Japanese Shopping Spree
March 17, 2016 10:50 AM   Subscribe

What should I buy while I'm in Japan that are not available in or better than the U.S.?

Last time I was in Japan I didn't have spending money. This time I am looking for advice on what to buy—both specific items and recommended shops to visit. Most shopping will be done in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Items of interest:
Markers - whiteboard (alternatives to Expos—especially big nib sizes) and high quality permanent artist markers comparable to Neulands (which I have to import from Germany) and Permapaque (which are Japanese)

Pens - Seems like half the pens I use are Japanese so there must be so many cool ones I haven't discovered. I want to try them all! Think Le Pen and Pentel Fude Touch. I'm not super into fountain pens, but refillable is always nice.

Stationary, Paper, and Bookbinding -Modern/fun stationary and handmade/artsy paper

Record stores - Indie pop, Jazz... on vinyl if we think we can get it home on the plane okay. We're planning on heading to Disc Union.

Cool book stores (English language a plus) - I like these in the U.S. but not sure it's worth going to browse if I can't read anything.

Clothing - Okay, okay, we know that nothing will fit us there. If, by any chance there's a store that carries US 14 women's clothes or Japanese denim that would fit a man over 6'6" let me know, ha!

Shoes - I tend to buy mens and women's shoes so a women's US 8.5/ men's 7 should be doable. Will I be limited to men's shoes?

Camera accessories - For both Sony and Canon mirrorless cameras. think leather cases and items not made for the US market.

Fabric - I've seen Japanese cottons/summer fabrics with really cool modern prints. Where's a good shop and how is it measured (we measure by yard in the US).

Robe - The boyfriend wants a Japanese robe. Advice on finding one for a super tall dude?

Stores I intend to visit:
Muji, Uniqlo, Daiso, Tokyu Hands, a few of the fancy department stores (mainly for the food courts). I'm based in Chicago so we just got a Uniqlo but I'd like to see the mother ship (knowing I won't fit into anything besides socks). I visit Muji whenever in NYC or San Francisco but would like to see the bigger shop as well. I've also looked at answers in this question from 2013.
posted by Bunglegirl to Shopping (32 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I know everyone loves Tokyu Hands, but LOFT is so much better. They will meet your stationery needs, and they also carry bath products, household goods, cute bentos, kitchenware, baking goods, silly toys, furniture, and whatever the current seasonal item is. It's my favorite chain store to go to in Japan.
posted by homodachi at 10:55 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I went to a small fabric shop in Shibuya, but there is a whole area of the city called Nippori Fabric Town. Here's a recent blog roundup of shopping there by Cashmerette. They sell by meter, the shop workers spoke little English but we got by ok with numbers.
posted by vunder at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

2nding LOFT, it will keep you entertained for hours.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2016

You didn't mention kitchen items, but I spent an enjoyable afternoon in Kappabashi in Tokyo, near Asakusa. I bought some very nice knives at Kamata and some really lovely bowls at another shop specializing i dishware. You can also find a lot of fun colorful plasticware, similar to what you might find at Daiso, but with crazy more variety, plus the plastic food models you see in restaurant windows.
posted by vunder at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

also, in ginza is ito-ya. 7 or so floors of stationery and pens and related. it's so beautiful.
posted by koroshiya at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Buy all the sunblock! All of it, I say!
posted by Andrhia at 11:19 AM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Tomoe River paper, if you can find it. Pretty much the best fountain pen paper in the world. A quick search for "Tomoe River" on google will give you tons of writing samples.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I keep seeing pictures of all kinds of crazy Kit-Kat bars.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:33 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

yes! kit-kats! there's also a custom kit-kat cafe there now as well.
posted by koroshiya at 11:44 AM on March 17, 2016

Yes Daiso. I've been to Daiso all over the world --Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, USA (San Fran and Seattle) and Australia-- and the best Daiso experience is still Japan, to me. It's cheaper and has much more variety of things. I notice certain markets don't import certain things. For example, USA Daiso gets way more halloween stuff in than Australian Daiso, and Japan/Malaysia/Singapore gets way more asian-inspired fashion accessories than the others-- like fashion glasses with clear lenses and such. But Japan has the most.

If you like cutsey stuff, the Sanrio store in Tokyo has a lot of cute stationery, and it's a fun place to visit.

For Japanese permanent artistic markers (they are permanent in the sense that they don't fade but they're not like Sharpies), COPICs obviously, or for a cheaper alternative, Neopiko by Deleter. You can get Copics from most stationery stores, including Tools Shop and Itoya. I can't remember if they had Neopikos though, but either way it's fun to visit.

And I know it's not on your list, but Japanese cosmetics are kind of awesome, and Lisa Eldridge talks about and uses some popular brands in this video. I'm a fan of Majolica Majorca eyeshadow and I hear people swear by the Dolly Wink mascara that Lisa uses, as well as Heroine Make (Kiss Me) mascara. I haven't tried it but I have tried their eyeliner pencil and it is awesome, not to soft, not too hard. Ooh, and Canmake is awesome, especially their cream cheek blushes.

