24 May 2014

My Japan Shopping Tips

Part of the reason I took a slightly bigger than cabin-approved suitcase to Japan was so that I could indulge in a little retail therapy if the mood took me. I was particularly looking forward to a) the stationery and b) the weird and wonderful 'only in Japan' type items. Here are a few of my favourite places.

Department stores
Loft (multiple branches). Loft is what they call in Japan a creative life store, and I love it. Essentially, it is a department store where I love every department. The best store I visited was the huge store in Tokyo's Shibuya area, but to be honest, I went into every branch I saw and rarely came out empty-handed. The main focuses are stationery, homewares, technology and beauty, but with a stylish, design-oriented focus. I bought a lot of gifts here, including interesting washi tape, quirky fridge magnets and fun notepads. The kitchen section is also great, though, and I bought the turquoise bowl in my first haul photo below from Loft. As Loft is a Japanese store, they also have an excellent umbrella section, and my tiny new turquoise number, pictured in the second haul photo below, came from here.

Tokyu Hands (multiple branches). Tokyu Hands is similar to loft in terms of the product range — they also seem to have coined the term 'creative life store' — but with more of a focus on the practical. They have a whole series of 'hint files', for example, which offer tips on how to get the best use from your products. Travel accessories are a strong point for this store, from packing cubes to travel tie carriers and colourful adapters. Tokyu Hands also has a great kitchen department, with a whole department devoted to geeky coffee-making kit. Several of the stores also seem to host pop-up shops for local boutiques or local products. In Hiroshima, for instance, you could buy jewellery from a local designer and coffee beans from a Miyajima roastery.

Mitsukoshi (multiple branches). Although I had heard great things about the grand Japanese depaato, the aforementioned creative life stores are more my thing. You can still pick up some nice gifts in the stationery and accessories sections of Mitsukoshi and the other big department stores, but otherwise I found them less interesting to shop in. (NB I wasn't really in a clothes-shopping mood on this trip and so didn't spend much time in the fashion sections.) However, the food halls as these stores — usually in the basement — are awesome, offering a bewildering range of food to take home, food to eat in store and prepackaged sweets and other tempting treats that make great gifts. If you go towards the end of the day, there are often decent reductions.

Found Muji. I love Muji, but we have plenty of their stores in the UK. Sure, our stores don't sell the food and drink items — I stocked up on some of the maple syrup and salt pretzels, and the instant lemon, lime and ginger drink — or as many clothes but otherwise we don't do too badly. Found Muji, however, is even better. It's like a boutique version of Muji, selling only a carefully curated and beautifully presented range of products. I picked up two small copper bowls (haul photo 1), which were on sale. Omotesando

Spiral Market. Omotesando is one of my favourite parts of Tokyo for shopping, and the Spiral Building is a haven of style and a design. They have a cafe and a gallery, but my favourite part is the Spiral Market, which sells a well-chosen offering of stylish products, including stationery, homewares and even a carefully edited musical selection. I only bought the two colourful postcards in haul photo 1; I had hoped to be able to go back at the end of my trip but ran out of time. Omotesando

Acme. On a stretch of Meguro Dori that hosts several other interiors shops, known as the Meguro Interior Shops Community, Acme sells gorgeous, effortlessly chic furniture and homewares with hints of Americana and Scandinavia. There were some really lovely products here, but my suitcase was much too small. Meguro

Uniqlo. Yes, we have Uniqlo in London, but not 12-storey flagship stores. As well as a bigger selection of colouful, chic clothing basics than in the UK, most items are cheaper here. I bought an aqua v-neck cardigan for about ¥1,800 (£10 or so), which would be either £20 or £30 in London and which isn't available yet here anyway. Uniqlo clothes from Japan also fit my 5'3'' frame better — XS in the UK is usually a bit big on me, but Japanese S was a closer fit and with better fitting sleeves (I have to roll UK Uniqlo sleeves up).

Kyukyodo. A very traditional shop, which has been selling beautiful paper, calligraphy kit and incense since 1663. It's a great place for gorgeous gifts. Ginza.

Gekkoso. A tiny, subterranean art supplies store, tucked away on a quiet side street in the southern part of Ginza, Gekkoso is a lovely place to while away a few peaceful minutes. The cards they sell are fab, although as you would expect, most of them come with Japanese text. Ginza.

Ito-Ya. The huge Ginza flagship of this modern stationery store is currently being refurbished, but the temporary store just around the corner is still worth a visit. They have a bewildering array of pens, paper, notebooks and office supplies, set over five floors. Ginza.

Morita Washi. Two blocks south and one block east of the Shijo–Karasuma junction in Kyoto's main shopping district, lies Morita Washi, one of my guidebook's favourite shops in the city. They sell beautiful handmade paper and paper products, including notebooks, cards and stationery. It's a good place for gifts that feel a little more special than the paper goods you can find in a department store.

Neo Mart. I stumbled upon this shop on the way to Nishiki Market (it's just a few blocks away) and it's a bit like a mini version of Loft, but with perhaps more focus on fashion accessories and less focus on homewares. They had a lot of cool products, with a particularly good selection of gifts for cyclists, this being Kyoto.

Karan Koron Kyoto & Bonti. This tiny design boutique, near the junction of Shijo Dori and Kawaramachi Dori, feels like it might be a pop-up or concept store. They only sell a few products — traditional Japanese sweets, crockery and accessories — but everything is stylish and beautifully packaged. Kyoto is a great city for buying traditional goods, but there is also a lot of tat; this store offers the perfect compromise.

Beams. As I mentioned, I didn't do a lot of shopping for clothes but the fun, casual styles in Beams, which is next to the big Takashimaya on Shijo Dori, caught my attention. They have a particularly good selection of t-shirts with clever slogans and some cool accessories.

Agete. I wasn't in Hiroshima long enough to hit the shops beyond the inevitable 45 minutes spent in Tokyu Hands, but a few stores in the area between the station and the Peace Memorial Park caught my attention. They sell simple but colourful jewellery pieces, which aren't cheap but are very pretty and well constructed and would make a great 'splurge' gift. They have stores in a few other cities too.

Adam et Rope. I really liked the fresh, colourful style of this boutique, which is currently popping up in the Parco mall. They also have fun, reasonably priced accessories, like a range of (chic) zodiac-inspired tote bags. Other branches.

What I bought
I bought most of the stationery and kitchen items and gadgets from either Loft of Tokyu Hands. Many of these are gifts, of course — even I can't justify buying quite that much stationery!

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