If I could only make purchases in one city for the rest of my life, I would choose to do all my shopping in Tokyo.
As a fashion blogger specializing in Japanese street style, and life-long fan of “kawaii” cute goods, I can assure you that shopping in Tokyo is a rousing experience unlike anywhere else on the planet!
In the capital city’s various districts, you can find every type of Japanese premium product imaginable, from fine kimonos to retro anime figures and high-tech robots.
Many boutiques are dedicated to “style tribes”, and carry Gothic Lolita lace dresses and bonnets that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Other stores revolve around niche consumer goods. In Asakusa, for example, you can find shops with hundreds of styles of chopsticks or sushi knives.
Shopping is one of the most popular reasons for travelers to fly to Tokyo. Japan has the world’s second largest retail market according to JETRO, with 2018 sales exceeding US $1.3 billion.
According to their polls, 35% of Asian tourists (from countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea) say their main reason for coming to Japan is to shop till they drop, a very different shopping experience than in those countries, like Korea’s capital Seoul. So shopping is by far one of the best things to do in Japan.
Whenever you walk around Tokyo’s top districts, you can see the popularity of this activity with your own eyes. Everywhere you look, there are sky-high department stores and cute independent boutiques, and it feels as if everyone in Tokyo is shopping all the time.
On weekends, popular shopping areas like Harajuku or Shibuya get so congested that the main streets may form a bottleneck.
While shopping in Tokyo is guaranteed to be fun and inspiring, it can also feel daunting for travelers unfamiliar with the districts and language. Instead of having one-stop malls, the city is split in various districts that specialize in particular types of goods or styles.
I’ll highlight the most outstanding, one-of-a-kind items you can find in each area, from electronics to kabuki masks and vintage clothing. At the end of each section, I’ll include a handy guide on how to get here by train. Finally, I’ll provide some helpful tips on shopping practices, including tax-free refunds.
Over the years, I’ve discovered my most beloved garments and home goods in Tokyo. On every trip back, I look forward to browsing boutiques for inspiration, and purchasing special pieces that are only sold here.
I hope you’ll get to experience the delight of shopping in Tokyo, and end up with cherished souvenirs of your own.
- Overview of Japanese fashion and design
- Shopping in Tokyo
- Shopping in Shinjuku
- Studio Alta – Indie shopping in Tokyo
- Okadaya – Drag queen’s dream in Tokyo
- Don Quixote – Everything and anything under one roof
- Sanrio Gift Gate – Shopping for all your Hello Kitty needs
- Kinokuniya Bookstore – Reading mecca in Tokyo
- 0101 Marui Annex – Younger fashion shopping
- Takashimaya and Tokyu Hands – Upscale and DIY shopping
- Isetan – High-end shopping in Tokyo
- Shopping in Harajuku
- Shopping in Shibuya
- Shopping in Shimokitazawa
- Shopping in Ginza
- Shopping in Asakusa
- Shopping in Akihabara
- Shopping in Shinjuku
- Pro tips for shopping in Tokyo
Overview of Japanese fashion and design
When most people think of Japanese fashion, they’ll picture a geisha in a kimono, or perhaps a Harajuku girl dolled up in an eccentric outfit. These two images speak volumes about the impressive creativity of Japanese designs, from past to present, which has earned Tokyo its reputation as a world fashion capital.
Centuries ago, in Japan’s Nara period (710-794 AD), citizens mostly wore simple, coarse clothing that came in one or two pieces (such as a top and trousers). The nobles of this era stood out by using finer fabrics and rocking a round-necked collar.
In the Heian period (794-1192 AD), kimonos came into fashion thanks to the development of a straight-line cutting method, which allowed the garments to fit a variety of body sizes. Over the years, the kimono developed into a work of art, featuring elegant colors, patterns and designs that expressed the wearer’s personality.
Up to the Edo era, other garment styles became widespread such as the yukata (light spring and summer kimono-robe), kosode (a basic robe for men or women), and hakama (wide pleated skirt or trousers).
When Japan opened to the world after the Meiji restoration, Western clothing came into fashion. If you look at photos from the late 19th century, you’ll see Japanese men in Victorian suits and top hats.
21st century Japanese fashion. Source: La Carmina
In the 1970 and 1980s, Japanese couture designers made waves on international runways. Issey Miyake was celebrated for his out-of-the-box designs featuring pleats, polyester jersey, asymmetry, and dance-inspired silhouettes.
Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons) wowed fashionistas with their all-black, deconstructed, avant-garde visions. In 1974, Hello Kitty was born, ushering in an era of cuteness, or “kawaii”.
Street style in Tokyo. Source: La Carmina
From the 1980s onward, street style blew up in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Teenagers congregated on Harajuku Bridge, dressed in wild outfits that represented a variety of “fashion tribes”.
You might come across Decora girls in neon legwarmers and tutus, wearing dozens of “kawaii” barrettes in their hair. Or you might see Gothic Lolita girls in frilled bell skirts and parasols, looking like Alice in Wonderland dolls.
No matter where you stroll in Tokyo, you’ll undoubtedly be impressed by how the locals dress. From punky J-rock boys to polished Ginza ladies, Tokyo is a mecca for creative personal style, and a wonderland for shopping!
Shopping in Tokyo
Tokyo doesn’t have a “downtown” or shopping district as many cities do. Instead, it’s divided into many major wards, each centered around a subway station. You’ll discover that these districts have an individual feeling, and draw a particular niche of shoppers.
In this Tokyo shopping guide, I’ll highlight seven neighborhoods that have an exceptional selection of stores. Whether you’re interested in experimental fashion or elegant homewares, there’s a ward that will have everything on your shopping list.
|Neighbourhood||Don’t leave without buying||Nearest train station||Favorite stores|
|Shinjuku||Dolly eyelashes, Japanese cookbooks||Shinjuku Station||Alice and the Pirates, Don Quixote|
|Harajuku||Gothic Lolita dresses, punk-meets-cute accessories||Harajuku Station||Listen Flavor, Atelier Pierrot|
|Shibuya||Trendy platform shoes, Jrock cds||Shibuya Station||Liz Lisa, WC, One Spo|
|Shimokitazawa||Groovy vintage robes, antique plates||Shimokitazawa Station||Haight-Ashbury, New York Joe Exchange|
|Ginza||Fine pearl jewelry, refined washi paper||Ginza Station||Mikimoto, G Itoya|
|Asakusa||Secondhand kimonos, elegant chopsticks||Asakusa Station||Tansu-ya, Mikura|
|Akihabara||Retro video games, cosplay outfits||Akihabara Station||Mandarake, Yodobashi Camera|
Shopping in Shinjuku
I remember my first time exploring Shinjuku as a child, and being captivated by the sights around me.
