In Japan shopping is more than a leisurely pastime, it’s a national obsession. Nowhere is that more evident than its capital city. Whether you’re looking for limited-edition sneakers or the latest designer handbag, Tokyo is a shopper’s paradise. Here are some of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods.
Daikanyama and Nakameguro
Fashionistas of all ages flock to the design hub of Daikanyama, located beside the dining and nightlife district of Ebisu. This leafy enclave of shops and cafes is home to some of Tokyo’s hippest upscale boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Well-known international brands such as Vivienne Tam and Paul Smith jostle against up-and-coming Japanese designers like Limi Feu, Yohji Yamamoto’s daughter.
When you’ve had your fill of shopping, stop in at the shiny new Daikanyama T-Site, which houses a gorgeous bookshop, a slick café-lounge, a laid-back restaurant and a gallery, among other things. A short walk away, in the neighborhood of Nakameguro, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage clothing shops and independent boutiques, funky bars and cool eateries along the picturesque Meguro canal.
The streets of Harajuku and neighboring Shibuya are teeming with young people sporting the latest -- and most outrageous -- styles. Shops specializing in “Lolita Goth” clothing and accessories dot Takeshita-dori, a pedestrian thoroughfare leading southeast from Harajuku Station that is usually congested with teenagers (the average shopper in Harajuku is around 16-years-old). But on the quieter side streets, you’ll spot tiny boutiques like Bambi & Faline that are at the forefront of Tokyo’s street fashion zeitgeist.
Shibuya has a slightly more grown-up vibe, with major department stores like Marui and Seibu, and an 8-floor conceptual mini-mall by New York-based retailer Opening Ceremony, which counts high-end brands such as Alexander Wang among its collaborators. Scattered amid the mayhem are superb restaurants -- although you have to wander outside of the 10-minute radius from the station, where most of the tourists are concentrated -- and raucous izakayas (Japanese-style pubs), as well as great bars.
The long, tree-lined avenue of Omotesando-dori, often referred to as the “Champs-Elysees of Tokyo,” runs from Harajuku through upscale Omotesando and into Aoyama. The biggest names in fashion -- Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan -- set up shop in these 2 posh neighborhoods, alongside major domestic labels Commes des Garcon, Issey Miyake and Tsumori Chisato. Off the main drag are innovative shops that double as installation spaces, such as The Contemporary Fix and Over the Counter by Arts and Science.
Some of the most cutting-edge examples of commercial architecture (such as the stunning Prada building designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron) can also be found here. The handsomely austere Omotesando Hills building, designed by architect Tadao Ando, is a collection of restaurants, high-end stores and small galleries. For unique souvenirs that don’t break the bank, check out the stylish sake shop Hasegawa and Pass the Baton, a vintage boutique selling used clothing and other goods that have been given new life by clever tweaks in design.
One of Tokyo’s most cosmopolitan shopping districts, Ginza retains an atmosphere of old-school elegance that is missing in the city’s newer, trendier areas. The wide boulevards feature towers devoted to exclusive brands such as Mikimoto, Chanel and Bulgari (each of which house fine-dining establishments -- Dazzle, Beige and the excellent Bulgari II Ristorante, respectively) and are perfect for leisurely window-shopping.
On Sundays, the main street is closed to traffic, and people come out in droves to dine and sip café au laits al fresco. If you prefer green tea to coffee, head to the stylish retail shop and tearoom Cha Ginza, from tea producer Uogashi Meicha; the second floor is a tasting room designed to resemble the roadside benches where travelers would stop for a cup of tea on their journey from city to city.
This shabby-chic neighborhood exudes the charm and vitality of a college town, although it’s nowhere near a university. A favorite among students and counter-culture, neo-hippie Tokyoites, “Shimokita” is the best place to find retooled fashions made from recycled kimono fabric, see a theatrical performance or discover an underground jazz-funk quartet of sax players. Hidden among the maze-like tangle of streets are cozy cafes, bars playing rare-groove soul records until the wee hours and a cluster of tasty, reasonably priced restaurants.