Going home to see the family? Got a client coming to visit? First time in Tokyo and searching for a hip souvenir? Selecting gifts can be a nerve-wracking experience, no matter if you’re just passing through or trying to take a bit of Tokyo home with you. It’s not just a matter of what to buy, but also where to get it.
Omiyage (souvenirs) can be found practically anywhere and there’s a vast range of gifts and souvenirs on sale in the city. With a little digging, you can find the item you want, ancient or modern, classy or crass.
If you’re short on time, money or ideas the convenience of shopping culture in Tokyo has given rise to some of the most complete one-stop shops in the world. The city is home to not only famous outlets that have everything (including the kitchen sink), but also those that cater specifically to Tokyo souvenir hunters.
Probably the best-known gift shop in Tokyo, this is a useful one-stop outlet for almost everything: dolls, china, kimonos, yukata, woodblock prints, furniture, antiques and books on Japan. Ideal for stocking up on presents and souvenirs in one easy trip, but it can be a little kitschy. Prices are generally moderate, and staff speak good English.
From stationery to toilet-seat covers, this is the largest household and novelty goods store in Tokyo. It’s packed with knickknacks and items from hardware to board games, though be aware that it can be difficult to find your way around the multitude of floors. Particularly interesting is the party supplies section, which gives a unique glimpse into the Japanese sense of humour. The character goods, stationery, kitchen and health and beauty floors may be particularly enticing for those looking to zero in on potential souvenirs.
Much like its competitor, Tokyu Hands, Loft offers anything you can imagine for the home, office, car, or even plane. Loft stocks an extensive array of cartoon character goods such as mobile phone straps, stationery and keychains along with modern takes on traditional Japanese items like fans, socks, and tenugui (handkerchiefs).
The National Art Center, Tokyo's shop stocks a lot more than the usual postcards and coffee table books (though it's got plenty of those, too). Souvenir From Tokyo lives up to its name with a diverse selection of Japanese-style accessories, clothes, crockery and pieces by feted local designers like Mina Perhonen and Anrealage.
Tokyo has hundreds of specialty shops selling thousands of traditional and modern items. If you can, it’s worth spending time and money to look for unusual crafts, clothing and accessories, antiques and woodblock prints, kitchenware, stationery, anime and manga items, and quirky originals.
Japanese craftsmanship has been refined over thousands of years and continues to evolve today. Though many crafts are kept alive by masters that are recognised as Living National Treasures, it’s widely acknowledged that traditional arts including woodwork, laquerwork, papermaking and dollmaking may be fading into the past.
Many people associate Japanese fashion with classic garments such as the kimono. But there’s far more to Japanese clothing than meets the eye. Superbrands including Comme des Garçons and Uniqlo have made a name for themselves internationally, and there are companies making headway by creating fresh, clever takes on old ideas.
This network of shops is a recycled and vintage kimono superchain with plenty of locations around Tokyo. Though the staff may not speak English at every independently owned shop, the range of items and prices marks it as a great place to buy an affordable traditional yukata or kimono ensemble. Also on offer are various accessories, bags, and shoes to match with your new threads. Visit the Kagurazaka shop to buy your kimono right in the heart of the elegant and historic teahouse district, where many artisans serving the teahouse industry are still creating and selling their wares.
2-12 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku (03 5228 1717; www.tansuya.jp)
This charming chain of shops represents the modern take on kimono and kimono accessories, featuring clever textiles, Japanese-Western hybrid clothing designs, hair accessories, bags, and hosiery. Furifu is known for its Neo-Taisho era aesthetic of bright-cum-vintage colours and cutting-edge patterns. Visit the Ginza branch for a slightly more serious line of offerings in subtler colours and designs with a more handmade feel.
Sagemonoya specialises in netsuke and sagemono – the tiny, ornate accessories designed to hang from the belt of a kimono to hold tobacco, medicines and other small objects. This shop holds hundreds of collectibles, and staff can answer enquiries in English, French or German.
