When you think of shopping in Tokyo, chances are, the usual suspects spring to mind. You know, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku. And so they should. These bustling districts welcome millions of people every year, offering a shopping experience unlike anywhere on Earth. However, for those looking for something a little different, something off the beaten track, we’ve pulled together a list of Tokyo’s lesser-known shopping neighbourhoods for you to browse the next time you find yourself in the nation’s capital.
How many have you heard of?
The small, bohemian hub of Shimokitazawa offers a plethora of second hand stores and modern hipster joints that gives Harajuku a run for its money.
A few stops away from Shibuya on the Keio Inokashira and Shinjuku on the Odakyu Odawara train lines, Shimokitazawa is home to streets and laneways lined with vintage fashion shops, cool coffee shops and urban eateries that give the neighbourhood its unique character.
Spend the entire day perusing one retro store after the other, whether it’s a quirky thrift store or high-end vintage shop.
If you’re looking for an outfit change halfway through the day, or simply want to get rid of some unwanted items in your wardrobe, head to New York Joe Exchange. This store sells imported vintage and used clothing, and also buy items from walk-in customers, allowing you to trade clothes on the spot!
Step into the one-time punk neighbourhood of Tokyo!
While Shimokitazawa could be considered “hipster”, Koenji is a little more mature while still retaining some of its edginess from its formative punk days of the ‘70s. Only a short train trip from Shinjuku on the JR Chuo line, it has managed to avoid the huge tides of development and makeovers from the ‘80s which has allowed the district to rock on and preserve its signature retro look and feel.
Considering its history, it should come as no surprise that Koenji is home to a lot of vintage record shops. Mostly specialising in rock music, many of the record shops stock a number of rare finds making it a must-visit for collectors and music-lovers the world over.
If leather and vinyl isn’t quite your thing, there’s also an abundance of thrift stores you can rummage through for vintage gems and curated pieces for men and women dating all the way back to the 1920s. For those looking for garb more on the traditional side, there are also a few vintage shops that offer a huge selection of reasonably-priced vintage kimonos, yukatas and accessories.
Jiyugaoka might only be ten minutes by train from Shibuya on the Tokyu Toyoko line, but they are worlds apart. Relatively compact in size, Jiyugaoka offers a glimpse of an urban Japan rarely seen by other tourists with its calm, green streets and sophisticated, laid back atmosphere.
Affectionately known as Tokyo’s little Europe, this impossibly charming area often referred to as osharena machi by the locals, or “a stylish and sophisticated place,” is a hub of fashionable boutiques, hip cafes and narrow paths that make you feel as you’ve just stepped into a lost city of Europe—that still has an authentic Japanese touch, of course!
Jiyugaoka’s narrow paths connect fashion boutiques, concept stores and homeware stores perfect for adventurous shoppers seeking to purchase unique designer items ranging from homewares, apparel, food, kitchenware, cosmetics and beauty products. In keeping with the area’s theme, the collections more often than not captures European and Japanese design elements with a focus on organic sensibility.
If you’re not looking to window shop the branded boutiques in Daikanyama or cross paths with the crowds in central Shibuya, look no further than Tomigaya. Just a few minutes’ walk away from one of the busiest and most frequented tourist destinations, Shibuya, Tomigaya offers peace and calm to the shopper who likes to leisurely stroll from one store to another at their own pace.
Everything about this city district feels delightfully local. Within the mix of tastefully curated cafes and traditional shop fronts, there are loads of charming local establishments like local butchers and barbers as well as some seriously on-trend bookstores to keep up with what’s cool in the world.
Just a stone’s throw from Ginza—Tokyo’s glamourous, upmarket shopping district—sits the historical neighbourhood of Nihonbashi. Nihonbashi was one of the biggest commerce districts during the Edo period (early 17th Century to late 19th Century) with many great historical landmarks still standing today, including some of Tokyo’s most historic department stores such as Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya. Blending worlds old and new, Nihonbashi is home to many artisanal shops that sell a range of traditional crafts such as cut glass items, washi (Japanese paper) and homewares.
Another must-see in Nihonbashi is Amazake Yokocho. Historically a street famous for selling sweet sake, today, the long, narrow alleyway is famous for its stores that sell traditional snacks and sweets such as freshly-baked senbei (rice crackers) and ningyo yaki (doll cakes), a sponge cake filled with sweetened azuki beans.
In addition, Nihonbashi is also one of the best places to take Tokyo’s unique architecture, encapsulating the marriage between ‘urban Japanese’ and ‘classical Western’ which only proves to make your shopping spree that much more magical.