Let’s not lie to ourselves — regardless of gender, we all have a soft spot for a good ol’ shopping trip. There’s this buzzing feeling we get looking at all the fresh buys at the end of the day. The same feeling is amplified when we’re on an exciting travel adventure, snagging rare finds.
Japan will bring out even the smallest and deeply burrowed shopaholic out to play. The Land of the Rising Sun is not only reputable in quality and range of products in all categories but it also produces quite a substantial amount of Japan-exclusive ones that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. The key is to know where to look. However, the country is huge and for travelers with only a limited amount of time in the country, it’s impossible to cover every inch of land for the best goods.
For that very reason, a shopping guide like this one exists! This is not just any guide, though — it’s the ultimate one that you’ll ever need for your Japan shopping needs!
Fashion and Shopping Scene in Japan
One might have heard about the famous Tokyo — it’s the ultimate spot in Asia and one of the top ones in the world for fashion people to gather and get inspiration. Anyone who has been to the city knows the creative and innovative roam the streets of Harajuku, flaunting their elaborate dressing as they express their personalities through their outfits.
While not as flamboyant as the capital city, Osaka has its own fashion scene, complete with the Amerikamura area crowded with youths and the open-minded sharing their views of the (fashion) world.
These two are the top fashion hot spots in Japan, but let’s not forget about the rest of the country. You may notice if and when you get to the country that there’s a significant classification when it comes to fashion — there’s the out-of-the-box kind, and then there’s the normcore fashion. The Japanese made the fashion genre their own, though — you’ll know it’s Japanese normcore fashion when it involves an oversized silhouette here with a touch of modesty there, and all-around neutral colors.
Even though they’re not the most adventurous of the lot, but just like everyone else in the world, the Japanese cannot resist a good shopping spree. You cannot go down a street without seeing a clothing store — everything from luxury boutiques to quaint antique, and thrift stores are scattered all across the country! To feed the demand of the people, the occasional sales due to the quick turnover fashion cycle is more common than arguably anywhere else in the world!
Shopping in Tokyo
The main fashion city itself, Tokyo, is obviously the best place in the country to get your fashion buys and rare finds. Everything you can ever imagine is right here in this city — exclusive local brands including local designer ones that went global to international brands with Japan-only items you can’t get anywhere else.
Just because it’s the fashion city of Tokyo, that doesn’t mean the fashion scene here is limited to the trendy and new. In fact, more than anywhere else, Tokyo has the best mix of old and new fashion finds one can ever ask for. Looking for the latest collection of a local brand? Tokyo has it. Have a thrill for the vintage stuff? Stop your search — Tokyo’s treasure chest.
Just the city itself is huge — running around from area to area without knowing exactly where to look will be a challenge and a race against time for some. The various areas of Tokyo are better at certain types of shopping than others. Depending on what you’re looking for, you should head to the one that has the biggest range of them. Let’s find out which ones are for what!
Local Brands Shopping in Shinjuku & Shibuya
Japan is full of successful brands and designers — some are even ventured internationally and are globally-recognized. Even if you can get them in your home country, there’s no better place than to get Japanese brands and designer goods than in Japan itself! Shibuya and Shinjuku house these local brands — you won’t see anywhere else in Tokyo full of local brands, both commercial and luxury.
Lumine is probably the best place in Shinjuku to get your shopping fix — trust me, there are 3 different shopping malls you’ll get confused as to which to head to first! There’s also the Keio Mall if you fancy.
Shibuya has Takashimaya and also Shibuya109 which is the top choice for locals when it comes to shopping. In Shibuya, it’s more shops on the streets than there are shopping malls. You’ll find a 7-story building of Loft and huge outlets for brands like Uniqlo, Zara, and Bershka — can anyone ask for anything more than that?
You might think, why should anyone get these brands in Japan when they have retail stores all around the world? You see, there are quite a few reasons for it — the first being arguably the most important one: price. If you take into consideration the currency exchange, importation, and other related matters, it’s only reasonable that the prices overseas for these Japanese brands are higher than in their home country. Don’t be surprised if you find the same one you saw back home in Japan that’s for half the price! Why wouldn’t anyone want to save that cash for the same items?
