What to buy in Tokyo, Japan
- Convenience stores are generally open round the clock.
- Supermarkets are usually open from between 08:00 to 10:00 until 22:00
- Drugstores are usually open from between 08:00 to 10:00 und usually close at 21:00
- Department stores and shopping districts in general do not open before 10:00, many start at 11:00 or even 11:30 and close around 21:00.
Shopping picks up from around midday to late.
Tokyo enjoys a worldwide reputation as being one of the safest cities in the world, but as of recently reports of pickpocketing, perhaps due to the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics, have been on the rise (especially in areas with high concentrations of tourists and shopping). Exercise usual discretion with valuables.
Anime and manga
Akihabara, Tokyo’s Electric Town, is now also the unquestioned center of its otaku community, and the stores along Chuo-dori are packed to the rafters with anime (animation) and manga (comics). Another popular district for all things manga/anime is the Nakano ward and its Broadway Shopping arcade. Check out the mandarake shop for loads of used and rare mangas.
In recent years there has been an “otaku boom” in Akihabara. A lot of attention in particular was paid to the town thanks to the popular Japanese drama “Densha Otoko”, a love story about an otaku who saves a woman on a train and their subsequent courtship.
Akihabara was previously known for its many live performances and cosplayers, some of which had drawn negative attention due to extremist performers. These have become increasingly scarce following the Akihabara massacre in 2008, although girls in various maid costumes can still be seen standing along the streets handing out advertisement fliers to passersby for Maid Cafes.
Serious collectors should head for the Antique Mall in Ginza or the Antique Market in Omotesando, which despite the rustic names are collections of small very specialist shops (samurai armor, ukiyo-e prints, etc) with head-spinning prices. Mere mortals can venture over to Nishi-Ogikubo, where you can pick up scrolls of calligraphy and such for a few thousand yen.
The Antique Festival is held over the weekend about 5-6 times a year at the Tokyo Ryutsu Center, on the Tokyo Monorail line, and is well worth a visit.
Jinbocho is to used books what Akihabara is to electronics. It’s clustered around the Jinbocho subway stop. The Blue Parrot is another shop located at Takadanobaba on the Yamanote line, just two stops north of Shinjuku.
Cameras and electronics
Ever since Sony and Nikon became synonymous with high-tech quality, Tokyo has been a favored place for buying electronics and cameras. Though the lines have blurred since the PC revolution, each has its traditional territory and stores: Akihabara has the electronics stores, including a large number of duty-free shops specializing in export models, and Shinjuku has the camera stores. Unfortunately, local model electronics are not cheap, but the pre-tax prices for the export models are similar to what you’ll pay pre-tax in Europe, and are a little higher than U.S. prices. You can sometimes find cheap local models if you avoid big shops and check smaller retailers, and are willing to deal with Japanese-only interface, manual and service warranty. It’s also surprisingly difficult to find certain things, e.g. games machines.
Shibuya and neighboring Harajuku are the best-known shopping areas for funky, youthful clothes and accessories. Note that, almost without exception, clothes are sized for the petite Japanese frame.
Department stores and exclusive boutiques stock every fashion label imaginable, but for global labels prices in Tokyo are typically higher than elsewhere in the world. The famous Ginza and Ikebukuro’s giant Seibu and Tobu department stores (the largest in the world) are good hunting grounds. Recently, Roppongi Hills has emerged as a popular area for high-end shopping, with many major global brands. Other department stores in Tokyo are Mitsukoshi, Sogo, Marui (OIOI), and Takashimaya. Mitsukoshi is Japan‘s biggest department store chain. Its anchor store is in Nihonbashi. Marui Menstore in Shinjuku has eight floors of high-end fashion for men only.
The district for this is Kappabashi Street near Asakusa, also known as “Kitchen Town.” The street is lined with stores selling all kinds of kitchen wares — this is where the restaurants of Tokyo get their supplies. It’s also a great place to find cheap Japanese ceramics, not to mention plastic food!
Ochanomizu is to the guitar what Jinbocho is to used books. There, you’ll find what must be the world’s densest collection of guitar shops. Plenty of other musical instruments (though not traditional Japanese ones) are also available.
- Women’s shoes are easy to find in any shopping place.
- Men’s shoes are a bit harder to come by, especially if you are looking for something more modern or higher quality.
- Bigger men’s sizes above UK 10 / US 11 / Europe 44 may be difficult to come by. The up-market department stores will be your best bet.
- Trainers are available in all shapes, sizes and colors.
For touristy Japanese knickknacks, the best places to shop are Nakamise in Asakusa and the Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando, which stock all the kitschy things like kanji-emblazoned T-shirts, foreigner-sized kimonos, ninja outfits for kids and ersatz samurai swords that can be surprisingly difficult to find elsewhere. Both also have a selection of serious antiques for the connoisseur.
Japan is a world leader in various intimate adult products, from stylish “Tenga” devices to various dolls with the replaceable body parts (and whole floors selling the spare “parts” for them), as well as some other bizarre goods. Akihabara hosts several large, multi-floor adult stores which are clearly marked as such. Prices for the Japan-made goods are generally better than in Europe and US, and the selection is better. If buying toys or lingerie make sure you purchase the “export” version to avoid size issues.
Bustling open-air bazaars in the Asian style are rare in Tokyo, except for Ueno’s Ameyoko, a legacy of the postwar occupation. Yanaka Ginza in the Shitamachi Taito district, a very nice example of a neighborhood shopping street, makes for an interesting afternoon browse.
There are often small flea and antique markets in operation on the weekend at major (and minor) shrines in and around Tokyo.