, especially just west of Shinjuku Station, where Yodobashi dominates with several shops devoted to electronics. The largest concentration of electronics and electrical-appliance shops in Japan, however, is in an area of Tokyo called Akihabara, also known simply as Akiba and centered on Chuo Dori (station: Akihabara). This is a must-see simply for its sheer size, with hundreds of multilevel stores, shops, and stalls. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s great fun walking around. Most stores and stalls are open-fronted and painted in eye-catching colors. Salespeople yell out their wares, trying to get customers to look at cellphones, computers, digital cameras, TVs, calculators, watches, and rice cookers. This is the best place to see the latest models of everything electronic; it’s an educational experience in itself.
If you intend to buy, however, it pays to do some comparison shopping before you leave home so that you can spot a deal when you see one, as you can probably find these products just as cheaply, or even more cheaply, at home. On the other hand, you may be able to pick up something that’s unavailable back home. 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. Most shops are open daily from about 10am to 8pm or later.
The largest store is Yodobashi Akiba, just east of JR Akihabara Station at 1-1 Hanaoka-cho (tel. 03/5209-1010; daily 9:30am-10pm), which offers a staggering amount of electronic-related goods such as cameras, computers, TVs, and rice cookers, but it also offers a slew of other leisure-related items such as games and bicycles (some people fear this monolith will put independent Akiba shop owners out of business). Other reputable stores, with English-speaking staff and models for export, include Laox, 15-3 Soto-Kanda (tel. 03/3255-5301), and AKKY International, 1-12-5 Soto-Kanda (tel. 03/5207-5027), both on Chuo Dori (the latter store also carries Japanese souvenirs in its basement). If you're serious about buying, check these stores first.
In recent years, Akihabara has also earned a reputation as a center for Japanese pop culture, including anime, manga (Japanese comics), and cosplay (costume play).
For more information on Akihabara, go to www.akihabara-tour.com, where at press time, free 2-hour tours of Akihabara were offered two Saturdays a month at 1pm.
In addition to stores in Akihabara and Shinjuku, there's LABI Shibuya, 2-29-20 Dogenzaka (tel. 03/5456-6300; station: Shibuya), offering seven floors of electronics, including digital cameras, camcorders, cellphones, TVs, computers, software, games and appliances. It's open daily 10am to 10pm.
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 listed earlier are good places to check out the latest trends. For international designers, chic boutiques abound in Ginza and neighboring Marunouchi. 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, like Shibuya 109 selling clothing and accessories and packed with teenagers.
Second-hand clothing, which made its first appearance in Japan after the economic meltdown, is now "in," with several shops catering to young Tokyoites in Harajuku, offering mostly American but also Japanese used clothing. My favorite is Hanjiro, on the third and fourth floors of YM Square (and across Meiji Dori from La Forêt), at 4-31-10 Jingumae (tel. 03/3796-7303). It carries used clothing in addition to its own original brand. Kinji (tel. 03/6406-0505), in the basement of the same building, specializes in used clothing, as does Chicago, with two locations in Harajuku, at 26-26 Jingumae (tel. 03/5414-5107), with men's, women's, and children's second-hand clothing, and at 6-31-21 Jingumae (tel. 03/3409-5017), which also sells used kimono at the far corner of the basement.
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 below are two of the best known and largest.
Designer Boutiques -- Ginza is home to international designer names, including Prada, Ferragamo, Cartier, Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton. Nearby, on Marunouchi Naka Dori, are outlets for Hermes, Tiffany & Co., Armani, and Issey Miyake, among others.
For top Japanese designers, the blocks between Omotesando Crossing and the Nezu Museum in Aoyama (station: Omotesando, 2 min.) are the Rodeo Drive of Japan. Even if you can’t afford the steep prices, a stroll is de rigueur for clothes hounds and anyone interested in design. Most shops are open daily from 11am to 8pm. Issey Miyake (www.isseymiyake.com; (tel. 03/3423-1408), on the left side as you walk from Aoyama Dori, offers two floors of cool, spacious displays of Miyake’s interestingly structured and colorful designs for men and women. His very popular Pleats Please line is next door (tel. 03/5772-7750). Across the street is Comme des Garçons (www.comme-des-garcons.com; (tel. 03/3406-3951), Rei Kawakubo’s showcase for her daring—and constantly evolving—men’s and women’s designs (even her shop is constantly evolving). The goddess of Japanese fashion and one of the few females in the business when she started, Kawakubo has remained on the cutting edge of design for more than 4 decades. Farther down the street on the right is Yohji Yamamoto (www.yohjiyamamoto.co.jp; tel. 03/3409-6006), where Yamamoto’s unique, classically wearable clothes are sparingly hung, flaunting the avant-garde interior space. Of the many non-Japanese designers to have invaded this trendy neighborhood, including Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, none stands out as much as Prada ([tel. 03/6418-0400), a bubble of convex/concave windows on the right side of the street.