Skyscrapers lit in neon lights, anime figures on billboards, “host boys” in tight pants and spiky hair… this district is all about sensory excitement.
Shinjuku is the central business hub of Tokyo, and the train station holds the title of the busiest in the world, with around 3.5 million passing through each day. My friends and I often meet up in Shinjuku, as it’s a stop on many major subway lines.
There’s an enormous selection of karaoke parlors, restaurants, shops, music venues, and nightclubs to enjoy here, including Goth and alternative club nights.
Shinjuku is also home to Golden Gai (the small alleyways filled with bars), Kabuki-cho (the “red light” district known for love hotels and host and hostess clubs), and Shin-Okubo (also known as “Koreatown”).
If you’re in Shinjuku to shop, you can book a personalized shopping tour with a driver to cover plenty of ground and make sure you can fulfill all your Tokyo shopping dreams.
The map below zooms in on all the best places to shop in Shinjuku.
Studio Alta – Indie shopping in Tokyo
Studio Alta. Source: La Carmina
As soon as you step out of Shinjuku Station’s east exit, look up and you’ll see the huge, rainbow sign of Studio Alta. This trendy, indie department store is a favorite destination for young women’s fashion and pop culture.
At the spacious entrance, you’ll typically find a limited edition pop-up station, featuring cute characters such as Pokemon. Inside, you can shop for affordable goods such as stockings, accessories, and casualwear.
Many of the items at Alta are brightly colored and stamped with smiling mascots. Some of the boutiques sell clothing on the flamboyant side, such as off-the-shoulder zebra tops and studded pageboy hats.
Okadaya – Drag queen’s dream in Tokyo
Shopping in Tokyo for your crafting hobby? Okadaya is the place.
This flamboyant craft and beauty supply store, which my friends like to describe as a drag queen’s dream, is spread out over seven floors. You can find every sewing material imaginable: feathers, sequins, buttons, beads, you name it.
Start on the first floor, which stocks chic Japanese beauty products like Hello Kitty perfumes and false eyelashes embedded with gems. Go upstairs to pick up special effects makeup, neon hair dye, and “styling glue” that can give you six-inch Mohawk spikes.
Okadaya’s wig shop is particularly exceptional, and includes long, pastel-colored locks that can transform you into a Sailor Moon scout.
Don Quixote – Everything and anything under one roof
Strangely named after Cervantes’ famous novel and known to locals as “Donki,” Don Quixote is the quintessential Japanese general store where you can find almost any product imaginable. If you want to shop in Tokyo but don’t know what you want, you will find something at Donki.
Don Quixote is open 24/7, and has nearly 200 locations throughout Japan and abroad with throngs of loyal customers. When it opened in Singapore, it created chaos on Orchard Road with shoppers unable to wait any longer.
The Shinjuku location of Donki is an institution, as it’s packed with strange products that overflow onto the main road Yasakuni-dori.
Locals come here for a quick-fix if they run out of face wash or light bulbs, or are in the mood for a bag of chips. I always swing by to pick up souvenirs for friends, such as cat-faced socks, and stock up on Heroine Make mascara.
However, Donki’s wild collection of “only in Japan” gadgets and gizmos is what makes it stand out. Experience a sensory overload as you walk around the multi-level shop. Marvel at bizarre massage tools, full body “kigurumi” animal costumes, and other head-scratching oddities.
The basement also has an enticing selection of cute-faced packaged snacks that you can bring home to friends.
Sanrio Gift Gate – Shopping for all your Hello Kitty needs
There’s no better place to shop for Hello Kitty goods than in her homeland, Japan. Sanrio, the company that created the cute mouth-less cat, has shop locations all throughout the city. Many people’s shopping experiences in Tokyo revolve around finding Hello Kitty’s unique items.
But for the most fun experience, Shinjuku’s Sanrio Gift Gate store is a must-see because of its “kawaii” cute shop design.
A giant statue of Hello Kitty, with her paw raised, welcomes you to the boutique. The entrance is lit up with pastel lights, and features gold swirling Art Deco motifs. Inside, the elegant theme continues with items displayed under arched, gilded gates.
Like any Sanrio store, you can find a variety of fashion, home, and lifestyle goods featuring Hello Kitty and friends (such as Bad Badtz Maru, Pompompurin, Cinnamon Roll, Keroppy, and My Melody).
Fill your shopping basket with adorable stationery, bento boxes, and backpacks. Be sure to look for limited-edition character goods that you can only find at this location. Gift Gate particularly specializes in seasonal items, such as plush toys of Hello Kitty wearing a cherry blossom kimono to celebrate spring.
Kinokuniya Bookstore – Reading mecca in Tokyo
Kinokiniya debuted in 1927 with a flagship location in Shinjuku. Waltz into this iconic bookstore, and wander leisurely through each of the eleven floors that include sections for CDs, manga, and textbooks. This is the shopping destination in Tokyo for anything printed.
The magazine section has a dazzling selection of titles for every type of interest, but the fashion mags are especially fascinating. Pick up a Joker to see what’s hot in menswear, or drool over the cute ensembles and makeup tips in Vivi and Cutie women’s magazines, sold on Amazon and as a collector’s piece.
Be sure to glance at Kinokinuya’s cookbook section, as you can find quirky titles like “character bento” cute food books. Check out the “photobooks” as well, which have hundreds of photos of your favorite celebrity cat or J-pop idol.
There’s also an entire floor for foreign titles, with an excellent English selection of novels and non-fiction.
0101 Marui Annex – Younger fashion shopping
0101 Marui Annex. Source: La Carmina
Look for a red “0101” sign and you’ll have arrived at Marui, prime Tokyo shopping for younger fashionistas. This is my favorite Japanese department store chain, as Marui focuses on fashion and lifestyle goods for younger shoppers, aged around 18-35.
Marui has a few outposts in Shinjuku, including an entertainment center with a cinema, and a Marui Men’s building for menswear and lifestyle goods. Head to Marui Annex to see the most intriguing Japanese designs. The first floor has an Instagrammable sweets café, and a Godzilla shop where you can buy monstrous t-shirts and memorabilia.
Take the escalator to the second floor to find a variety of edgy, cute, and hipster fashion. Be charmed by Ne-net, a street fashion brand fronted by a black cat with a surprised-looking face. Find girly dresses with Peter Pan collars at Milk, and fuzzy dog-faced bags at Mercibeaucoup.
