Tokyo or Japan, in general, has always inspired my work—it is full of history and activities for everyone regardless of their interests. You can do the usual: eating great food, barhopping or shopping, but if you prefer a quiet day out away from the city, there are endless towns to go to for day—or weekend trips.
Tokyo, in particular, is a city where there is a mix of modernity and tradition. It has a great history of master craftsmanship—think potters, fashion designers and chefs… Even the most everyday objects like utensils or notebooks are made to last through the years, because they are that well-made. Beyond the classic minimalist design that Tokyo creatives are famous for, it’s all about the quality of the things they produce and how each makes a mark in your life by being both utilitarian and beautiful.
If you’re heading to Tokyo for the first time, you can go with no expectations—being surprised is always the best part of travelling, but personally, I have a go-to shopping route that has been on my checklist for years and documented here. If I only have eight hours, I am confident that I can shop to my heart’s content and leave happy knowing that I’ve accomplished the most.
An important tip I have, however, would be for first-timers to give themselves the time to explore their surroundings and just get lost in the city. It doesn’t matter where you land, because you never know what kind of place you’ll find. There are also tons of hidden spots that are located on the second or third floor of buildings so remember too to always look up. If you’re travelling alone though, I recommend sharing your flight details with your loved ones and sharing your live location with them.
November is my favourite time to visit the city as the weather is chilly and the year-end festivals like Tori-no-Ichi, Shichi-Go-San, and Icho Matsuri happen during that month. The atmosphere is beautiful and if you’ve had enough fun in the city, you can hop on a two-hour flight to Hokkaido to ski or snowboard. The locals, however, have generally always kept to themselves, so nothing much has changed if you’re looking to mingle with them.
Personally speaking, I’m recommending a wide range of places for different types of people with different interests and tastes but you might enjoy them more if you’re into fashion. And particularly, if you love thrifting for designer items and the thrill of finding hidden gems. Tokyo actually has a huge vintage culture due to the fact that living spaces are very small hence the locals frequently refresh their wardrobes. Plus they take very good care of their items so the condition of what you’ll find is often very good.
You can do your own research about the best vintage stores as there are tons of people posting about their finds and reviews of all the different stores and watching such content is my guilty pleasure. I love going to both curated and uncurated ones because the former is more pricey but has better selections which are easier to find but the uncurated ones have hidden gems at thrift store prices.
You’ll find a lot of Japanese designer items like Comme Des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto because the locals are supportive of their own designers along with Western outdoor ones like Carhatt, Arc’teryx and The North Face because they like items that are both durable and functional. The condition of the items you’ll find at both is the best part of vintage shopping in Tokyo because the stores are very strict on the condition they’re sold in and they launder or dry clean them before putting them on sale as compared to stores in Singapore. You should also bring some cash because though most vintage stores accept debit or credit cards, the smaller ones do not.
If you’re looking to do interior shopping which I think is quite a fashion-person thing, Moma is a great spot to find great pieces and so is Kappabashi Street between Ueno and Asakusa for unique-looking kitchenware and pottery as most of the stores are suppliers for cult or high-end restaurants.
Two tips I have would be to come prepared by measuring the space you would like to put a big object in your house and if you’re looking to buy knick-knacks, don’t be too quick to purchase it as it’s easy to go overboard with small items. I am actually heading back to Japan in July for the Fuji Rock Festival for the first time, so that would be something new. I’m planning to explore vintage stores out of the Tokyo area and hopefully, find some dream pieces I’ve always wanted.
TO VISIT Eilant
Located in the Ebisunishi neighbourhood that’s near the Ebisu Station and Daikanyama Station, this is one of the most aesthetically pleasing salons I’ve been to as I love its Brutalist design. The service too is attentive and you can get a top-notch hair styling service that’s value for money.
For example, a service that includes a cut, colour, and treatment costs ￥19,000 and some of their stylists do work for Milan Fashion Week. The founder also has his own fashion line that you can shop in the salon.
TO DO Kosoan
This traditional teahouse located within Jiyugaoka is a quiet place for a mid-day break and they serve homemade traditional matcha tea and wagashi which are Japanese sweets. The staff can speak fluent English too and can explain every item on the menu in great detail. There is also a classic Japanese garden in the middle of the house which is even more beautiful in autumn.
TO SHOP Treasure Factory Style
This vintage store is hands down my favourite spot for vintage shopping as you’ll find great deals and finds from high-end designers to contemporary ones. The good thing too about it too is that its location is close to Koenji station and vintage stores within the district are all located close to each other. Remember to spend time digging through the bargain pile because you might find something rare like limited edition sneakers.
TO SHOP 10 Tow
You’ll love this vintage store if you’re a fan of avant-garde brands like Comme Des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, and Yohji Yamamoto as it mainly stocks these three. If you’re a fashion collector, you can even find runway-exclusive pieces so make sure you check their Instagram as they update quite frequently.
TO SHOP MoMA Design Store Omotesando
The Japan edition of the store has a great selection of interior items from Isamu Noguchi’s paper lamps to bamboo bowls from Yousuke Shimizu. It also stocks products that you can find in its New York City store if a trip to the big apple is too for you.
The store is located on the third floor of the GYRE building in Omotesando which also has an art gallery called Eye of GYRE with exhibitions revolving around contemporary art and fashion.
TO EAT Kaikaya by the Sea
A fun fact about the owner of this restaurant in Shibuya is that he’s also an avid surfer but besides that, this family-run restaurant serves the freshest seafood in my opinion and the wall art of a mermaid riding a fish outside always makes me laugh. If you’re travelling with people who are seafood-averse, the restaurant serves dishes like teriyaki chicken and beef steak.
TO DRINK KOFFEE MAMEYA KAKERU
Designed like an omakase restaurant, this elegant coffee shop has baristas that do profiling according to your tastes. They also do a coffee-tasting menu where you can try different roasts prepared in different ways and it’s fun to look at the baristas going about their work. The shop also hosts sessions with local bartenders and patissiers so make sure you check their Instagram page if you’re planning a visit.
TO SHOP NUBIAN HARAJUKU
This cult store has a great selection of brands that aren’t easily found in others like KidSuper, Martine Rose, and Needles, and also, stocks young up-and-coming ones like Feng Chen Wang and Saint Mxxxxxx.