702 & 703 Palais Eternal Bldg, 4-28-20 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku (03 3352 6286; www.netsuke.com)
Myriad antiques shops specialise in sought-after items from samurai swords and helmets to screens – but you’ll need a fat wallet, and they’re difficult to transport home due to airline restrictions. For a more transport-friendly (and potentially wallet-friendly) alternative, ukiyo-e woodblock prints are not only traditionally gorgeous, but also a stylish addition to any wall. If you’re in it for the real thing, some shops offer originals by lesser-known or anonymous artists for a fraction of the price of heavy hitters. If a copy is enough for you, then there are lots of quality reproductions of famous pieces to be found.
Moved from its previous location in the same neighbourhood, this established gallery sells original ukiyo-e prints (from around ¥20,000) and reproductions (from ¥3,000) by masters such as Hiroshige, Hokusai and Harunobu.
4F Inagaki Bldg, 1-9 Kanda-Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku (03 3219 7651; www.ebisu-do.com)
Japanese ceramics and pottery comes in all shapes and sizes, and at all price ranges. There’s (often expensive) lacquerware (urushi-nuri) and, of course, chopsticks – all vary according to their region of origin. If you’re looking to make a day of it, Kappabashi Dori (www.kappabashi.or.jp) is the street to head for anything and everything related to the kitchen, even sample plastic display food!
Japanese papermaking has evolved into a complicated art with mind-boggling results. Some washi (paper) have the consistency of fabric, while others seem to be barely there. Head for a stationery/paper specialist for seasonal greetings cards and calligraphy sets; or for lanterns, fans, boxes and other ornamental goods made with colourful, handmade washi paper.
This huge, very busy store in Ginza specialises in Japanese paper. The main shop (Ito-ya 1 Bldg) sells conventional stationery and calligraphy tools, while the annex (Ito-ya 3 Bldg) – directly behind it and reached by walking through the main store –has origami, traditional handmade paper (washi), writing paper and ink.
Another Japanese paper specialist, Kyukyodo opened its first shop in Kyoto in 1663 and supplied incense to the Imperial Palace during the Edo period. Still run by the Kumagai family that founded it, the shop moved to Tokyo in 1880 and has branched out to include two additional locations in Tokyo. This branch in Ginza, with its distinctive arched brick entrance, still sells incense alongside a selection of seasonal gift cards and lots of small, moderately priced items (boxes, notebooks, picture frames) made from colourful washi.
Some of Japan’s most popular exports are anime and manga comics. Whether they have big innocent eyes, super-boosted muscles or are covered in robotic chrome there are characters for everyone.
Mandarake (pronounced ‘Mandala-K’) is the place to go for action figures related to obscure Japanese anime, retro US toys from the 1960s and ’70s, manga, dojinshi (fanzines) and any kind of cartoony weirdness you care to name. Check out the racks and racks of carefully packaged animation cells, some of which are affordably priced. If you don't find what you're looking for, then check out the Shibuya branch for more manga fan heaven.
Another 'everything store', but decidedly downmarket from Tokyu Hands and Loft, at Don Quijote it’s pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap taken to the extreme. The aisles and shelves are cluttered, disorganized and disorientating, but you’ll find everything from snacks to washing machines. There’s even a curtained-off 'adults only' section for naughtier tastes!
This multi-storey emporium in Ginza, one of Tokyo’s biggest toy shops, is a showcase for the wacky, the cuddly and the cute, all with a Japanese twist. The basement is the headquarters of the Licca-chan Club (the Japanese equivalent of Barbie). There is a tax-exemption counter on the fourth floor.
Kiddy Land is a Tokyo institution. The main Harajuku shop is a noisy, heaving maze of mascots, dolls, cuddly toys, furry toys, action figures, Disney, Kitty, Doraemon, Godzilla and more. This epicentre of adorableness is a favourite shopping spot for celebrities passing through Tokyo. Warning: this much cuteness can damage your mental health.