Tokyo did strange things to my brain. I’m not usually much of a shopper, which is partly why I was able to save up for this trip, but I really couldn’t stop myself here. I had to post six kilos worth of shopping home. Yeesh. So, since I am clearly now an expert (ha), I thought I’d give a run down of the best shops I found, ranging from the everyday to the more… err… specialist. (Uh. Child and grandparent warning for the end of this post)
I’ve been mostly trying to avoid buying unnecessary clothing on this trip, only getting things when something else wears out or when I need something I don’t have, like a coat. Unfortunately, with frankly rubbish timing, everything I had seemed to wear out as I got to the most expensive country. Obviously, there is not a shortage of places to go and buy clothes in Tokyo – you could go for designer in Ginza, or sugary teen fashion in Shibuya, or strange alternative cult stuff in Harajuku, but you will be paying a lot for this. And I sort of want to be able to afford to eat. I think probably the cheapest brands for quality basics is Uniqlo, but even cheaper than that is its sister brand GU.
There are various sites around the city but the website is in Japanese so I found it tricky to locate them. They tend to hang around near their big sister though so if you find a Uniqlo, go in and ask where GU is (it’s pronounced jiyu rather than goo). I found one in Ginza and one in Ikebukuro. Cheap clothes achievements: 1 jumper, 1 pair of shoes, 2 pairs of jeans (I know, jeans in a backpack, I’m such a rebel) for about £30. Not half bad for Japan.
If that’s still not cheap enough for you, there’s a chain of second hand stores called Mode Off (no photo of this one I’m afraid). Again, several stores scattered around, I found one near the Koenji subway station. There’s a really wide range of labels and prices here, including a huge sale rack where everything is 300 yen (£2), so you can pick up a Vivienne Westwood handbag for £200 and a non label jacket for £2 at the same time. Cheap clothes acheivements: 4 tops, a dress and a handbag for £10. Score.
Stuff you need, stuff you want and stuff you can’t believe people invented
100 yen stores. God I love these shops. And they are everywhere
I’m fond of pound shops in the UK (or I suppose more accurately dollar stores since that’s closer to the 100 yen exchange), but they don’t come close to the range of stuff available here. They are basically everything shops. Toiletries, stationery, craft items, kitchen goods, gift wrap (pretty gift bags seem to be really really popular here) earphones, gloves, etc etc etc. Bear in mind that tax is added at the till so it’s actually 108 yen per item, but that’s still less than a coke.
Tokyu Hands might be my favourite shop here. I went to two – the photo above is in the Times Square department store in Shinjuku, but the one in Shibuya has a wider variety. This is the high quality version of the everything shop. I can’t remember where I read it, so I’m paraphrasing here, but I saw a review which says this shop assumes you are passionate about something. It’s so true, there are endless different departments but as well as the basics they sell the kind of high quality unusual items and huge variety of choice that you would expect to find in a specialist shop. Like whole sections devoted to shoe care or filofaxes or flower arranging. I bought a few cheap quirky stationery and kitchen bits, then went away pondering quality kitchen knives.
After looking up prices of the brand my brother had recommended (Global), it was a no brainer to go back. I could get one knife in the UK for £125. Two in Japan cost me £85. Also, if you buy any big ticket items like this, take along your passport and you can get your tax back, which of course gives you more money to spend on weird stuff.
(And by the way, stay tuned for a summary of said weird stuff)
Stuff you may not want to admit to – Tokyo for nerds, collectors of the bizarre, and perverts
Being the beloved of an out and proud geek (did I mention the Gundam obsession? Once or twice?), it was inevitable I was going to have to go out seeking anime memorabilia at some point.
Nakano Broadway mall, unsurprisingly outside the Nakano subway station was my first stop. The big shop here is Mandarake, which spreads over several floors, but there are loads of other small shops as well selling everything from manga novels and DVDs to framed animation cells, costumes and loads and loads of figurines.
I didn’t have luck with what I was looking for here – it seems to be more for serious collectors of hard to find retro memorabilia than merchandise for popular brands, but it’s still fascinating to wander around.
Speaking of serious retro memorabilia, I’m kinda in love with this spaceman, but he’s about $2000. Ouch.
Akihabara is the more popular nerd domain, where you will probably find everything related to current Japanese pop culture if you search hard enough among all the electronic shops.
It’s still perfectly possible to go mental here, as shown by this enormous statue of… someone, sold for over $6000. He appears to have bullet holes in his chest though so maybe you can get a discount for damage.
After some searching I found AsoBit City, which I have to make a note of in case I bring Martin to Japan as this would be a good daycare option in case I want to go off and do something he isn’t interested in.
There is an entire floor of Gundam here.
Obscure model request successfully completed, and since this is Japan and it was raining, they even gave my bag a coat. Bless ’em.
Further down Akihabara is the Gachapon Kaikan, aka capsule vending machine heaven. You’ll find these machines in all the department stores, but this had to be the highest concentration of them – wall to wall and floor to ceiling weirdness. They work like gumball machines, but instead of sweets you get a capsule (like a big Kinder egg toy) containing a figurine of a TV character or an animal. Some of them are masquerading as useful items like magnets or keychains, but most are just strange little models.
Since I’m the kind of person who’s pushing 30 and still excited by Kinder egg toys, I went a bit mad in here, so if you come see me when I get back, you may well leave with one of these. If you’re lucky you might get the keychain of a hotdog pretending to be an octopus.
Aaaand onto the pervert shop. I’m sure there are lots of sex shops in Tokyo, but M’s – also in Akihabara – is the big one. Literally. This is 7 floors of unadulterated kink. This is also where you will find those vending machines. If you don’t know what I’m taking about, trust me, you don’t want to.
I’ve mentioned the wet umbrella bags everywhere, but this is the only shop I found where you didn’t have to put the bag on yourself. You push your umbrella into a slot and it comes out wearing a bag. I couldn’t stop giggling at how appropriate it was that the sex shop gave my umbrella a condom.
Mostly this is a place where you don’t talk to the other patrons, but I felt it my duty to help out a very confused woman asking for anime costumes for children. Oh honey, you are in the wrong shop. At least, I really really hope you are in the wrong shop. I directed her towards Nakano Broadway and hoped she didn’t look too closely at anything on the way out.
The floor plan will help you find what you’re after (you know, if you’re actually here to shop and not just snigger at things), from DVDs on the bottom to costumes on the top, passing through the joys of dolls, restraints, and what I remember my mother delicately referring to in my youth as ‘moveable plastics’.
If you’re in the market for anything on the top two floors (lingerie and costumes), it’s worth knowing that there’s a 20% discount if you’re willing to model for a polaroid to stick on their walls. Discount you say? Money off? You bet your ass I’m going for that. Who cares how embarrassing it is, if you’re in Tokyo and want to see a picture of me hamming it up in a sexy maid’s outfit, you know where to go.