The other important reason is that some of these internationally-known Japanese brands have Japan-exclusive designs and collections that you can only find in-stores in Japan! Not even the online store has them listed — talk about exclusivity! Can you imagine being the only few special ones in your country to own the design — your friends would die to get their hands on one but they can’t, unless they travel to Japan themselves — specifically to Shibuya and Shinjuku!
Trendy Shopping in Harajuku
If you’re looking to skip the big-name brands but still be in the loop with the latest fashion trends, you’re best off at the most fashionable part of town and that is Harajuku. There’s no better place than here for the trendiest and most innovative designs. Most of the shops you find here will be locally born and raised, with a mixture of those you’ve heard before and the ones that you wish you had.
Depending on what style you’re looking for, even in Harajuku itself, there are various places for that — but rest assured that you’re going to stumble upon those that you cannot find anywhere else, even in other cities in Japan!
For the more commercial stuff, Takeshita Street is probably what everyone will recommend you to go for — fair enough, that is the most popular bit of the area. However, if you walk further down a bit and explore a bit more, you’ll probably come across Laforet, one of my most favorite shopping malls in the whole country! Here, you’ll be able to get a range of fashion styles — from the extreme Japanese subcultures like Lolita and goth to the cutesy, feminine aesthetics and the streetwear. Jewelry, fashion accessories, and body care products — you name it, they got it!
If you’re keen for a bit more adventure, Cat Street just a bit down from Harajuku Station in Omotesando is swarming with local boutiques and shops. This bit of town is known for its cute, aesthetic cafes so pop by some of them for a shopping break!
Luxury Shopping in Ginza
Local brands are exciting but you’re looking to spend a bit extra on a purse or shoes — maybe even investing in a few coats — head down to Ginza for the best luxury shopping experience one can ask for!
Local or international, name any big brand or designer and you’ll see a tall building with their name on it. Not to mention complete with impressive architecture and fancy interior designing. While some brands have the whole building to themselves, there are also shopping malls that house a wide variety of brands, making browsing easier for you so you don’t have to walk down the whole street for window shopping!
Ginza is also one of the more distinctive areas for the fanciest restaurants in all of Japan! Bet your wallet wouldn’t be the only one starving after all that shopping, so book your seatings in advance to make a proper, treat-yourself day out!
Other Notable Shopping Areas in Tokyo
The areas mentioned above are without a doubt the best places to get all your shopping errands out of the way. All the names and labels are there, anyway. However, there’s one other thing that Japan is good for and that is vintage and thrift shopping!
Even though there are a few hidden thrift and vintage shops in Shibuya and Harajuku, the best areas for this specific type of shopping are Shimokitazawa and Ueno. In fact, Shimokitazawa has been mentioned again and again to be the best spot for the rarest finds alongside the best coffee stands.
The shopping streets of Ueno will bring you back to the olden days of Japan, and so the shops are mostly vintage, offering the kind of goods you won’t nearly find anywhere else in Japan. This area is extremely popular for Japanese candies as well, so a drop-by here kills two shopping birds with one stone: casual shopping and souvenir shopping!
Shopping in Osaka
Don’t get too down if your Japan itinerary doesn’t have Tokyo in it — that doesn’t mean it’s the end for your shopping adventure. The second-largest shopping city is none other than Osaka! Trust that the City of Takoyaki is booming with its own wonderful shopping scenes that are unique to the Kansai region.
Just like Tokyo, Osaka has various areas that are best for various things. Don’t be too worried about missing out on Tokyo shopping — Osaka is just as good, if not better! Some local brands are based in Osaka and don’t have shops in Tokyo, so you’re getting the exclusive!
You’ll notice that the Kansai region has a slightly different shopping scene compared to Tokyo. There aren’t as many high-rise shopping malls — they’re mostly shops on the streets, maybe a second or third story max. A slightly local touch is infused in the shopping scene in Osaka and the items as well are more Japanese (in other words, not as Westernised as in Tokyo).
Regardless of it all, your shopping experience in Osaka won’t be affected by this at all! If anything, it’ll enhance your Japan shopping experience more than the Tokyo shopping scene can. Let’s take a look at the various areas of shopping and their shopping specialties!
Trendy & Bargain Shopping in Namba
The Namba area is arguably the best area in all of Osaka for your shopping fix. More specifically, your trendy and bargain shopping fix. This is where both locals and tourists alike come to get their doses of shopping spree every so often. The stuff you get here, they’re not just affordable — they are of quality as well.
Tokyo has Harajuku, Osaka has Amerikamura. It’s called Amerikamura because of its American influence, but rest assured the neighborhood has its unique Japanese touch to it, too. This area is basically where all the creative and hip kids hang out. No doubt a hot spot, you’ll see crowds of the younger Japanese generation over the weekends, chit-chatting, busting out the speakers, and blasting their hip music. Not to mention that the neighborhood is full of both international and local hip brands, selling inexpensive clothing and accessories.
What’s a visit to Osaka without dropping by the Dotonbori area in Namba? Not only is the neighborhood home to the giant Glico Man sign, but it’s also where you can find the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade. This shopping street is extremely long, consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of named and unnamed brand shops. You’ll no doubt shop till you literally drop here!
Branded Shopping in Umeda
You can’t conclude a shopping spree without at least some branded shopping. Head down to the Umeda area of Osaka for your branded shopping fix. The northern area of the city is full of the best shopping malls like LUKUA which is just right in front of the JR Osaka Station to Grand Front Osaka. There’s even a connecting passage to link these two huge shopping malls together, making your shopping experience more convenient! Everything from Daimaru Department Store to the famous Tokyu Hands can be found here — even Japan’s lifestyle clothing brand Uniqlo. It’s a one-stop shopping mall for all!
You cannot miss HEP FIVE, especially since it’s the shopping mall with the iconic Ferris wheel on the rooftop. This one has over 300 shops, a mixture of Japanese chain stores to unique local boutiques. It might look like there are only female clothing stores found here, but there are in fact clothing stores for men as well as accessories like shoes, jewelry, and even bags! HEP FIVE even has a cinema in it, so you can pop by for a movie break in between your hefty shopping.
Nostalgic Shopping in Tennoji
Like mentioned previously, Japan is one of the best places for vintage and thrift shopping. Tokyo has its own areas for this kind of shopping, and so does Osaka. The nostalgic and historical Tennoji is perfect for such shopping. While there are quite a few newly built shopping malls like Avetica Underground Mall and Kitetsu Abeno Department Store — you’ll be able to browse through your favorite local brands like Uniqlo and Tokyu Hands — trust that there’s quite an abundance of quaint, decades-old specialty shops lying around.
The ambiance of Tsutenkaku and Shinsekai is full of nostalgia, so expect their stores to have the same kind of goods. They’re affordably priced as well, and based on my experience, what you get here, you cannot get in Tokyo. Believe me, I wanted a bomber jacket that I saw from a store in Shinsekai once but didn’t get it, thinking I could get it in Tokyo. I couldn’t.
Other Notable Shopping Areas in Osaka
Namba, Umeda, and Tennoji are wonderful shopping areas in Osaka, but if you’re a shopaholic like me, you’re going to be digging around for underrated and unique places to browse through. Interestingly enough, there are other spots in Osaka that’s perfect for a shopping experience.
Want luxury but want a discount? Rinku Premium Outlets are made for that. Brands like Kate Spade and Ralph Lauren, they’re all here! This amazing shopping center is just a few minutes from the Kansai International Airport — how convenient is that? You can get your last-minute shopping done just a few steps away from your departure gate! There’s even a 100-yen shop for your last-minute souvenir shopping for friends and family back home.
Go underground shopping, especially on a rainy day. The downpour won’t stop you from going on your shopping spree — Crysta Nagahori is here to save the day! This is a huge shopping arcade that runs from Nagahoribashi Station to Yotsubashi Station. Don’t know where those are? Don’t worry, it runs through Shinsaibashi, so you can go in halfway through. You wouldn’t even feel like you’re undergrounds based on how it’s designed — glass ceilings and sunlight-like lighting. With over 100 shops to browse through, from everything fashion to lifestyle and books, you can spend a day or two getting lost in all these Japanese goods!
5 Tips For Shopping In Japan
Now that you’re well equipped with the information on where to shop in the two main shopping cities in Japan, there are some tips and tricks up my sleeve that will make your shopping experience even more fun and exciting. They will not only help you in Osaka and Tokyo but also in other parts of the country when you just randomly walk into a local store.
