Answers from Our Experts (3)
Shopping could be the No. 1 pastime in Japan, especially in Tokyo. As you consider the many stores in the city’s 23 wards, from huge department stores to hard-to-find specialty shops, you’ll need to figure out what you want to buy. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ suggestions on where to find certain items:
Here are a few standouts:
For souvenirs, go to Senso-ji (also called Asakusa Kannon), an ancient and colorful Buddhist temple in Taito. While the temple is worth visiting — the Kaminarimon, or Thunder God Gate, is as impressive as its name — the shopping is done just outside, at Nakamise-dori, a pedestrian-only street lined with stalls selling yukata, folding fans, key chains, dolls, and local snacks like deep-fried manju (maple leaf cakes) and skewered kibi balls (rice cake) covered with soybean powder.
For trendy goods, head to Ameyoko Market in Taito. The name is short for Ameya-yokocho, or “Candy Store Alley.” What started as a thriving black market selling confections in postwar Japan is now a crowded and colorful street market offering designer jeans, backpacks, dried seafood, aloha shirts, cosmetics, Hello Kitty charms and fruit on a stick.
Food lovers should visit Kappabashi Street in Taito, literally “Kitchen Town,” that’s packed with shops servicing Tokyo’s restaurant industry. You can find knives, lacquer ware, plastic sushi, and a variety of kitchen paraphernalia here. Like those red paper lanterns that hang outside of bars.
Fashionistas will love Takeshita Street and Omotesando, shopping streets not far apart in Harajuku. The two streets are very different: Geared toward younger shoppers, Takeshita Street is lined with small shops selling trendy looks at affordable prices; Omotesando is a tree-lined avenue with more upscale options such as Prada, Tod’s and Zara.
Avid shoppers who aren’t looking for deals will be thrilled by the world-renowned Ginza. You’ll find all the high-end retailers — Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Dior — and a few specialty stores in between. On Sundays, the main strip of Chuo-dori is dotted with umbrella-shaded tables — the street is closed to vehicle traffic — making for a leisurely shopping experience.
Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you stop into these specialty Japanese retailers while you’re in Tokyo: UNIQLO in Ginza, a Japanese hip version of the Gap; Tokyu Hands in Shibuya, a DIY department store with interesting home, hobby and lifestyle products; Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, a chain store selling all things electronic; and Kiddy Land in Harajuku, one of the most popular toy stores in the city where you can discover Japan’s kawaii (adorable creature) culture.
It's hard to beat the convenience of the new crop of urban shopping centers that have cropped up in central Tokyo over the last year.
The newest of these shopping complexes is Kitte, part of a towering renovation of the historic Tokyo Central Post Office just across the street from Tokyo Station. The unique triangular atrium preserves some of the old building's original features while adding stunning modern architecture. Start with a snack at the airy bookstore cafe on the fourth floor and wind your way down. (Don't skip a peek into the free natural history museum on the second floor.)
Tokyu Plaza is colloquially called Omo-Hara, as it sits at the intersection of Omotesando and Harajuku. It's a nice blend of the characters of the two neighborhoods: Omotesando's good taste and Harajuku's youthful fun. The green rooftop garden is a great place to relax. You'll want to have your camera ready as you go up the escalators surrounded by striking fun-house mirrors at the entrance.
Divercity is a day trip for the shopper interested in seeing a pristine Japanese take on the Western shopping mall concept. Familiar brands mingle with Japanese favorites, and the vast food court has a wide array of fresh and accessible Japanese and international meals and snacks. The property is surrounded by views of Tokyo Bay. Out back, a park with a towering, colorful statue of beloved Japanese anime character Gundam provides a photo op and a place to rest and enjoy some fresh air and icecream on a nice day.
If you want the finest of the finest, you’ll need to go to Ginza. Nobody takes chopsticks as seriously as Ginza Natsuno, Nowhere sells Japanese sweets as stylish as those at Higashiya. And the Big liquor shop is the place to pick up some award-winning Japanese whisky. Explore the Mitsukoshi and Matsuya department stores (and don’t miss their food-focused basements). You can pick up watches by Breguet, Omega or Longines at the Nicolas G. Hayek Center, but the best reason to go there is to check out the design: each oval shop on the first floor functions as an elevator that lifts you to the corresponding brand. Ginza is also home to a multi-story Sony showroom.
Elsewhere, don’t miss the teen fashion mayhem of 109 in Shibuya, or the world’s most innovative upcycling shop, Omotesando’s Pass The Baton, which is packed full of one-off designer goodies and ingenious ways to rebrand factory rejects.