Why not step outside your comfort zone and try on a corset-laced Lolita skirt, aristocratic white top with ruffled sleeves, and platform boots with cut-out hearts?
Takashimaya and Tokyu Hands – Upscale and DIY shopping
Shinjuku’s Takashimaya is a gem for upscale Tokyo shoppers. Enter a modern glass building with a peaceful open layout, which differentiates it from Tokyo’s typically cramped department stores.
The boutiques sell a variety of fine Japanese brands for all ages. At Takashimaya, you can find minimalist earrings for a mother, golf goods for a father, and a luxury stroller for the baby.
The department store is also home to Tokyu Hands, the self-named “one-stop shop” for DIY-lovers. As the name indicates, this shop caters to hobbyists who love to do things by hand. The multi-level Tokyu Hands has sections for camping equipment, tools, pet goods, and appliances.
My favorite is the stationery room, particularly the calligraphy brushes and the wall of cute and glittery stickers. Don’t miss out on the top floor, which is devoted to toys and novelty goods, including creepy masks.
Isetan – High-end shopping in Tokyo
Founded in 1886, Isetan was originally a kimono shop. Today, it is an exclusive clothing and lifestyle department store, known for its attentive staff. The Shinjuku Isetan always has gorgeous window displays by local artists, with each panel highlighting seasonal products.
Inside, you can find international and Japanese goods for men, women, and children. This is the place to come if are looking for premium shopping in Tokyo.
At Isetan, you can frequently find limited edition collaboration items, such as suitcases with designs by a Japanese watercolor painter. The basement level has a wonderful fine foods section, including a corner for natural health and beauty products.
True to its origins, Isetan’s 7th floor contains an exclusive kimono shop. Gaze at the finest kimonos made from shimmering materials, as well as traditional accessories like purses and paper fans.
Some of the most fascinating kimonos are the “modern” ones: I nearly spent all my yen on a robe with a cat print fabric, and was tempted to purchase a Halloween-themed obi belt with bats and pumpkins.
How to get to Shinjuku: Over a dozen train lines stop at Shinjuku Station (新宿駅), including the JR Yamanote, Chuo, Saikyo, and Shonan-Shinjuku. Japan’s other train systems (Keio, Odakyu, Toei, Tokyo Metro) also make stops on these platforms. Try to board a rapid train, such as the Chuo orange rapid rather than the yellow local, so that it’ll take less time to arrive at Shinjuku.
Shinjuku Station is immense, and millions pass through each day, which can make this a difficult place to navigate. It seems almost every tourist has a story about “the time we got lost in Shinjuku Station,” and for a reason.
Don’t simply head out the nearest exit, as you might wind up far from the major shops, and have difficulty looping back to the main streets. Instead, take your time to find the East Exit to Kabuki-cho.
If you’re heading out from a JR line such the Yamanote, it’s located to the right past the gates and up the stairs. If you can’t find it, I recommend that you ask a staff member. Once you head out the East Exit, the major shops are located straight ahead (around main street Yasakuni Dori), and to the right.
Shopping in Harajuku
Harajuku has become a household name across the world and is one of the most accessible places to shop in Tokyo. The neighborhood has reached iconic status as a center for young, wild street fashion and J-pop culture.
In the 1980s and 1990s, teenagers gathered at Harajuku Bridge to strut their stuff. Street style magazines such as Fruits documented their ever-evolving looks, leading to a worldwide fascination with Lolita, decora, and other visually stunning “style tribes.”
In Harajuku’s heyday, you could visit emerging designers at their tiny shops. I remember getting monster-paw scarves at a cyber-Goth studio, and finding fetish bracelets in a subculture store.
Today, Harajuku has become far more commercialized, with big box shops like Forever 21, and many of these indie designers have shut down their stores. However, it remains one of the best places to find creative, youth-oriented, independent boutiques linked to subcultures.
To fully understand this seemingly unexplainable trend to foreigners, you can join a “kawaii” culture and fashion tour to see these gems for yourself.
The map below has all the main shops in Harajuku for your best Tokyo shopping.
Takeshita Dori – Iconic shopping street in Tokyo
Arguably all shopping in Tokyo needs to start at this famous pedestrian street.
Takeshita Dori is Harajuku’s main shopping street and is located right out of the station exit. If you’re here to shop, I recommend walking down this major thoroughfare, and perusing the side streets.
The trendy stores on Takeshita Dori are constantly changing, but you can always find adorable accessories, J-rock merchandise, and alternative fashion in styles ranging from heavy metal to fairy princess.
When you leave Harajuku Station, look for a curving arch with the words “Takeshita Street,” decorated with balloons and hearts. This is the gate to Harajuku shopping paradise.
Pro tip: If possible, try to avoid coming here on weekends and public holidays, as the little street can get packed with visitors to the point that you can barely walk.
Lolita fashion is less visible these days, but you can still see girls walking around Harajuku in rocking horse shoes, knee high stockings with bows, and layered frilly “jumperskirts” with blouses.
As you’re exploring Takeshita Dori, keep your eyes peeled to the left side for Closet Child, which is located up a flight of stairs. At this secondhand shop, you can find brand-name Lolita clothing and accessories for around half to a quarter of the original price.
The first floor is a Sweet Lolita explosion of pink and pastels, with accessories like heart and strawberry-shaped bags. I always find treasures on the second floor, which blasts J-rock and Visual Kei music, and stocks secondhand Japanese Goth Lolita, punk and alternative garments.
Hunt for rare old releases by Moi-meme-Moitie, such as mourning gowns with a giant cross on the front. Give the sales rack a glance; you can pick up plaid skirts and skull-printed tops for 300-1500 yen ($3-15 USD).
Keep walking down Takeshita Street for a glimpse at the enormous diversity of Harajuku fashion. AC/DC Rag releases new rock/punk styles almost every week, for both men and women; my friend bought a bat-shaped backpack with wings here.
At Listen Flavor, you can find dark meets poppy fashion, such as a striped blue and black sweater with a cat’s face on the front. Be on the lookout for Nile Perch to see the tutu skirts and 1980s pastel kitsch of “fairy kei.”
Many stores on and around Takeshita Dori open and close quickly, since they tend to be based around trends. However, there are several institutions that have been here since the 1980s.
Pay homage to the rock era at Yellow House, a little clothing stall down a flight of steps. This designer is known for dressing up Japanese “visual kei” bands like X Japan and Dir en Grey. Try on pirate-style hoodies and distressed punk jackets, which you could imagine on stage at a J-rock concert.
