From high-end couture and vintage fashions to quirky souvenirs and traditional handmade crafts, Japan’s capital city offers a dazzling array of venues guaranteed to delight discerning shoppers of all ages, incomes and tastes.
Here are just a few of the major shopping districts, malls and neighborhoods you’ll want to put on your Tokyo shopping itinerary.
If money is no object, set an immediate course to the Ginza district, where you’ll find the city’s most high-end collection of luxury boutiques, upscale department stores and chic malls to explore. From Armani to Zara and everything in between, this is where the world’s most prestigious designers — such as Hermes, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel — come to set up shop in Tokyo. In addition to the international “who’s who” list of resident retailers, Mikimoto, Samantha Tiara, Shiseido, Tenshodo, Yoshinoya Ginza and other indigenous Japanese brands represent the home team elegantly.
The undisputed transportation hub of Tokyo can be accessed via what is reputed to be the busiest railway station in the world. Not surprisingly, the prefecture brims and buzzes with a frenetic, pulsing energy, along with a generous smattering of shops and boutiques to meet the needs (and whims) of visitors just passing through. Many of the biggest department stores here maintain pleasant rooftop gardens. Below ground, you’ll find walkable arcades lined with a diverse selection of electronics, specialty music, home goods and novelty retail shops.
If you’ve got fashion-conscious teenagers in tow, you’ll want to treat them to a stroll down this crowded, sloping pedestrian thoroughfare in the Harajuku prefecture to see Japan’s trendiest youth personify what’s hot and what’s not. Subcultures like edgy goth Lolita, hipster-glam gyaru and cutesy kawaii styles abound here, and the district’s contemporary street fashion boutiques and 100 yen shops (comparable to American dollar stores) provide plenty of affordable shopping opportunities. If you work up an appetite, a multitude of fast food outlets and crepe stands offer tasty options for quick refueling.
The past is present — and the pace is comfortably slower — in Tokyo’s charming low-city district, where historic temples, shrines and an amusement park punctuate several shopping streets populated with traditional Japanese souvenir stores and specialty vendors. In the market for an authentic kimono, handmade pottery, kitchenwares, paper fans or origami materials? This is the place to find them at a good price. Rickshaw tours and sightseeing boat rides are available if you get tired of walking.
Manga and anime are alive and well in Akihabara, where neon signs direct shoppers into the district’s eponymous electronics stores for cameras, computers, phones and video games at every price point. Even cafes and eateries get into the picture with video game themes and servers who arrive to take your order dressed in cartoon-character costumes. Just make sure to check the voltage, plugs and warranties on anything you intend to use at home before you buy; some items are only designed to work in Japan.
One of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets, depachika literally means “department store basement.” For foodies, though, it means culinary heaven. No need to interrupt your shopping for lunch or a snack; these colorful lower-level supermarkets of sorts teem with sights, smells, sounds and tastes to accommodate any craving. Baked goods, deli items, gyoza (dumplings), sushi, bento boxes, tempura, sweet treats, tea, sake — you’ll find something you like.
For a resort-like shopping experience that feels like a vacation in itself, travel across the Rainbow Bridge from central Tokyo to Odaiba. This artificial island was originally constructed as a defense site back in the 1800s. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction that houses a handful of destination shopping malls like Decks Tokyo Beach, Aquacity Odaiba, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza and Venus Fort. Elevated walkways and a modern bike-share system make it easy to get around, and there are several pleasant green spaces in which to take a breather between stores.
Other notable shopping areas
Here are a few other districts of note for your shopping pleasure.
- Omotesando is known for sophisticated international brands as well as Japanese boutiques.
- Harajuku is known for its wealth of contemporary street fashion shops and trendy boutiques.
- Shibuya is home to the Shibuya 109 shopping mall, with 10 floors of the hottest fashions geared to a younger crowd via the shops’ competing music and vibrant displays.
- Daikanyama is a high-class residential area peppered with unique, sophisticated boutiques.
- Jiyugaoka is also a lively residential area with many fashion boutiques and housewares stores offering unique items in a quieter area. Hidden on the backstreets of Jiyugaoka is “Little Venice” with a picturesque waterway.
You’ll also notice that some train stations in Tokyo have department stores, boutiques, restaurants and convenience stores, all of which are very convenient for busy people after work or school.
For more information on shopping in Tokyo, see the Official Tokyo Travel Guide: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/.
You will find recommended paths under “Shopping” on this page: gotokyo.org/en/tourists/guideservice/index_guide.html including more about the districts listed above.
See also this story on Fashion in Tokyo: People-watching at its finest: Tokyo street fashion.
—Amy Lynch for Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau