The Shopaholic’s Guide to Tokyo

I have a confession that I’m going to make up front: I am a shopaholic. I’ve been to Japan three times, and shopping has been a high priority every trip. Needless to say, I’ve picked up some wisdom about where and how to shop in Tokyo, which I am now going to pass along to you. After reading this, you should be able to shop without dropping on your trip to Japan.

Where To Shop When You’re Not Sure What You Want

Tokyu-Hands-Sign

There are a few places that I hit up when I’m in Tokyo when I want to shop for nothing in particular. Tokyu Hands is a great destination for this. It’s a chain of stores that can be found all over Japan, with multiple locations in Tokyo itself. I’ve bought everything from cardboard boxes to board games and kitchen gadgets there. As they say on their English website, “From basic products that support the foundations of the customer’s life to products that provide pleasure and enrichment, Tokyu Hands handles a wide variety of merchandise that meets diversified customer demands.” Truth.

Japanese department stores (depaato) are also great places to go when you don’t have a particular item in mind. I don’t know what department stores are like outside Japan and the USA, but the Japanese depaato are awesome and quite different from their American counterparts. If you’re out and about and want to visit a depaato but have no clue where one is, look for a large train station, as stations frequently have department stores attached. How are these shopping plazas different from the department stores back home? Every one I’ve been in has been multiple floors – seven to eleven stories is not unusual at all. The basement floor is generally devoted to premade/specialty foods, while the top floor normally has restaurants. The other floors of the depaato will be devoted to a variety of goods; most will have a map in English letting you know what items are available on each floor. Don’t forget to visit the department store’s roof, which may have more shopping, special events, and/or spectacular views; in the summer, many depaato offer “beer gardens” on the roof.

Amped Up Shopping

Akihabara

Photo by Les Taylor

Like many visitors to Japan, you may be looking to score some electronics while you’re there. Head to Akihabara, the area of Tokyo known for electronics and maid cafes. If you’re in Akihabara but don’t know what you want, start at Yodabashi Akiba. If you’re in a store, ask the store employees for guidance (this does require finding a way around any language barriers). Finally, a bit of advice from one of my friends: do your research ahead of time and have a good idea of what you want before you head into Akihabara. That way you won’t get overwhelmed with all the choices. Finally, although it’s not in Akihabara, and probably not a great place for deals, I love visiting the Sony showroom in Ginza. They have all their newest and greatest gadgets on display, and you can toy around with most of them.

Trading Paper For Paper

Japanese-Men-in-a-Bookstore-Reading-Japanese-Books

Photo by Kyle Hasegawa

Another confession: I love books. I’ve yet to leave Tokyo without packing a suitcase or box full of books to lug back home. Some of my favorite places to shop for the printed word: Kinokuniya, Book Off, and Tsutaya. Kinokuniya sells new books and generally has a huge selection, Book Off sells used books (and other media), and Tsutaya’s main business model is rental – but they also sell books and other media. If you really love books and want a different fix than the above-mentioned stores can offer, wander over to Jimbocho, a Tokyo neighborhood known for its booksellers, publishing houses, and antiques.

Goodies For The Folks Back Home

Nakamise-dori-in-Tokyo-shopping

There’s no need to do your souvenir shopping at the airport. You can find better stuff – at better prices – with a little bit of effort. If you’re strapped for time, my one-stop recommendation is the Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku. It’s a large store with a variety of lovely and traditional things at prices that should fit most budgets. If you have more time, Nakamise-dori, the street that leads to Sensoji temple in Asakusa, is lined with shops that sell everything from mass-produced tourist kitsch to toys to high-quality knives – and lots more in between.

Although prices may be higher than at the Oriental Bazaar or on Nakamise-dori, I’ve also had great success at museum gift shops. Even if you’re uninterested in the museum itself, many of the gift stores allow entry without paying for admission to the museum.

Everyone Needs Plastic Food Models And Other Neat Stuff

Kiddy-Land-Tokyo

Photo by FunkBrothers

Okay, it’s possible that, in fact, pretty much no one needs plastic food models. But they’re awesome, and you can buy them – in everything from full size to keychain – on Kappabashi-dori, to the west of Asakusa. Several stores in the area sell them, as well as just about every other bit of Japanese kitchen equipment that you could ever want.

If kitchen equipment and plastic food models don’t make your heart race, but Evangelion merchandise and Sanrio products do, check out Kiddy Land, just down the street from the Oriental Bazaar (they have a few other locations as well). Kiddy Land sells oodles of toys, anime products, and adorable things.

If offbeat describes what you’re looking for, you should visit Don Quijote, a chain of stores known for selling a huge variety of goods. When you want something that makes the folks back home go “huh?”, Don Quijote is your one-stop best bet.

Another chain that you’ll find all over Tokyo is Condomania, a store that sells… condoms. Lots of condoms. They also sell lubricants and plenty of gag/joke gifts. Despite the racy name, Condomania has always seemed to me like a Spencer’s Gifts with less t-shirts and more prophylactics. This, of course, means that there are lots of options for slightly off-color gifts. Or maybe Hello Kitty condoms are your thing. I won’t judge. Much.

Finally, if you’ve been dying to dress like a Visual Kei superstar or are just curious about what Japanese teenagers are into, wander around Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori. Takeshita-dori and the streets surrounding it are the traditional mecca of teenagers in Tokyo, although this is slowly changing.

One Man’s Trash Is Great For You

Japanese-Ladies-at-a-Recycle-Shop

Photo by takoto marui

Some of the best deals that you can find in Tokyo mean shopping second-hand. My absolute favorite second-hand store has already been mentioned: Book Off. CDs, books, and games can all be had for a fraction of their retail price at Book Off, which has locations all over Japan.

If you’re into retro gaming, a visit to Super Potato is an absolute must. They sell video games of all generations and platforms for reasonable prices (you’ll probably find cheaper prices at Book Off, but less selection). If you have the right group of friends, these games can double as gifts. I wrapped up and gifted out lots of original Final Fantasy games after my last trip to Japan!

Although it’s not quite as well used as it is in the USA, craigslist.org does have a site for Tokyo. Just like in the States, there are lots of people selling lots of things for much less than retail (or giving them away for free).

Tokyo also has multiple flea markets, frequently run by local temples. The JNTO has a list of some of them. If you’re just visiting Tokyo, these can be tricky to time but are totally worth it.

Life Lessons

Akihabara-Electronics-Store

Photo by Matt Watts

Finally, I’d like to impart some general Tokyo shopping advice to you. Most of this I learned the hard (or sometimes easy-but-random) way. No need for you to reinvent the wheel!

Duty free shopping is available at lots of bigger stores, including the Sony showroom, most department stores, Yodabashi Akiba, and Tokyu Hands. The procedure for how to buy things duty free will vary from store to store, but will always involve showing your passport to prove that you’re just visiting Japan. Ask an employee or check the store’s website to find out how to go duty-free in a particular store.

There are a few services that stores offer that you might want to consider taking advantage of, most notably mailing and wrapping. Some stores will mail things for you – maybe all the way back home or at least back to your hotel. Obviously, a fee will apply, but for bulky items, this is something that’s worth inquiring about. Japanese stores also tend to do a really nice job of wrapping your items, and if you tell the employee that the item is a gift, they’ll frequently do an extra nice wrapping job for free.

Another bit of wisdom: cardboard boxes are your friend. If you find yourself with more than will fit in your suitcase, invest in a cardboard box or two. Check your airline’s rules about how large/heavy a checked-in item can be, then buy a box that meets those guidelines. I’m sure there are multiple places to buy cardboard boxes in Tokyo, but I’ve gotten mine at Tokyu Hands – note that the staff is not used to tourists trying to buy cardboard boxes, so if you can’t find them on your own, ask someone for help and don’t be afraid to use pictures of cardboard boxes.

The public transportation system in Tokyo is awesome enough that you should never need to take a taxi somewhere, but don’t be afraid to use one when you’re laden down with your day’s purchases. Sometimes it’s absolutely worth it. Another note about getting things back to your hotel: the barrier guides in train stations are super useful. These will tell you where the escalators and elevators are located, which is awesome when you’ve been out shopping for ten hours and are carrying heavy shopping bags. The Tokyo Metro website also lists each station and whether escalators or elevators are present and where they are in the station. This information is currently available only in Japanese, so a physical guide may still be your best bet if you don’t read Japanese and aren’t comfortable poking around the website.

If you know you want a particular item but you’re having trouble finding it, don’t be afraid to use Amazon Japan. When I realized I needed a second suitcase my last trip (in addition to a cardboard box!), I hopped on Amazon, picked one out, and had it delivered to my hotel. It showed up the same day I ordered it for no additional cost. Of course, Amazon Japan will ship to your home country as well, but shipping costs are much, much higher.

This isn’t really advice, but Japanese shopping tends to be very seasonal. In autumn, you’ll find goods covered with leaves and other autumnal images. In winter, snowmen and winter-related things. So if you want something that’s seasonal, be aware that it may be hard to find out of season. Sometimes there are special seasonal shopping treats, like fukubukuro, a New Year’s tradition where merchants create mystery bags of goodies; the items inside are generally substantially discounted. You get a good deal and a (hopefully) pleasant surprise all at once!