Then, head next door to Jim Sinn for custom leather vests, punk trousers, and alt accessories such as a studded eyepatch. Finally, swing by Boutique Takenoko for flamboyant drag queen and showgirl outfits: think feathered headdresses and sequin bodysuits.
Laforet – Edgy fashion shopping in Tokyo
Find edgy fashion at Laforet, a department store with a single location. When Takashita Dori ends at Meiji Dori, turn right. Walk a few minutes and you will see Laforet Department Store on the right-hand side.
Fashionistas come here to see the latest youth pop culture trends and styles. If you see a long lineup of teenagers on the stairs, chances are that they are here for a “meet and greet” with a Japanese rock band in the music store.
Laforet has a variety of hip fashion for men and women, focusing on labels for teens to 30-somethings. The basement levels are (rather appropriately) the domain of Japanese underground fashion.
I once took a friend here for her first time, and she was gaping at the mannequins decked out in alternative, punk, Goth, and Lolita designs. You’ll never see displays like this outside of Japan.
Find sweet, babydoll dresses at Angelic Pretty, and pirate aristocrat outfits at Atelier-Pierrot and Alice and the Pirates. Don’t miss out on the Sailor Moon store, a pink boutique filled with wand-shaped eyeliner and purses shaped like Luna the cat.
Kiddyland – Shopping for children
Shopping in Tokyo does not have to be for grown ups only.
For over 60 years, Kiddyland has been charming children with its enormous selection of “kawaii” character goods. You’ll catch yourself emitting an “aww” or two, as you browse the multiple floors dedicated to every cute character imaginable.
Find toys, stationery, lunch boxes, and other household items decorated with Japanese mascots like Doraemon and Domo. You’ll also run into international characters such as Moomin from Scandinavia, and Miffy from Holland.
Although you can find cute goods all around Tokyo, Kiddyland stands out for its collection of rare and limited-edition items. If you’re enamored with an obscure “kawaii” character, chances are that you can find something with his or her face here. The rack of cute socks on the ground floor makes an excellent souvenir; pick up a selection of 10 for a discounted price, for yourself and friends.
Line Friends – Online messaging app shopping
Line, the smartphone messaging app, is huge in Japan and has grown to 700 million users. The Line Friends characters have become such pop culture icons that there’s a Harajuku store dedicated to them, and they have become an item you would shop for in Tokyo.
Fans can pose with enormous plush statues of Brown Bear, Cony the rabbit, and other characters popularized by the app. Decorate your home in cute Line goods, such as plush pillows and mugs that look like Sally the chick. Downstairs, you can deck yourself out in unexpectedly luxurious items, including a crystal jewelry collaboration.
How to get to Harajuku: Harajuku Station (原宿駅) is served by JR’s Yamanote line, as well as Tokyo Metro’s Chiyoda and Fukutoshin lines. Most shoppers ride the green Yamanote to Harajuku, as it’s a convenient two stops south of Shinjuku, or one stop north of Shibuya. Head out the main gate and Takeshita Dori will be right in front of you, marked by the archway.
Shopping in Shibuya
Shibuya is another major commercial and entertainment center, and a fantastic place for shopping in Tokyo.
The district is famous for its “scramble” crossing, which is one of the busiest in the world. Traffic stops in all directions, and thousands of pedestrians spill out into the intersection in front of Shibuya Station, crossing every which way. For a first-timer, pushing through and being carried along with the crowd is electrifying.
One of Tokyo’s most popular meeting spots is at Hachiko, the dog statue outside Shibuya station. Friends gather to greet the loyal dog before a day of shopping. Then, they might dine on sushi or izakaya fare, followed by karaoke and dancing until dawn.
Shibuya is also ground zero for “gyaru” or gal culture, which peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s. These young party girls were not known for subtle styling and consevative values. They’d shock passersby with their bleach-blonde and teased hair, long decorated nails, and dramatic makeup with heavy contouring, false lashes, and circle contact lenses.
A gal’s weekend might start at the tanning salon, and end with frenetic choreographed para-para dancing at a Shibuya club.
As an introduction to this neighborhood, you can experience Shibuya and Harajuku on a private tour. Book it here.
Here’s a map with the best stores in Shibuya.
Shibuya 109 – Tokyo’s flirty clothes shopping
Shibuya 109 is the ultimate shopping destination for trendy young gals. The big red 109 sign is easy to spot, as it sits on top of the building that occupies a corner of Shibuya scramble. When you go inside the mall, you might frazzle your senses.
The floors are stuffed with little boutiques, selling a jumble of fashion ranging from flashy to sweet. A different frenetic Jpop soundtrack blares from each, punctuated by the high pitched calls of shop-girls advertising the deal of the day.
“Gyaru” fashion has toned down over the years (now, you’ll rarely see subgroups like yamamba, with dark tanned skin highlighted in white). Still, Shibuya 109 is the best place to shop for flirty young women’s fashion.
Some of the brands, like Liz Lisa and One Spo, are on the girly princess side, with pastel floral dresses and straw hats. Other stores go all-out with flashy animal print tops, studded miniskirts, and sexy lingerie.
Stop by Esperanza for funky shoes; I found rainbow platform sandals here. For edgy menswear, you can head to the nearby Shibuya 109 Men’s, which also has a rooftop with a terrific view of Shibuya crossing.
Village Vanguard – Shopping for the bizarre and odd in Tokyo
Picture a village filled with funky vintage and geek goods. That’s the vibe of Village Vanguard, a seemingly never-ending shop with racks of pop culture oddities at every turn. It’s easy to lose track of time here, and get lost in the haphazard aisles of “random” Japanese products.
Village Vanguard started out as a bookstore, and remains one of Tokyo’s best spots to find “nerd” volumes, such as indie comics and humor novels. This location also has an impressive selection of design volumes that reflect on architecture, photography, and art.
Come here to gawk at bizarre novelty items, such as Japanese 1980s Italo Disco videos, and mouse-shaped waffle makers. Village Vanguard has a wide array of anime and cute character goods, specialty sweets, and colorful secondhand clothing.
This is the type of store where you always come across a head-scratching invention, like ramen-flavored bath salts, or noodles that look like pink brains, and think, “I need to have this now”. All your shopping in Tokyo needs you didn’t know you had, fulfilled.
Loft – The sweetest home decor store in Tokyo
Shibuya Loft is the sweetest home goods and lifestyle store. As I wander, I like to daydream about how I’d decorate my home with their chic and cute design products.
