Walk a mile in Uwern Jong’s shoes – which he bought several pairs of – as he roams around Tokyo’s best shopping districts.
On a recent trip to Tokyo, I found myself navigating the city’s South Western shrines to retail enlightenment. Quite possibly the most eclectic and hip parts of town to splash some yen, here is my quick and dirty guide to this amazing part of town – walk in my shoes so to speak, yes I bought several pairs.
Stand in the middle of the infamous ‘everyone for themselves’ street crossing to mark the start of your shopping adventure. It’s quintessentially Tokyo, but really you’ll see nothing new here by way of shops, with brands from Louis Vuitton to Topman as per any other big city in Asia – or the world, in fact – vying for your attention. Check out the exclusive Omotesando Hills shopping arcade, an architectural gem showcasing a continuous looping walkway from the ground floor to the top. Shop the ironically French-sounding, Japanese brand Comme des Garcons. Drool at the ‘Food Show’ in the basement of Tokyu department store right by Shibuya station where you can sample everything from five-hundred-dollar melons to cloned-perfect cherries, to fresh sashimi, to the downright weird and wonderful.
Work your way to Takeshita Street in Harajuku and visit the infamous four-storey 100 Yen store, Daiso. Don’t turn your nose up, because you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find. It’s a great place for original souvenirs and stuff you never thought you’d buy. Take a picture with the plastic mock-ups of gigantic crepes sold in the little hole-in-the-walls here. Get off the main drag and away from the tourists – meander through the side streets and find great small-chain and independent apparel and accessories boutiques like News, Beauty and Youth, ADD and Acycle.
Ensure you have plenty of yen as every fashionista is bound to splurge here.
A true vintage junkie’s heaven for American retro-chic and funky Japanese customisations. Check out Ruby Tuesday and Haight & Ashbury. Vintage houseware and bric and brac lovers take particular note, you simply must drop in to visit Mokuyohkan and A.M.A. Here we guarantee that you’ll spend hours sifting through knitting needles, colourful enamel cups, ashtrays, bottles, buttons and cameras.
Don your Ray-Bans here in mega-yen chic central, where you’ll see yummy mummies pavement-bashing designer strollers, couture doggies with prams of their own and luxury 4×4’s pushing through the throng of pedestrians – yet with a relaxed and independent vibe. A lovely walk if anything, should you be on a budget. A must-mooch for all you bookish people is the temple of books, magazines, stationery and coffee culture known as T-site.
Just one stop on from Daikanyama – this quaint little canal-side walk, lined with independent boutiques, vintage book-stores and lovely eateries mustn’t be missed.
Get lost in the mega-station that is Shinjuku – again every superbrand is presented here. Watch the throngs of people pass through the hallowed doors of Uniqlo before making the pilgrimage to your final checkpoint of Shinjuku Ni-Chome 2, Tokyo’s ‘gay district’ boasting over 300 gay bars. Well, every good shopaholic knows you can’t ‘shop-til-you-drop’ unless you’ve got a cocktail in hand at the end of the day!
The Tokyo survival guide
Take your headphones off. It is Japanese retail culture to hawk, shout, vend, welcome and just talk incessantly. You’ll find retail staff will literally narrate everything they do. Don’t be put off, it’s part of the charm.
If you’re an iPhone compass junkie, bi-lingual tourist map/signage can be found in most areas, but they tend to point in the direction you’re facing rather than North.
To whizz around, use the cost-effective subway system, with really handy guides on where on the train to get on based on where you’re getting off. It’s a little confusing at first and don’t rely on the English announcements, even they can stump the most avid of navigators. Work out the route before you set off. At some times of day, usually rush hour, certain carriages are for women only. This is to counteract what seems to be an obsession amongst Japanese men to ‘Chikan’ (or grope) women on the metro.
If you get thirsty, you won’t. There are a million vending machines across the city to help you quench your thirst. And you don’t need change, you can use your topped-up travel card.
If you need to recharge your wallet (and believe me, you will), the best place is one of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores. Some ATMs won’t accept foreign cards and, although times are changing, it is still a cash-society