Final Wrap-Up

Tokyo-Shopping-Mannequin

Photo by Evan Williams

I hope the information here has left you better equipped to shop to your heart’s content in Tokyo. It’s a great place to shop, and I’m sure others have plenty of advice as well. One final piece of advice from me: if you have the time, venture off the beaten path (or my suggested path, at least). Some great shopping experiences can be had just by walking into a store on a whim. However or wherever you shop, I hope you have a great time and score some awesome goodies!

Bonus Wallpapers!

ashopaholicsguideintokyo-750
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600] ∙ [1280x800 Animated]

  • Bob Omb

    You forgot Donki, the greatest store ever.

  • linda lombardi

    Buying a suitcase on Amazon and having it delivered to your hotel – seriously hard core.

    I am a huge fan of Nakamise-dori for souvenir shopping (many of which are souvenirs for me). Somehow it seems wrong to visit a temple to shop, and I suspect that I would consider a similar place at home to be a tourist trap. But it is awesome and also, SO MANY excellent snacks to eat while you shop.

  • Lessa Traboco

    Just came back from two weeks there and i did most of that! :) Except d electronics which i am not really an expert in.

    I think food souvenirs such as rice crackers, nori maki, etc can get even better prices at the local supermarket. U wont find mochi there though. But my family loves furikake so i had to go to one corner grocery to get one. :)

    Yanaka was pretty awesome place for shopping as well. :)

  • Mescale

    I don’t really know anything about department stores.

    But my understanding is in the old days department stores did everything, with multiple departments.

    However over time they have become very focused to having maybe just selling clothes, a mens department, women’s department, and maybe a house hold goods department.

    Some department stores are not, maybe Harrods for instance? John Lewis in England is more varied as far as department stores go.

    In France, there is a department store called Printemps, which also has a wider range of stuff.

    I would guess that Japan probably has the more old fashioned (and better in my opinion) of a department store which has many more departments, e.g. one stop shopping place.

    In the US I would guess instead of department stores, its more about Malls, which cover the same ground differently, and in the UK this kind of shopping has certainly increased as well.

    The downside of malls is that the stuff being sold is entirely at the whims of whoever has a store there, so you might end up with a mall entirely composed of clothes shops, and no haberdashery!

    Whereas a department store would have chosen to have a wide range of goods.

    Certainly any department store without a haberdashery is no department store in my opinion.

  • MisterM2402

    “high-quality knives”

    Yup, great idea for the folks back home. You’ll get on the plane no problem with some knives in your luggage ;)

  • Jessica Shortz

    You definitely can: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items#4 . You can check knives, swords, and even firearms. You just can’t put them in your carry-on.

  • Jessica Shortz

    Isn’t Donki short for Don Quijote? I included that one under where to go for random stuff. :)

  • Jessica Shortz

    It’s one of my favorite suitcases too! It’s a really cute pink suitcase.

  • Jessica Shortz

    Where was your favorite place to shop?

  • DAVIDPD

    Just give me a MUJI and I will be a happy dude.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    I checked in my bags with Kamata knives, no problemo.

  • linda lombardi

    Yes! Hope you had a lot of snacks too.

  • Lessa Traboco

    I went to asakusa like 3x in the two weeks… Harajuku 2x… I was visiting my brother so i stayed at the Kanto area. (Only went to yokohama, nikko and the shibazakura for fuji)

    Oh! And akihabara 2x but it was more because of anime stuffed toys for my sister. I think people should also look out for bazaars for cheaper stuff. I had just bought a Nyanko sensei stuffed toy from k-books then the bazaar near akiba ichi mall had a bigger one a thousand yen cheaper. Grr! Haha

  • Lessa Traboco

    Lots!!! I walked around A LOT so for the first week my “lunch” was snack-based… Like… Oooh, what’s that? Omnomnom. Oooh what’s this…omnomnom. I was always hungry though maybe because of all the walking….haha! I dont really know some of what I ate …which is cool. There’s a coffee shop at yanaka which made me stop to buy iced coffee on a hot day because it just smelled sooo good.

    I was also there for the first day of sanja matsuri so that was a disaster for food budget. Lol. The shibazakura festival made me gobble green tea manju (at least i think thats what it was) and awesome ramen that i ate at a corner because it was super crowded. Which was awesome. :))

  • Jessica Shortz

    I love shopping in Tokyo, but eating comes in pretty high on the list too! It’s such a great city for both!

  • Jessica Shortz

    I love Asakusa – definitely my favorite Tokyo neighborhood to visit (not sure what living there would be like).

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Tokyu Hands is always great, but not limited to Tokyo, of course. ;)
    Harajuku and Takeshita-dori is nice, especially for girls. If you are a Johnnys fan, then check out the JE shop there. I haven’t been there in YEARS, but on the weekends you need to grab a ticket and line up at a certain time (written on the ticket) in order to get in.
    There are some great Mandarake and Animate shops for anime, manga fans. The Mandarake in Ikebukuro is mainly for BL so mostly interesting for girls. The one in Akihabara has a lot of hentai stuff as well. The one in Shibuya is a great allrounder for everyone.