Homemakers come to Loft for high-quality, aesthetically-pleasing kitchenware and cooking tools. Aww over panda-shaped bento boxes, and chopstick sets with geisha prints. Many of the household items have “kawaii” cute animal faces, so you can deck your kitchen out with smiling towels, sponges, mugs, oven mitts, and more.
Loft also has a fantastic selection of stationery and art supplies, plus eye-catching accessories – such as paint-splattered umbrellas – to spice up your style.
Tsutaya – Shopping for Japanese music
Tsutaya is a nine-floor music and bookstore that towers over Shibuya scramble, because shopping in Tokyo does not always have to be about clothing.
You might recognize Tsutaya’s Starbucks, which overlooks the busy street, as it was featured in the movie “Lost in Translation”, one of the most well-known movies to be shot in Japan and is one of the most popular places to see the crossing from. Note you won’t be allowed to hang out at the Starbucks window or take a seat, unless you order something.
On the ground floor, you can gaze at the latest J-pop releases: typically, the displays include life-size cutouts of the musician, along with a music video of the single blaring on repeat. As you ride the escalators up, you’ll discover shelves of CDs, books, DVDs, and video games. Unlike in Western stores, many of the titles here are available to rent.
If you’re over the age of 18, go behind the “noren” split fabric curtain and take a peek at the adult video section. Even the most jaded individual will be wowed by the wide selection of Japanese niche titles, from random subway encounters to naughty grandmothers.
Shibuya Hikarie – Design items from all over Japan
Shibuya isn’t only about youth-oriented Tokyo shopping. Take the elevator up Hikarie, a skyscraper with sleek, high end shops catering to career ladies. The boutiques stock refined Japanese fashion, such as wool jackets and timeless leather bags for the wardrobes of OL (office ladies).
Don’t miss the unique D47 Museum on the 8th floor of Hikarie. This small space showcases design products that come from Japan’s 47 prefectures. You can pick up sashiko-style embroidered wallets, or carved porcelain tea boxes from the north.
D47 also has a “shokudo” area that serves food from all prefectures, such as cold thin somen noodles from Tokushima.
How to get to Shibuya: Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) is a major destination, served by multiple Japanese subway routes. You can hop on JR’s Yamanote and Saikyo lines, Keio’s Den-en-Toshi and Toyoko lines, or Metro Ginza’s Hanzomon and Fukutoshin lines to get here.
Follow the signs to the Hachiko exit on the west side of the station, which leads to the famous dog statue. Shibuya scramble is right in front, as well as the 109 department store, Tsutaya, and other excellent shops.
Shopping in Shimokitazawa
Shimokitazawa. Source: La Carmina
Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood isn’t a name that most travelers recognize, which makes it a relatively hidden treasure for shoppers in Tokyo. Considered the hipster district of the city, “Shimokita” has a laid-back college town feel that is in stark contrast to the madness of Shibuya and Shinjuku.
The small streets are bursting with greenery, and lined with craft coffee shops, acoustic music venues, and other hip hangouts. The ward brings a bit of peace and quiet to the madness that shopping in Tokyo can be.
Above all, Shimokitazawa is THE vintage shopping destination in Tokyo, with a mix of high and low fashion, along with furniture and collectibles.
Why not pair your shopping in Shimokita with a tour of the area. Book it here. Here’s a map to help you out.
Vintage fashion shopping in Tokyo
Vintage stores are the main draw for shoppers in Shimokitazawa, and there are dozens of these boutiques spread out through the district. If you aren’t looking for anything specific, or are limited on time, I recommend focusing on the largest and best-stocked second-hand stores.
At each, you’ll find items at all price points. Take your time to hunt through the racks, and you’ll undoubtedly find a flamboyant steal or two.
Visit the long-established Flamingo, a shop obsessed with American vintage: think of the high-top sneakers and leather jackets worn by the “dancing Elvises” of Yoyogi Park. On the ground floor, you can marvel at their groovy selection of antique furniture.
Ocean Blvd is another favorite, with a funky range of fashion from various decades spilling out onto the street. Chicago has an enormous selection of all styles, from prom dresses to zoot suits. However, they stand out for carrying secondhand traditional Japanese garments, like kimono and yukata.
For an experience strangely reminiscent of Wall Street, enter the New York Joe Exchange. The store is always crowded with buyers, and retains the tiles and pipes of its former incarnation as a bathhouse.
The NYJE has plenty to fit the budget of an average Joe, with racks of unbranded clothing always under 10,000 yen ($100 USD), and averaging around 2,000 yen ($20 USD) a piece.
Every other Sunday is “expensive day,” and focuses on items over 10,000 yen. It’s a great place to replenish your wardrobe, as you can bring in your unwanted clothes and receive store credit in exchange.
For an elevated experience, head to Haight & Ashbury, a boutique much-loved among treasure hunters. Items are pricier here, but you’ll be sure to find high-quality, rare and designer pieces from the 1960s and beyond.
Look for a corner of the store that is reminiscent of a dollhouse. Here, you’ll find an outstanding selection of romantic, antique “dolly” fashion – like ghostly lace gowns, and Victorian purses with snap closures.
Other second hand stores
Shimokitazawa has dozens of stores that focus on other vintage collectibles, especially furniture and antiques. Children and adults alike make a beeline to Swing Toys, a heaven for retro toy collectors. Press your nose to the windows, which display rare vintage Japanese figurines such as Doraemon.
Step back in time with a 1950s lunchbox featuring Peko-Chan, the cheeky Milky candy girl with pigtails and a smile. You can also find international superhero memorabilia, and rifle through boxes of My Little Pony figures.
Antique hunters adore Antiquaille, a boutique dedicated to home decorations. Ask the staff about Showa-era dinnerware and Japanese porcelain from the 19th century; Antiquaille also carries fine homewares from the UK and USA. You might be surprised to find elegant plates and cups at very reasonable prices.
How to get to Shimokitazawa: Shimokitazawa (下北沢駅) is an easy jaunt from two of Tokyo’s biggest stations. From Shibuya, take the Keio Inokashira Line. If you’re in Shinjuku, hop on the Odakyu Odawara Line.
When you arrive at Shimokitazawa Station, go out the north exit. Most of the shops are straight ahead in 2-chome, so I recommend walking in this direction and then veering to the west to explore more stores.
Shopping in Ginza
Ginza is the most expensive neighborhood in all of Japan: just a square meter of land on the main road costs over 40 million yen! (That’s a whopping $378,000 USD.)
In addition, you can find exquisite, local premium goods in Ginza, such as fine stationery and jewelry. The focus is on Japanese craftsmanship, and the boutiques always have beautiful windows and interiors, which make the shopping experience a joy.