If makeup is not your thing, I do highly recommend Japanese skincare, though. It's simple and inexpensive and the only thing that tends to work on my sensitive skin. My favourites brands being Hada Labo (toners and moisturizer/retinol cream), Juju cosmetics (for really good priced toners) and SANA (toners and their 'beautymade' line of moisturizing lotions/milks). Japanese toners made me rethink toners; prior to trying them I was not a fan at all. Most toners come in a 'rich' or 'light' version-- rich being for dry skin with light being for oily skin. I hear that the Kose Sekkisei toner is a holy grail for a lot of people but I haven't tried them-- (so far the others have been great so I haven't felt the need to change). But I have tried their Softymo range of face cleansers and they are great, especially if you have dry skin.

I know you didn't mention these kind of things, but I hooked my very typical guy *brother* on Japanese skin-care -- he asked me for a face was that would dry his skin out less, so I gave him a HadaLabo one. Since then, he now uses now uses a face wash, a moisturizer and a toner, and his skin is looking great, so, I figure I'd mention it just in case.

Again, most drug stores sell these brands and there are pharmacy/cosmetic stores everywhere.

Have fun!
posted by Dimes at 12:00 PM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention you should totally go to Harajuku, by the way. They'll have a lot of these things, including clothes, a Daiso (if I remember correctly), shoes, personal care items and cosmetics stores, and lots of cutesy accessories and stores that sell stationery and things. I am not your size so I didn't bother going into or trying clothes or shoes though, because it would have been moot. The fashion ranges from edgy to girly and lots of things inbetween so it's worth a look.

Also they have awesome crepes everywhere there. I went to Marion Crepes, (I had the cheesecake one and it was every bit as indulgently delicious as it sounds). Also, Tokyo crepes are greater than Kyoto crepes, with the best being from Harajuku itself (even though Marion is a chain, go figure).
posted by Dimes at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2016

I have managed to buy cute shoes in Japan and I'm a ladies' size 8.5... sometimes you can find a size 9, but it's probably easier to find an 8. One of the pairs I bought was in Harajuku.

In general Harajuku was good for clothing - I managed to find some size 10 clothes there that fit alright... though that might have been the upper limit. YMMV...

If I went again to Japan today I would spend every last spare cent I had at LOFT, god that was an amazing store. The stationary was glorious, as were the snacks.
posted by lizbunny at 12:22 PM on March 17, 2016

For fabric a good place is Yuzawaya. There's one in Ginza but I don't think it's that big. I think the one in Kamita is the biggest in Tokyo. If you don't want to go search for Kamita, you can to to Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku for another branch. They have a big Tokyu Hands there (not as big as Shibuya). They have all sorts of hobby stuff in there as well

Another vote for Ito-Ya in Ginza. You can try all the pens they're selling and just buy what you like. They have lots of nice note books too. I like Midori Note and Noble brands. Mnemosyne brand is really nice too. You can get really nice staplers there. Ito-Ya used to have a separate shop that sold traditional paper.

The big Muji in Ginza has a section that's (I think) Tokyu Hands, which also stocks nice stationary.

Head to a supermarket and pick up a load of snacks. Sembe and other rice cracker snacks, as well as the squid that you have with beer. Maybe some sesame "Goma" dressing or the sesame sprinkles that you add to spinach. And hit a drug store for things like eye drops, cosmetics, toothpaste, floss, liquid soap and so on.

You can buy quite a lot of diverse foodstuffs in Narita on the way out (Kewpie mayonnaise, curry blocks, snacks, chocolate) and not have it count towards your weight limit.

If you go to a home store like "Homes" they have stuff like crockery and chopsticks. Buy as many sponges as you can, especially the "Pika-Pika" 3M ones. And Don Quixote is like a slightly upmarket Daiso and an experience in itself. There's a big one in Shibuya.

For camera stuff, either go to one of the big places like Bic or search around Shinjuku in the area behind Bic Camera where there are loads of small shops.

If you end up buying far too much you can ship up to 30kg at the post office. Once you get over 15kg the price is reasonable (for sea mail) and it only takes a couple of months to arrive. I've done it around 10 times and never had a problem.

For books, head to the new Tsutaya in Daikanyama. They have some English books as well as every magazine you can imagine. And even more stationary.
posted by nevan at 12:55 PM on March 17, 2016

My parents travel to Tokyo on business every year, and one of my sons goes CRAZY for those tabi socks with a separate "compartment" for your big toe.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:55 PM on March 17, 2016

WRT to "Cool book stores," maybe pick up some random manga just for the heck of it?
posted by wenestvedt at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2016

One last thing, a Hinoki chopping board. There have a very expensive ($100) one in Hands, but you can get a $40 one in any big Yorkmart that's just as good.
posted by nevan at 1:00 PM on March 17, 2016

Computer mice. Nerdy, ultralight and slim, and gimmicky-looking mice are a thing in Japan, way more variety than the US.
posted by zippy at 1:07 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Awesome suggestions so far! I should add that YES I am totally into makeup and skincare and forgot to include that. I love Lisa Eldridge and will look up her recs.

