Comme des Garçons
5 Chome-2-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato
Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo has always done things in her own, inimitable way. She favors black, doesn’t believe in mixing two seasons on the shop floor, and limits the availability of her clothing online, believing that the value of trying on a piece and feeling the weight and texture of the fabric far outweighs that of click-and-collect. And the Comme des Garçons flagship in the upmarket Aoyama district defies expectation. Designed by Future Systems under Kawakubo’s direction, the space looks more like an undulating glass display case than a store. Diligent shoppers make the pilgrimage here not only to gawk at the sculptural beauty but to nab those impossible-to-find runway looks.
Akomeya, by rice retailer Sazaby League, is like a Japanese Dean & DeLuca on steroids, in the best possible way. With thousands of rice-related products, including wooden boxes used for measuring rice and sake, rice pots, beautiful utensils, food products such as crackers, and much more, the shop celebrates the elegant simplicity of the food that is so characteristic of Japan. The rice bar in front of the store allows you to choose the grade of brown rice you want before choosing how much you’d like it polished, which they do on the spot—the highest level removes the entire hull, leaving you with white rice (which most Japanese customers prefer), while a lighter polish will leave a bit more fiber. This shop is a must for the food lover while in Tokyo.
Okay, so how to describe Tokyu Hands? Take a Walmart, add a Michael’s craft store, mix in some Ikea, a dash of your local hardware store and…that still doesn’t really describe this unique Japanese institution. Tokyu Hands describes itself as a “hint store,” giving you all the tools and materials you need to build a better life. Would like you choose between hundreds of different toothbrushes? How about a room of wooden blocks? More stationery than you know what to do with? Maybe you’d like to spend some time in a cat café (Ikebukoro location only)? If you can imagine it (and, more importantly, if you can’t), it’s at Tokyu Hands.
67 Yaraicho, Kagurazaka
In four short years, La Kagu has become a hive of activity in picturesque Kagurazaka. The converted library is one part boutique, one part café, and one part bookstore. In addition to that, look for furniture, reading events, farmers’ markets, and other gatherings. For the simple act of shopping, visitors will find items from Blamink, Maison Margiela, Ebure, and others. If nothing else, browse around and grab a small bite from the café—La Kagu is worth seeing just to reconfigure your idea of what a store can really be.
17-5 Sarugakucho, Daikanyama
This is not the first article to call Tsutaya “the greatest bookstore in the world,” and it’s not likely to be the last. And that’s because it’s the truth. This three-building complex is a world unto itself. Tsutaya includes an unparalleled collection of books and periodicals from Japan and around the world; a video department that has just about every movie ever made (and if it doesn’t the store can download it and burn it to a DVD on the spot); a 120,000-album music department, replete with listening stations to hear any track and concierges to guide you to the right choice in a given genre; a rare-book-and-magazine lounge with a dining menu and full bar; a camera shop; a travel office; a pet-goods store; three cafés; one of the best stationery stores in Japan; and a full-service restaurant with an outdoor deck. Trust us: Just go.
This is a fantastic department store (check out the Hall of Roses on the fourth floor for a dazzling floral display), but the main attraction is down in the basement, in what’s called the depachika, the food courts for which many Tokyo department stores are famous. Takashimaya’s Shinjuku store has one of the larger food courts in Tokyo, and is replete with both Japanese and Western delicacies, including a Kit Kat store that’ll amaze. As part of a larger Shinjuku development, the store is also adjacent to a Tokyu Hands, and includes a Kinokuniya book shop.
3-25-15 Jingumae, Harajuku
Started more than forty years ago in Harajuku, Beams has gone from being another clothing store in Tokyo to a trailblazer in Japanese fashion. In a recent survey, Japanese women were asked where they’d want their boyfriend to shop, and Beams was the top choice. The store caters to both men and women, specializing in domestic designers, and also has housewares and accessories. The house-brand staples are of amazingly high quality (T-shirts and underwear), so be sure to pick up some to take back home.
What started as a kimono shop in 1866 has become one of the most influential department stores in the world. The store is spread over two buildings, with a men’s wing larger than most entire department stories. Small designers and bigger labels happily coexist throughout, as does a formal kimono section on the seventh floor that should not be missed. The service is said to be the best in Tokyo (which is saying something). Also, don’t miss: Below the food hall, on the lower level, is a natural-beauty and health food section that is the envy of the world.
You can buy Prada in lots of places. You still have to come to this store. The six-story structure by Herzog & de Meuron was an instant sensation when it opened in 2003, and it remains a singular architectural achievement. Nestled in the dense Aoyama district, the store immediately surprises with its generous open space around the structure. But it’s the now-famous diamond-shaped glazing, moving from flat to convex across the skin of the building, that immediately catches the eye. Inside, floors and structural forms blend from one into the other and back again. It’s a tour de force, worth a visit even if you leave empty-handed (though with every Prada line on display here, that may be difficult).
2 Chome-25-13, Meguro
Regularly cited as one of the best vintage shops in the world, J’Antiques is like Ralph Lauren on Adderall: a furiously focused and dazzling array of vintage clothing and accessories. Both men and women will have plenty to sort through here, from cotton dresses to varsity jackets. Old signs, buttons, safety pins, and household linens are mixed in with the apparel. As expected, prices here are not cheap, but the inventory is unlike what you’ll find anywhere else, and just walking around the store for inspirational purposes (as many designers have been known to do, in fact) is reason enough to pay a visit. Image courtesy of acontinuouslean.com.
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