{ask me anything about anywhere} Your Favorite Shops in Tokyo?

People ask me for travel advice all the time, and sometimes I just don’t get around to blogging about it in advance. Here’s your chance to ask me anything about anywhere! If I have any good intel–I’ll gladly share it with you.

The Question: I’m heading to Tokyo for a business trip, and I want to find some really cool and unique shops for gifts, food, and a taste of Japanese pop culture while I’m there. What are your favorite shops in Tokyo?

This is an easy one, because my favorite store in the whole world is in Tokyo: Tokyu Hands.  There are multiple branches of this store, but I prefer the orderly, multi-level Shinjuku branch. It’s hard to describe Tokyu Hands, but it is often described as a “DIY store” and it is a wonderful emporium of gadgets, tchotchkes, electronics, and things you have heretofore only seen on humor blogs, like the alarm clock that runs away from you and the plastic thing designed to hold a single banana. In that sense, it’s almost like a mini-museum of Japanese pop culture, and it’s a lot of fun to browse around. Give yourself a leisurely hour, at least, and you’ll find lots of things you want to bring home! Metro to Shinjuku.

A close second is the Harajuku district, especially on a weekend when the fashionistas are out strutting their stuff. The people-watching is actually even better than the shopping, which is also quite good. The great thing about buying clothes or accessories in Harajuku is that you know the styles will be all the rage in the US, say, 1-2 years from now. Look at you, now you’re a trendsetter! If you have any friends back home who fancy themselves sartorially superior, bring them something back from Harajuku. Just across from the train section, you will enter a pedestrian shopping strip with inexpensive, almost-too-cool stores populated with young women and men sporting some to-die-for bizarre and amazing outfits, and some old guys in even weirder outfits (like the guy below.) Metro to Harajuku.

For food lovers, Kappabashi district–“Kitchen Town”–is a lot of fun as well. Kappabashi is where all of the fake plastic food you see in restaurant windows is sold, along with stacks of dishes, chopsticks, sauce bowls, and more. Kappabashi closes up on Sunday, so try for a weekday.  Metro to Tawaramachi or Asakusa.

On the food tip, another must-see is the depachika–the fancy food halls of the upscale department stores. My personal favorite is in Takashimaya, a 15-story grande dame of Japanese luxury with female elevator operators. Counters after counter of sculptural cakes, flaky French pastries, impossibly perfect chocolates, and elaborate kobe beef displays will make it hard to keep your mouth from watering (and your wallet full.) There’s also a lovely (albeit expensive) floor devoted to kimonos and Japanese crafts in Takashimaya. Metro to Nihombashi. Some vendors don’t allow photos.

If you are a nerd, maybe Akihabara is for you–it’s the Mecca of nerd-dom, replete with gadget shops galore and speckled with fetishy cosplay and anime-themed cafes. I will gladly admit to being a nerd, but apparently not the right kind of nerd, because it didn’t really float my boat. I preferred the neighboring streets of Jimbocho, the book district, where all of the old booksellers keep shop–along with some larger, modern bookshops. Metro to Akihabara or Jimbocho, respectively.

I always enjoy a visit to Muji, which is right near the Shinjuku Tokyu Hands. While Muji is a Japanese store, you can find Muji stores all over the world. The Japanese branches do have some interesting stuff, though, especially in the food section! Metro to Shinjuku.

It might be closed for tourism now (that is what I recently heard, but do check at your hotel) but the Tsukiji Fish Market is an intense, humming, crazy, unforgettable experience. It’s the largest wholesale fish market in the world. You have to go around 5 AM because it stops being interesting around 6 or 7, as all business is done by then. Because of this, go early in your trip when you’re still jetlagged and naturally waking up early. You can watch the tuna auctions. The best sushi is in the places near the market, provided you can stomach raw fish for breakfast. (I can. Happily.) Metro to Tsukijishijo or Tsukiji.

You can see more photos of the Tsukiji auction here and a few pictures of Kappabashi here.

For a list of helpful links about planning a trip to Japan, I recommend this one from Wired 2 the World.

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1 Response

  1. I agree with you about Tokyu Hands.
    I think it is the coolest shop in the world.