Sometimes, Japan can be quite different from the rest of the world. Shopping is no different. Obviously, most of the basics are the same — you browse, try something on, fall immensely in love with the piece and then you buy it. On occasion, it may not be as smooth as you expect it to be here.
What can be so different from one’s perspective of Japan shopping, you ask? Well, let’s go through the important tips that will highlight the key differences and how to slightly tackle them!
1. Know your budget
First and foremost, of course, you have to know your budget. Generally, one would have a rough estimate of how much they would want to spend on their trip. Here’s a tip: instead of setting aside a sum of money just for shopping, why not budget yourself to how much you’d put as a maximum amount for a piece of clothing?
Trust me on this, you’ll get easily swayed by the prices of the stuff in Japan. Imagine budgeting yourself spending ¥50,000, and when you see a pair of trousers that costs ¥15,000, you’ll be like “oh that’s not so bad, I’ll still have ¥35,000 left for the rest.” At the end of the day, you’ll end up with 3, maybe 5 pieces of clothing.
If you set a budget for each piece of clothing — say, ¥5,000 maximum for a shirt and ¥8,000 maximum for trousers — you’ll end up with more stuff for the same overall budget of ¥50,000!
2. Be aware of the size conversion
This one can get quite tricky. Just like how the UK size chart is different from the US size chart, the Japanese have their own size chart! Their shoe sizing follows a different kind of measurement and the S/M/L sizing can run rather small to accommodate the smaller physique of the locals.
Get your research done in advance or have the size conversion charts for all the various types of clothing and accessories saved on your phone. Some shops, especially the small, local ones, do not allow customers to try on the clothes or accessories, so you have to roughly guess if the items fit you or not.
Basically, the thing to note is that everything just runs smaller than usual. The Japanese are slim and petite in general, so some lengths may not be suitable for taller people, either. Be sure to check before you make your payment — some places, just like the “no trying” rule, have the “no refund or exchange” rule!
3. Don’t forget your passport
Oh, the privilege of tax-free! Visitors are lucky enough to claim the taxes back, but unlike some countries where you claim them all at once at the airport, in Japan, you can claim them at the store itself! There’s one catch, though: you have to have your passport.
I have made the mistake countless of times — when I was first in Japan for travel — of not bringing my passport along with me and had to face the consequences of not getting the tax amount refunded. I guess if you’re as forgetful as me, you have to pay the price — literally!
4. Keep your eyes wide open
One thing I notice about Japan is that the good and great things are, more often than not, hidden. Sometimes, there wouldn’t even be signs to point to these amazing stores! I guess that’s just the exclusivity factor in play.
Because of that, make sure you get your cup of brewed coffee in the morning so you’re on high alert with eyes wide open to spot these hidden gems. These treasure chests of stores can gift you with all sorts of stuff — from unique, rare items to bargain prices!
The best ones are the ones that are underrated and underground, and that is no less for Japan shopping. Some are even literally underground! Who wouldn’t want one-of-a-kind items that only you have and no one else can get?
5. Basic phrases are lifesavers
You’re right, Japanese is hard to master. But, it’s not that difficult to memorise a few sentences to make your shopping experience that much more smooth-sailing! To be very honest with you, people can get away with just knowing a few vocabulary words and not even a full sentence, so there’s no excuse!
The easiest ones to remember are colours: “kuro” for black and “shiroi” for white is just your basic two colors that you’ll soon find out you’ll be using the most. If you want something that’s white in black, just point at the item and say “kuro arimasuka?”— it’s that simple!
A sentence that you can remember easily is “ikura desu ka?” which means “how much?” Learn your basic one through ten before using this sentence though, as you wouldn’t be able to understand the response if you use it and not know the numbers. Once you do, this sentence is a lifesaver!
There are a few other simple and basic phrases to ease your shopping experience — it will 100% make it a lot more fun, if anything!
Grab Your Shopping Bags!
You’ve got the shopping spots down and the tips and tricks to shopping in Japan in general, so what else are you waiting for? The Land of the Rising Sun has no shortage of shopping — it might even be the exact opposite, especially with the fast-paced turnover rate! So grab a couple of your shopping bags and shove them in your suitcase for your Japan trip, you don’t want to not have space for your new buys and rare finds, do you?