Flea markets are good places to shop for antiques and delightful junk. You can pick up secondhand kimono at very reasonable prices (usually around ¥1,000 or less), 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.) Bargaining is expected. Note that since most markets are outdoors, they tend to be canceled if it rains.
Togo Shrine, 1-5-3 Jingumae, on Meiji Dori in Harajuku (near Meiji-Jingumae and Harajuku stations), has a small antiques market on the first Sunday of every month from 6am to 2pm. It's great for used kimono and curios and is one of my favorites.
Nogi Shrine, a 1-minute walk from Nogizaka Station at 8-11-27 Akasaka, 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, 5-17-3 Shinjuku, near the Yasukuni Dori/Meiji Dori intersection east of Shinjuku Station (Shinjuku Sanchome Station, 5 min.), has a flea market every Sunday from dawn to about 2pm (except in May and Nov, due to festivals).
Yasukuni Shrine, a 3-minute walk from Kudanshita Station, at 3-1-1 Kudanshita, holds a flea market every Sunday from 6am to about 3pm on the long walkway to this very famous shrine.
The Oedo Antique Fair, held at 3-5-1 Marunouchi, in the courtyard of the Tokyo International Forum, beside Yurakucho Station, claims to be the largest outdoor antiques market in Japan (it has also taken away vendors from Tokyo's other flea markets). Held the first and third Sunday of the month from 9am 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. If you hit only one flea market, this should be it.
Finally, the closest thing Tokyo has to a permanent flea market is Ameya Yokocho (also referred to as Ameyoko, 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 vegetables and cosmetics to handbags, tennis shoes, 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.
Housewares & Interior Design
The department stores listed in this guide sell home furnishings, including bedding, kitchenware, lighting, and decor.
Japanese Crafts & Traditional Products
If you want to shop for traditional Japanese folk crafts in the right atmosphere, nothing beats Nakamise Dori (station: Akasaka), a pedestrian lane leading to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It's lined with stall after stall selling souvenirs galore, from wooden geta shoes (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. The side streets surrounding Nakamise Dori, including Demboin Dori and a covered pedestrian lane stretching from both sides of Nakamise Dori, are also good bets.
Another good place to search for traditional crafts is department stores, which usually have sections devoted to ceramics, pottery, bambooware, flower-arranging accessories, kimono, and fabrics.
The Oriental Bazaar sells 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 (discussed earlier). There's also a secondhand kimono stand in Harajuku open for business every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday from 11am to 5pm on the corner of Meiji Dori and Omotesando Dori. Prices start at ¥500, making them affordable even as gifts for friends.
Kitchenware & Tableware
In addition to the department stores and housewares and interior-design shops listed in this guide, 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. Approximately 150 specialty stores here sell cookware and everything else restaurants need, including sukiyaki pots, woks, lunchboxes, pots and pans, aprons, knives, china, lacquerware, rice cookers, plastic food (the kind you see in restaurant display cases), noren (Japanese curtains) 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 Uyeda Jeweller (tel. 03/3503-2587), with a wide selection of pearls in many different price ranges.
The Magical World of Vending Machines
One of the things that usually surprises visitors to Japan is the number of vending machines in the country, estimated to be more than 5.5 million -- one for every 20 people. They're virtually everywhere -- in train stations, in front of shops, on the back streets of residential neighborhoods. They'll take bills and give back change. Some will even talk to you.
And what can you buy in these vending machines? First, there are the obvious items -- drinks and snacks, including hot or cold coffee in a can, but they come in such a bewildering number of choices that it's difficult to make a selection. If you're on your way to someone's house, you might be able to pick up a bouquet of flowers from a machine. Your camera is out of batteries? You may be able to find those, too, along with CDs, film, disposable cameras, sandwiches, and even eggs. Vending machines outside post offices sell stamps and postcards, while those in business hotels sell razors, Cup Noodles, beer, and even underwear.
In the not-too-distant past, things were also sold from sidewalk vending machines that would have met with instant protest in other countries around the world. Cigarettes and beer were available on almost every corner, where even children could buy them if they wanted to; nowadays, however, shoppers must first insert a computer-readable card certifying they're at least 20 years old. I remember a vending machine in my Tokyo neighborhood: By day, it was blank, with no sign as to what was inside; at night, however, the thing would light up, and on display were pornographic comics. Nowadays, pornographic vending machines are very rare, not for moral reasons, but because of the Internet.
Still, if it's available in Japan, it's probably in a vending machine somewhere.
The department stores listed earlier also sell home furnishings, including bedding, kitchenware, lighting, and decor.