    Kiddy Land is awesome as well.

    If you’re into fashion, then Shibuya 109 is the place to go.

    If you’re in Japan, but not close to Tokyo, don’t worry! There are other big cities where you can enjoy shopping. Fukuoka and Osaka are great for shopping, too.

  • Moogiechan

    You can get cardboard boxes for free at grocery stores. Or at least I could in Tochigi when I was there.

    kakaku.com is a great site. If you know what you want, and enough Japanese to find it, you can find out which shop has the best price (that day!). I got a DSLR for a lot less than Amazon.co.jp or Yodobashi wanted by going to a hole in the wall shop in Akihabara. It was off the main road and had no show room, but I already knew what I wanted and didn’t need to pay for a fancy store at that point.

  • Roxanne Ready

    I love, love, LOVE Book Off. Also Hard Off for clothes and knick knacks, and Hobby Off for otaku goods at amazing prices.

    The thing that surprised me the most about shopping in Japan was their idea of a “sale”. It’s not uncommon to see 10% or even 5% off signs. The only time I’ve seen really good sales are at the New Year, when lots of stores not only have ikebukuro, but half off sales going on, as well.

  • Jessica Shortz

    That’s a great point about Hard Off and Hobby Off – I totally forgot about them.

  • Wayne

    Just leaving Japan today after 2 weeks. I enjoy music shopping and Reco fan and Disk Union and Book off in particular are excellent. For general great things Loft and Muji are brilliant. The branches in Shibuya are my favourite. Also don’t miss the magnificent Tsutaya branch in Daikanyama. Beautiful new multi building book and music store.

  • Raymond Chuang

    A word of warning about Tokyu Hands–block off several HOURS just to visit the store. I remember visiting the store in Shibuya (getting in a opening time at 1000 hours) and not leaving until 1500 hours! :-O

  • SanD

    What about 100yen shops?! You can find all kinds of awesome/interesting things and great souvenirs!

  • MisterM2402

    So weird, I had no idea they’d let you do that. Though I guess it would be a different story if you had one in your carry-on luggage!

  • Angsty Coder

    Bic Camera (at least Ikebukuro) also does duty free. got my 3DS there :)

  • ichigoichielove

    Nice roundup with good advice — will definitely share this with visiting friends since I’m too lazy to explain it myself, but I’d also add one thing. When it comes to flying home, you can send your suitcase(s) by takkyubin to the airport a day earlier to avoid lugging it on buses/taxis/trains. You just pick it up at the Kuroneko Yamato (or other company!), check in and you’re done. It’s not too expensive, and it does ease up on the stress factor on the day of traveling. (Oh and if you managed to buy stuff between sending off the suitcase and leaving, you can still pop them into your luggage before check-in.)

    And of course, the same goes for when you arrive in Japan — drop off your suitcase and have them deliver it to your destination no fuss…. But remember to pack a change of clothes/toothbrush etc in an extra bag as it won’t arrive until the next day! ^^

  • Chen Kaixiang

    Are there any second hand clothes shops?

  • DJ_Gallow

    Where To Shop When You’re Not Sure What You Want’
    Lol. I wish every guide had something like this. Seriously.

  • Silly Samurai

    Yes, there are many. Some are a regular business, and sell coats, shoes, watches and bags, in addition to clothes. Others are “resale” shops which recycle donated items, using the money for charity. They often also have dishes and handicrafts, as well as clothes.
    Grocery stores sell inexpensive good quality knives, chopsticks (ohashi) and other useful items, and interesting delicious candy.

  • Anyse Bray

    We loved shopping at the Pokémon Center. My three year old daughter and husband were in heaven! We skipped the gift shop at the Ghibli Museum but found Ghibli things at KiddyLand, our local AEON mall, and a gift shop in Naha airport. Our favorite overall shopping would have to be done at Daiso (¥100 store). So much quality stuff for so cheap! I have tons of bento supplies and kitchen gadgets from there that I use all the time.

    Universe was always fun to get groceries at. Snacks there are way less expensive than even at Daiso. But stopping by Lawson’s for a treat was a common occurence too. You can’t forget the gapachon (capsule) machines! I felt like that ¥100-300 was always well spent.

    We were living up in Aomori and found some awesome rural little antiques places and used kimono shops that were great to shop at as well – interactions with the owners were always lovely. Amd don’t get me started on Amazon.co.jp… Let’s just say the Kuroneko man became very familiar with our house ^_^

  • yoru.morino

    I just went crazy in Kiddy Land!
    And I regret so mucho not buying more CDs at Book Off T-T
    Second hand items in Japan are the best, they aren’t damaged or anything and have good prices!