Tokyo’s Top 5 Shopping Districts
Japan's capital is deservedly known as one of the world's shopping meccas, offering numerous vibrant and trendsetting districts in which you can find everything from the high-end to the offbeat, from subculture favorites to traditional crafts and vintage wares. Beyond department stores, the city has countless shopping streets—ranging from posh boulevards packed with flagship stores to back alleyways focused on a particular niche such as sport or vintage clothing—as well as some impressive malls. Read on for the low-down on Tokyo's five most popular shopping neighborhoods.
Ginza is the ritziest and biggest upscale shopping district in Tokyo, home to the city’s posh boutiques and glamorous department stores, such as the classic Mitsukoshi and avant-garde Dover Street Market Ginza. On a global scale, it’s comparable with Oxford Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York. In addition to the various flagship stores of international designer brands such MCM, Michael Kors, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, there has also been a rise in affordable fashion chains such as Uniqlo, Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch arriving in Ginza over the past years. However, tucked in between some of the impressive facades are traditional craft shops like the fine crafts at Takumi. The varied shopping options in this Tokyo neighborhood reflect the scope of the city’s consumer culture, which is always a blend of high-fashion luxury and more down-to-earth dedication to traditional crafts and the heritage of the country. Ginza is, therefore, a fascinating area where the latest trends and the oldest traditions meet.
Shinjuku is probably Tokyo’s most crowded neighborhood, with the busiest train station in the world (serving more than three million people a day). Shopping here can also be a little overwhelming. But you don’t have to get lost in the streets, as Shinjuku station itself is one of the largest shopping complexes in Japan. It offers two underground malls and several large department stores such as the famous Lumine, which spans three different buildings that are all connected to the station. The Mosaic Street is a narrow pedestrian shopping street that runs across the top of the station linking Mylord with Keio department store. Shinjuku is also home to the world renowned department store Isetan, which was established in 1886. Located near the East exit of the station, Isetan has multiple large floors dedicated to the latest women’s fashion trends, as well as a separate building for fashion-forward men’s clothing. The location is also known for its huge basement food wonderland, called depachika in Japanese (literally department store underground). Just across from Isetan you will also find Bicqlo, a unique and interesting collaboration between Uniqlo and Bic Camera. So even if you are a bit familiar with the area, Shinjuku can be a handy one-stop shopping destination with a huge variety of choices.
Shibuya is Tokyo’s liveliest shopping neighborhood and the fountain of teen trendiness in Japan. Many of the department stores in this area target young female shoppers in their early 20s. One of these is the world famous Shibuya 109 (“ichi maru kyu“), a Japanese fashion institution that has been around since 1979. Other department stores and shopping complexes include ShinQs, Tokyu, Shibuya Mark City, Seibu, Loft, Parco and several Marui (OIOI) locations. One renowned and contemporary building is Shibuya Hikarie, which is directly connected to the station and includes a 10-floor shopping complex catering mainly to Japanese career women. Above the shopping levels there are restaurants with nice views over the area, large event spaces where various exhibitions and the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week are held, as well as an elaborate four-floor theater space that hosts western style musicals. Next to the department stores, Shibuya is well known for its three exciting shopping streets: Koen Dori, Spain Zaka and Center Gai. If you’re over 30 you might feel a bit too adult in some of the stores and the trends probably won’t exactly match your wardrobe, but just cruise through and amuse yourself with the madness.
Harajuku has a long history and is the center of Tokyo’s most extreme youth cultures and home to the famed Harajuku girls (and boys). East of Harajuku station lies Takeshita Dori, known throughout Japan and across the globe as a popular hangout for 13- to 15-year-olds. The street—especially crowded during weekends—is crammed with shops selling outrageous, inexpensive clothing, fancy accessories and souvenirs, as well as crepe stands and fast food outlets. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, fashion designers began to set up their offices and studios in this area and neighboring Omotesando. Since then, more and more clothing stores for adults, hip coffee shops, and trendy restaurants have been built there. It is also a hotspot for vintage shopping. In Ura-Hara, the maze of backstreets behind Omotesando, you will find eccentric little shops and heaps of secondhand stores. There are also the two trendsetting shopping complexes of LaForet Harajuku and Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, consisting of several floors of fashion boutiques and shops, which are also mainly targeted to young, female shoppers. The LaForet Museum on the top floor hosts various events and exhibitions, and on the sixth floor of Tokyu Plaza you can have a cup of Starbucks coffee in a pleasant green space while enjoying a nice view over the district. Both the Japanese and international fashion industries keep a close eye on Harajuku, as many fashion trends in the past have had their origin in this highly creative area.
Neighboring on Harajuku, Omotesando is Tokyo’s second largest upscale shopping neighborhood after Ginza. The beautiful Omotesando avenue has a distinctly European feel—indeed, it is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysée—and is lined with Zelkova trees leading to the famous Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. High-class domestic and international brands such as Hugo Boss, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela and many more are located along this impressive boulevard. However, if you are more interested in lesser known international designers, one of the several stores by H.P. France might be a good place to start. One such store is Wut, located in a narrow side street off Omotesando and selling cutting-edge fashions by young German designers, among others. By contrast, Omotesando Hills, a contemporary shopping mall and residential space with over 100 shops, is also worth a visit. And even if you’re not into shopping, this epicenter of high fashion is also home to some of the most amazing examples of modern architecture anywhere in the world.
But it’s not all about Prada and Dior, youth culture and big department stores in Tokyo. This megacity also has plenty of traditional, alternative, hipster and niche areas to offer. So if you are more interested in exploring these more laid-back places, you should check out Shimokitazawa, Kichijoji, Koenji, Jiyugaoka, Daikanyama or Kagurazaka.
Photos (top to bottom) by 2Benny, Kim Ahlström, Yoppy, Yoshikazu Takada, Alex de Carvalho, and Noli Fernan “Dudut” Perez.