For a luxurious shopping day in Ginza, you can even commission a day tour with a private van. Nothing says luxury more than a private driver. Book it here.
See our map of the main stores you can find in Ginza.
Ginza Mitsukoshi – 12 floors of kimono history
Be part of Japanese fashion history at Ginza Mitsukoshi, a classic department store guarded by bronze lions.
This flagship location opened in 1930, but Mitsukoshi’s roots truly began in 1673, when it was a kimono store. Today, the 7th floor remains a “Salon de kimono,” where you can purchase high-end Japanese robes and accessories to match the seasons.
If you are looking for something that resembles the traditional garment but is easier for day-to-day wear, visit their “new kimono shop”. The staff can show you creative garments that take inspiration from classic patterns, but add on modern fabrics and touches.
Mitsukoshi also has a fine selection of Japanese womenswear, menswear, and household goods spanning twelve floors. In the basement levels, you can find toys and clothes for children.
Be sure to visit the lower food hall and supermarket, which has a bounty of fresh, colorful meals and can help you replenish your energy so that you can continue with more shopping in Tokyo. Pick up a carefully arranged bento box, and eat it on the grassy rooftop patio overlooking Ginza.
Mikimoto – Pearl shopping in Tokyo
The name Mikimoto has become synonymous with brilliant pearls. Japan’s Mikimoto Kokichi is credited with inventing the cultured pearl, which changed the face of the industry, as it formerly relied only on natural pearls found by chance. Over the years, he cultured many variants including black, South Sea, and perfectly spherical beads.
Have a Japanese “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” moment at the Ginza Mikimoto boutique, which opened its doors in 1899.
Munch on an onigiri rice ball outside, as you admire the glistening strings of pearls in the windows. Then, sashay inside to shop for limited edition collaborations, such as a slightly bizarre Hello Kitty x Mikimoto collection that put the cat’s face on pearl collars.
Kabukiza – Shopping for performing accessories
No need to buy a theater ticket to shop at Kabukiza, named after the Japanese opera performance and located in the basement of Ginza’s iconic Kabuki performance venue.
The peaceful space is decked out with flags and screen partitions, giving it an old-time festival feel. Pay homage to the stylized Japanese drama, with items such as scowling face masks, wood fans, parasols, and drums. You can also pick up CDs and posters that came from performances at the Ginza theater.
Ginza Itoya – For all your stationery needs
The art of letter-writing lives on at G. Itoya, an 18 floor stationery shop that opened in 1904, and was recently renovated.
Find elegant letter writing accessories, from luxury fountain pens to handmade “washi” paper. Pick up cards with cute prints as a souvenir for friends; all items are beautifully packaged at the check-out.
Ginza Itoya also sells design-focused travel and lifestyle goods, and everything is displayed in artistic arrangements, making this a lovely store to explore in your Tokyo shopping journey.
Le Chocolat de H Ginza – Chocolate sampling in Tokyo
Find the finest artisan chocolates at Chocolat de H. Local Chocolatier Tsujiguchi won awards for his creations, including first place at the Salon Du Chocolat in 2013.
Le Chocolat de H Ginza sits in a stylish shop with dark wood accents, lit by a UFO-like circular lamp. Taste chocolates made with local flavors like sansho (Japanese pepper) and yuzu citrus, or order a hot cocoa to drink at the counter.
For someone special, splurge on a beautiful box of chocolates. The signature black box has a minimalist design and contains five tastes, numbered from 1 to 5 and meant to be savored in sequence.
How to get to Ginza: Ginza Station (銀座駅) is at the crossroads of multiple major subway routes. On Tokyo Metro, you can ride the Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, or Hibiya Line to Ginza Station; these routes come directly from Shinjuku, Roppongi, Shibuya and other major stops.
Once you arrive, I recommend taking exit A7, as it leads right to the basement of Mitsukoshi.
Shopping in Asakusa
History buff or not, you’ll be charmed by the ancient vibe of Asakusa. With cobblestone paths, traditional architecture and shrines at every turn, this district feels like stepping back in time to the Edo era.
You’ll encounter vendors hawking traditional snacks, and perhaps even glimpse one of the remaining geishas flitting through these streets.
Asakusa is most famous as the site of Senso-ji, a vermillion temple for the bodhisattva Kannon. There are other lovely Buddhist and Shinto temples in the vicinity including Imado Jinja, which honors cats with giant “maneki neko” statues.
Many raucous spiritual festivals also take place in Asakusa, particular Sanja Matsuri in May, which celebrates the three founders of Senso-ji temple.
For a guided tour that dives into Asakusa’s culture, you can join a cultural curiosities walking tour. Here’s our map of Asakusa.
Nakamise – The oldest shopping street in Tokyo
Nakamise is Asakusa’s most famous shopping street, running almost 300 meters from the towering red Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) to the upturned eaves of Senso-ji temple. For over 1,000 years, this boulevard has been a gathering spot for vendors offering spiritual keepsakes and festival snacks to temple-goers.
Nakamise can get extremely crowded, so it’s best to come early in the morning, or later in the day (but not too late, as shops here close on the early side, around 6pm).
Since many tourists flock here, items can be pricier, but soaking in the atmosphere and admiring these trinkets is part of the fun.
Stop for artisanal items such as Japanese washi paper, woodblocks, door hangings, and kumihimo or spiritual braided silk cords. If you grow hungry, duck into Funawa: since 1902, this sweet shop has delighted visitors with its yokan, a thick jellied dessert cut into squares. Funawa is best known for its version made with sweet potato paste, which you can take home in boxes as a present.
I recommend taking a quick stroll on Nakamise. However, if your goal is to shop, then it’s better to stick to the side streets, as they are less crowded and you might find the same items for a lower price.
Shin-Nakamise – Shopping in Tokyo for second hand kimonos
This covered shopping arcade is a new addition to the area, and packed with enticing eateries and boutiques.
In Shin-Nakamise, stop at Tansu-ya, a second hand kimono shop. Since 1961, Tansu-ya has made it their mission to recycle and rework kimonos. Compared to the fancy department store kimono shops, the vibe here is easygoing and the staff is eager to help you try some on.
You can also rent a kimono in Asakusa as a cultural activity.
Denpoin-dori – Shopping for pretty towels
This spacious shopping street lets you take a break from the crowds, while still feeling as if you’re in old-time Edo. Pop into the many handicraft and antique shops, and keep walking west to shop until the street becomes Rokku-dori.
