Like Paris, Milan, and New York, Tokyo is one of those places that ordinary people dream of visiting and celebrities regularly spend time in. Tokyo is the fashion capital of Japan since it offers just about every fashion subculture you can think of. It’s the city where trends start and where young people flock to make a name for themselves. Throughout the city, shoppers can find local and international stores alike. However, as a foreigner living in Japan, I can understand how intimidating it can be to venture into one of the local stores on the streets of Harajuku. The signs are all in Japanese, and the staff likely don’t speak any English. It can be difficult to communicate your needs with the staff on what you’re looking for if you don’t know the language or worse suffer from some common discrimination practices for people of color. As much as H&M and Zara are mainstays even among the locals, there’s nothing quite like finding unique, handmade items to add to your closet. I put together an insider guide on shopping in Tokyo to help you pick the best neighborhoods to visit and find bargains like the locals.
The Best Neighborhoods for Shopping in Tokyo
Shopping in Tokyo can feel a lot like going through a giant department store, except all the stores seem to sell the same items. Much like in the west shopping in Japan is often focused around malls and giant department stores. Each neighborhood often has its own local mall which offers just about anything a person could want. However unlike the west local street shopping in Japan often offers shoppers unique finds sometimes at a bargain but likely at a high price.
Shibuya and Harajuku
The first stop for fashion lovers is Shibuya and Harajuku. The two neighborhoods are on the Yamanote line and are about a ten-minute walk from each other. The giant storefronts of will likely are the first thing to catch your attention with H&M, Zara, and American Eagle. However, the beauty of these neighborhoods relies on their back ally streets. Takeshita street is the most famous alley street in Japan as the original center of youth fashion in culture. Once the home for thriving lolita and visual kei aesthetics many of the stores have been replaced with animal cafes, gimmick cafes, souvenir shops, and department stores geared towards Japanese teens. The focus of fashion has shifted from unique subcultures to more Korean fashion but it’s an excellent place to pick up accessories.
Uraharajuku offers a deeper dive into streetwear culture in Japan. Many of the stores in the back streets of Harajuku are thrift stores or pop-up stores selling their own brand of street fashion. Thrift stores like PINNAP can be found back here. Sneaker Alley is a great stop for people who are interested in buying the best pair of shoes directly from Tokyo. DokiDoki6% should also be on the list of kawaii fashion aficionados for their own specialty items.
On the other side of Harajuku is Omotesando, which offers high fashion retailers such as Mac, Gucci, Dior, and many more. While these stores are certainly out of the price range of many budget travelers, their cafes are worth spending an hour or two sampling drinks and food.
Shibuya is more for streetwear fashion than youthful or high fashion. Especially with the newly opened Miyashita Park Mall, the area is rapidly expanding. Shibuya 109 is a fun department store to visit catered mostly towards Japanese teens. Aside from the big department stores, there are local favorites like Undefeated, Bape, United Arrows, Uniqlo, and more.
Insider Tip: Shibuya and Harajuku can be quite crowded on the weekends which leads to many items being sold out. To be the first to grab exclusive items try shopping on the weekdays for a crowd-free experience.
Known as a vintage and thrifting paradise Shimokitazawa is only 10 minutes away from Shibuya station. The neighborhood is still under construction, but this charming place has a lot to offer to people who march to the beat of their own drum. There are a hundred cute coffee shops, cafes, and music venues and of course thrift stores to keep you entertained for days. A landmark of the neighborhood is the Ghibli cafe where people can buy cute creampuffs in the shape of Totoro.
Some of the most popular thrift stores include New York Joe, Kinji, Flamingo for starters. For music lovers checking out live venues like Garage and Shelter are a good place to catch local up-and-coming bands.
Insider Tip: On select weekends there’s a Mottainai flea market where locals set up tables to sell their own handcrafted goods or gently used items. Be sure to stop by the flea market for some truly unique items and to try a taste of the Japanese food trucks.
The most affluent neighborhood in Tokyo, it’s home to the most upscale boutiques and department stores like the high-fashion mall Ginza Six. Although the neighborhood is extremely out of my price range, there are some spots that are well worth a quick shopping spree. The simpler pleasures of fine arts at Takumi or even gourmet food at Akoymeya is a great stop for those new to the neighborhood. Itoya is the most famous store in the area offering 9 floors of stationary magic for shoppers to explore.
Insider Tip: Ginza has a good variety of beer gardens at an affordable price range. After shopping in the summer why don’t you spend dinner over a couple of beers with a lovely view?
Once a forgotten warehouse district along the Sumida River, Kuramae has recently been refreshed as a young artisan’s town. Dubbed as “Little Brooklyn”, shoppers are likely to find handcrafted items like leather bags, traditionally dyed clothes, or custom notebooks. The neighborhood is very quiet but is a good spot to visit whenever you’re traveling through Asakusa. Local cafes like McLean Cafe and Brooklyn offer great brunch items, and if you want to be in a more traditional part of town a stroll through Okazu Yokocho will allow you to find traditional Japanese snacks like pickled cucumbers, kakigori, and more.
Insider Tip: Since many of these stores are specialty shops, they close early or have different opening times. The best times to catch a deal would be on the weekends in the late afternoon.
Koenji and Kichijoji
Going a bit further into west Tokyo, we have Koenji and Kichijoji. These two areas offer a lot of counter-culture aesthetics. Like Shimokitazawa there are a ton of second-hand shops which offer unusual finds for those with an artistic eye. It’s easy to miss but there are plenty of fashion stores inside the Kita Kore building and Sokkyo offers many coveted vintage items. Don’t miss the collection of fashion stores inside the ramshackle Kita-Kore building and coveted vintage goods at easy-to-miss Sokkyo. Kichijoji is a particularly popular place for home goods items, with boho objects at Outbound and the antique ceramics at Puku Puku.
Insider Tip: Stop by the Kichijoji Art Museum in Coppice. While unknown to tourists admission is only 100 yen, making it a good spot for a date or a break from shopping.
Akihabara and Ikebukuro
For anime and pop culture aficionados, Akihabara is obviously the first stop on the list. Akihabara is home to giant arcades, numerous themed cafes, and of course the large Mandarake next to the station. However, Ikebukuro also has a small reputation for being the home of anime-themed goods as well. Particularly because of the giant Pokemon store in Sunshine City Mall. Many of the stores here cater to female fans, but I’m certain there are enough stores for any anime fan to find something they like.
Insider Tip: Be on the lookout for seasonal cafes or special openings from sights like Moshi Moshi Nippon. They often have insider details on things like the Sailor Moon cafe or Inuyasha cafes.
Each neighborhood of Tokyo is unique and offers its own take on the Tokyo shopping experience. While finding the best bargain in Tokyo can change depending on the season or month here are a few general tips to make your shopping experience smooth.
Tips of Shopping in Tokyo:
- Although the culture is changing, be sure to bring some cash with you while you’re shopping. Big department stores offer cashless pay, but small mom and pop stores often still only take cash.
- Avoid bargaining in department stores. However flea markets and specaility stores are often fair game.
- Many stores offer tax free shopping for foreign tourists. If you plan to spend over 5,000 yen be sure to bring your passport for a little bit of a discount.