On Denpoin-dori, look for Asakusa Kururi, a store specializing in Japanese traditional clothes and towels. You’ll have a hard time deciding between over 300 tenugui handkerchiefs, and over 200 varieties of furoshiki wrapping cloth.
I was drawn to the ones with cute animal designs, and even found Halloween-themed tenugui with pumpkins and witch hats. At around 1,000 yen each ($10 USD), these make excellent gifts.
Kappabashi – Kitchenware and more in Tokyo
Then, head to Kappabashi, a remarkable street with the largest selection of kitchen and home goods in Tokyo. Both amateur and professional chefs come here for plates, tea sets, lanterns, aprons, and other utensils.
Be amazed by the selection of colorful plastic food, which restaurants use to advertise their menu in displays. Some of the fake curry bowls and sushi sets look so realistic that an unknowing diner might bite into them, thinking they were the real deal!
Stop by Mikura to choose from over 500 chopsticks made in different materials. I was wowed by the enormous variety of chopsticks, including giant serving ones, and sets with intricate designs. I found a red lacquer pair decorated with a daruma, or Zen Buddhist doll, and it brings back memories of Tokyo every time I use it.
Then, pick up artisanal tableware at Dengama. The two-story shop has racks of glazed ceramics, including bowls, plates, and chopstick rests. Dengama also custom-makes fine pottery for clients.
Finally, step inside Kamata Knife Shop for specialized cutting equipment, like hocho carving knives. This business has been spearheaded by the same family since 1923, and has over 800 styles of knives. My cousin found a professional sushi knife here, which was forged with as much care as a samurai sword.
Marugoto Nippon – Handicraft shopping in Tokyo
If you’re tired of wandering outside, or the weather has taken a turn for the worse (too hot, too cold or suddenly raining), you can find relief at Marugoto Nippon. This new multi-level store is dedicated to traditional crafts and foods, and many of the products have a modern design sensibility.
On the first two floors, you’ll find handcrafted artisan items from various regions of Japan. The third floor salon lets you learn about Japanese design, and take cooking lessons. Keep going up to the food area, where you can sample local specialities such as fish cakes from Tokushima.
Asakusa Mantenboshi – Shopping for lucky charms in Tokyo
Don’t head home without a lucky charm or two, to remind you of Tokyo’s most famous temple. Asakusa Mantenboshi specializes in good luck charms that bring positive feng shui to your home.
Look for plaques and statues adored with “maneki neko,” or white and red cats with upraised paws; these charms are believed to have originated in Asakusa. You can also find daruma dolls to dangle from your purse, or get a lucky stone owl to guard your garden.
How to get to Asakusa: Asakusa station is served by several subway routes, but usually it’s easiest to ride the Ginza Line here. You can also take the Asakusa Subway Line, Tobu Skytree Line, or Tsukuba Express Line here.
Take exit 1 to Kaminarimon, the iconic Thunder Gate that leads to Nakamise shopping street and Senso-ji temple.
Pro tip: don’t confuse Asakusa (浅草駅) with Akasaka (赤坂駅), which is an entirely different area but has a similarly-spelled name.
Shopping in Akihabara
You cannot finish your shopping in Tokyo without spending quality time at Akihabara.
A trip to this neighbourhood makes you feel as if you’re part of a real life anime. “Akiba” is a pop culture realm with girls in French maid outfits on the streets, and doe-eyed fantasy figures peering down at you from billboards.
The district is known as “Electric Town”, since it became the shopping hub for electronic goods after WWII. The name still fits, as Akihabara remains a center for the latest tech gizmos, and its skyscrapers are lit up with neon lights.
Today, this is the gathering place for “otaku,” or nerds passionate about manga, anime, video games, and collectibles. Spend time at a game center, playing Luigi’s Haunted Mansion or attempting to pick up a plush Kirby from a UFO machine.
Follow it up with a round of “purikura” sticker booth photos that smooth out your skin and give you giant eyes. Have tea at a maid café, where cute girls in maid outfits call you “master”, fawn over you and play games.
Then, it’s time to unload your yen at Akiba’s many shops, which offer everything from VR headsets to ball-jointed dolls and cosplay outfits.
To fully understand it all, you can also take a private tour of Electric Town to see the best of this area.
The map below will show you where all the stores in Akihabara are.
Mandarake – Electronic shopping in Tokyo
As a life-long fan of Nintendo and Sailor Moon, I was in my element at Mandarake, the shopping destination in Tokyo for all the anime, manga and video game fans.
This behemoth of a building contains 8 floors of vintage anime, manga, video games, consoles, and toys at all price points. Walking around arouses feelings of nostalgia, as you come across Super Nintendo games and Zelda figures.
Mandarake’s massive selection includes dojinshi, or self-published manga and novels by fans. Admire rare figurines, and hunt for Pokemon cards from the 1990s. There’s also an impressive section of DVDs, including a very large adult video area with strange, racy titles.
Yodobashi Camera – Cameras and more
Electric Town lives up to its reputation at Yodobashi Camera, an electronics heaven spread out over eight floors and the place for all your Tokyo electronic shopping. I enjoy coming here to see and try the latest technology, such as virtual reality devices, before they are released outside of Japan.
How about picking up a futuristic gizmos like a dancing robot, or a toilet seat that sings?
Yodobashi Camera is also one of Tokyo’s best places to buy cameras, computers, and other tech items. Make sure the item comes with English menu options, as some don’t, as we found out browsing Panasonic Lumix cameras.
Japan uses the same type of outlet as North America, so you can use most of the devices here without an adapter. Stock up on items such as SD cards, and don’t miss out on the top floor, as there’s a golf range on the roof.
Volks Hobby Heaven – Discovering your new doll passion
Shopping in Tokyo may uncover a new hobby for you and Volks Hobby Haven could be your new treasure trove.
Big-eyed ball jointed dolls are huge in Japan. Fans can take this hobby so seriously that they treat their dolls like babies, and provide them with wardrobes that can fill a closet. Volks Hobby Heaven is the go-to place for Dollfie enthusiasts.
Pick up a new Super Dollfie, or customize your current one with a pastel wig or ruffled dress. The building caters to other niche hobbyists as well: you’ll stumble into small stores for figurines, trading cards, garage and mecha kits, and robots.
Gachapon Kaikan – Random shopping surprises
Also known as Akihabara Gachapon Hall, this odd parlor contains the city’s biggest selection of gachapon. Put a coin into one of these gumball-style machines, turn the dial, and you’ll receive a toy or other small item in a plastic bubble.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get the one with your favorite character depiction on it, such as Miffy with a paintbrush. At Gachapon Kaikan, you can try your luck at hundreds of these machines, which are stacked tightly in rows. You might even spot a “dirty panties vending machine” but don’t let the sign fool you: the items inside are new, and simply resemble old underwear.
Buso Shoten – Shopping for samurai swords in Tokyo
The fighting goods are magnificently crafted, and look like the real deal. Pick up ninja shuriken throwing stars, or a replica handgun that looks like something out of Westworld.
Many items are for display only, but you can also practice with swords to hone your martial arts skills. Buso Shoten stocks international fantasy weapons as well, such as armor and shields befitting of a medieval knight.
Acos – Shopping for superhero costumes in Tokyo
Transform into your favorite manga or anime hero at Acos, a superstore for cosplay (costume play) outfits. The pop culture outfit possibilities include Japanese schoolgirl, Dragonball-Z, Princess Peach, and more.
If you can’t find your costume of choice, you can cobble one together from the extensive selection of wigs, dramatic makeup, and circle contact lenses.
How to get to Akihabara: You can reach Akihabara Station (秋葉原駅) via JR’s Keihin-Tohoku and Yamanote lines, Chuo’s Sobu line, and the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line. If you’re coming from Shinjuku, don’t ride the green Yamanote – instead, take the express Chuo yellow line, as it’s a faster and more direct route.
Walk out the Electric Town Gate on the 1st floor, and you’ll be right in the midst of the neon lights and action.
Pro tips for shopping in Tokyo
Amazing shopping in Tokyo. Source: La Carmina
Follow the tips below to be a pro shopper in Tokyo. Lots of shopping trips were taken to compile this list.
Avoid peak hours
Avoid taking public transit during the morning and after work rush hours, if possible. Tokyo’s subways can get infamously packed, to the point where the staff pushes people inside to fill every inch of space.
It’s not a pleasant experience to travel during these times, especially if you’re carrying several shopping bags! Harajuku also gets packed on weekends and public holidays such as Golden Week, so I recommend going on a weekday.
Check opening hours
Most shops open around 10 or 11am. Department stores generally close later, around 9pm, so you can save them for the final stop. If you want to visit a small, niche boutique, I encourage you to check the opening hours in advance, as they may close on odd days.
Cash is king
Travelers may be surprised to learn that high-tech Japan remains a mostly cash-based economy. Many stores still don’t take credit cards, so be prepared with plenty of yen in your wallet.
If you run out, you can get cash out of an ATM, as most accept international bank and credit cards (but surprisingly, not all). Look for ATMs at convenience stores like 7-Eleven; some of them have a separate outside area for the machines and these tend to work with international cards.
Tax free shopping
You might be able to take advantage of Japan’s tax-free shopping policy, but it’s only applicable under certain circumstances. Consult the official government website to see all the details of tax-free shopping.
In general, tax-free shopping is available at licensed stores to travelers who bring their passports and have a tourist visa stamp. However, you must make a purchase of at least 5,000 yen at that store or mall, over the course of a single day.
Most items are applicable for tax-free shopping, including consumables, but there are some exceptions and potential price combinations detailed on the official website.
Many department stores or large shopping complexes have tax-free booths set up to help shoppers. When making a purchase at a store, you can show your passport at the counter and they’ll ring you up without added tax.
Alternately, you pay in full and then go to the tax-free booth for a refund. At airport customs, declare your goods and present the Record of Purchase, and you’re good to fly home.
Japan uses the yen as its national currency, and stores won’t accept other forms such as US bills. Prices are quite easy to convert, as 1,000 yen works out to a bit less than $10 US (however, always double check the current rates).
When you look at a price sticker, it will either say 税込 (tax included) or 税引 (tax excluded). If tax is excluded, then the final price will have an 8% sales tax added (which is expected to rise to 10% in October 2019). At convenience stores, you simply pay the sticker price, so if a soft drink is 200 yen ($2 USD), you pay 200 yen.
Keep in mind that there is no tipping or bargaining here. At a restaurant, you pay the amount on the check, without rounding up or leaving some coins as a tip. If you forget and leave behind change, the servers will chase after you to return the extra.
Japan uses European shoe sizing, so a size 37 women’s boot is about a 7 USA size. Clothes are usually marked from size S to L, but be aware that the sizes are geared to Japanese bodies. In other words, a size S skirt in Japan might be equivalent to an XXS in North America, so be sure to try on items to make sure of the fit.
Japanese clothing labels might also say “one size” or “free size” (sometimes abbreviated OS or FS). These clothes supposedly are one size fits all, but again, this may work out to a medium at best in North America.
When you are shopping in Tokyo, you’ll undoubtedly be tempted to take photos of the quirky and beautiful items. But don’t whip out your camera and start snapping, as most stores ban indoor photography.
The store workers may run up to you with arms crossed in an X across their chests, calling “dah-meee” or “forbidden!”. You can try asking them for permission to take a photo, but chances are that they will say no. It’s fine to take shots of the outdoor window displays, however.
Limited English spoken
English is not widely used in Japan, and most of the staff will not be able to communicate in a language other than Japanese. I recommend learning some phrases to help you shop with ease.
Memorize “kore wa ikura desu ka” (how much is this), and “kore, kite mite mo ii desu ka” (may I try this on). You can pick up other helpful shopping words and sentences here.
At the changing rooms
In most cases, before entering the changing room, the staff expects you to take your shoes off. The changing rooms typically provide a rug or area for you to leave your footwear.
They may also hand you what looks like a paper toilet seat cover. It’s a garment protector, meant to be slipped around your neck and shoulders, to prevent makeup and sweat from getting on the clothes.
When you are ready to pay, the staff may say something that you don’t understand, which includes the words “point-eh card-o.” They are asking if you have a point or stamp card for the store, as this is common practice in Japan.
If you’re only here for a short visit, it doesn’t make much sense to get one, as they often expire within a year or two.
Duty free shopping at the airport
Don’t miss out on duty free shopping at the airport. I always pick up a bottle of yuzu liquor, which is difficult to get outside of the country. At the duty-free shop, you just show your flight ticket and passport, and you can make purchases within the acceptable amount (such as one bottle of alcohol per passenger).
I hope this comprehensive guide helps you plan your trip, and that you have a blast shopping in Tokyo!
BIO: La Carmina is a travel writer and TV presenter specializing in Japanese subcultures. She runs the award-winning La Carmina blog, wrote three books about J-pop culture for Penguin Random House, and has appeared as a Tokyo expert on CNN, Discovery, National Geographic, ABC and other television networks worldwide.