I also forgot to add bike stuff. I won't be bringing back a bike, but any accessories or high tech lights, bells, etc. would be rad. I assume a general store will have bike stuff, but if there's any specialist bike accessory stores I'd love to visit.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2016

In addition to sunscreen, get mosquito repellent.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:18 PM on March 17, 2016

The best things I bought in Japan last year were a Zojirushi rice cooker from Yodobashi in Akihabara, a cotton yukata from the Daimaru department store at Tokyo Station, and some proper knives from Aritsugu in Nishiki Market, Kyoto. I also brought back a shitload of stickers and fun stationery stuff from Loft for my friends, so nth-ing that. I went to the big one in Shibuya, I think.
posted by corvine at 1:27 PM on March 17, 2016

For record shops, in addition to the dozen Disc Unions in Shinjuku, there are a lot of smaller shops in Nishi-Shinjuku 7-Chome as well as Shimokitazawa (those maps are self-Flickr-links and many years old but apparently still good resources based on the number of hits they get; I looked for more up to date maps when I was in Tokyo earlier this year and couldn't find any). Koenji has some great shops too (especially Base Records). Coconuts Disk and RecoFan are two chains with outlets in multiple districts.

For fabric, Nippori Fabric Town is where it's at, particularly Tomato which has several outlets. I believe they sell by the yard, but many shops also have prepackaged lengths suitable for small projects. (As a bonus, on the other side of the station is the quaint and lovely Yanaka Shopping Street, which has lots of cat-themed shops). Okadaya in Shinjuku is an excellent fabric store too, judging from the amount of time I spent waiting for my wife to finish shopping there.

Village Vanguard is a hipstery chain to look for English books, camera stuff, etc.
posted by Gortuk at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2016

Maybe it's just me, but I looooove Japanese magazines even though I can't read them. I felt like an idiot mailing them home, but have zero regrets. The photography, the doodles...*swoon*
posted by jrobin276 at 2:09 PM on March 17, 2016

I always have a complete blast in the 100 Yen shops. MAN are those fantastic!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I import my sunscreen from Japan and you absolutely must check out Japanese sunscreens. They're weightless and invisible, yet broad-spectrum with high SPF.
posted by serelliya at 3:08 PM on March 17, 2016

My wife and I got some nice second-hand kimono/yukata at Chicago, a vintage shop in Kyoto's Teramachi shopping arcade. They had a TON of good stuff at pretty decent prices. I'm a pretty small guy, but they might have something that would fit your husband? There are a lot of other cool shops hidden in there - everything from weird novelty shops to fancy cool denim stores, and it's connected to Nishiki market, a great place to find food/spices to take home.

As mentioned above, Ito-ya in Ginza is stationary heaven. Tokyo Hands is pretty great for anything you can think of - I got a lot of random little electronic, kitchen, and hardware/tool-related stuff to take home there.

We had a lot of fun browsing for stuff in and around Ameyoko , a HUGE open-air market along the train tracks right off of Ueno station (there's also a really, really beautiful park, museums, and a fun zoo there too). You can find a lot of everything here, and it's a great experience to walk around a kind of older-school, much less touristy area. We also ate one of the best meals ever in the Ueno train station - seriously, check out Konaya for the most amazing curry udon you can imagine. And get the fried banana!

Feel free to message for any other questions & recommendations.
posted by sluggo at 6:51 PM on March 17, 2016

Some department stores have plus size sections that go from US 12 to 18/20. They're not great, but sometimes they do have cute shoes in larger sizes, which is great because Japanese women's shoes stop at US 8.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:03 PM on March 17, 2016

Lots of good ideas above. Here are a few other ideas.

Aki-Oka in Akihabara is a complex of galleries, boutiques and workshops for artisans of traditional and modern crafts.

Rin, in nearby Ochanomizu, has a well-curated collection of metal, wood, glass and paper crafts from around the country.

Nakano Broadway is an ancient shopping mall with dozens of tiny stores selling comic books, antique toys, animation cels, musical instruments and used CDs, along with art galleries and a very nice cafe run by artist Takashi Murakami.

The most popular cartoon bear in Japan right now is probably Brown, the mascot of the hugely popular social media platform LINE, and you can find everything from T-shirts and coffee mugs to stationery supplies and headphones adorned with his image and those of his rabbit and bird friends at the two-story LINE Friends Store in Harajuku.

I will also second the recommendation for the flagship Muji store in Yurakucho/Ginza, which still offers all Muji products but has also transformed itself into a gigantic bookstore. And it's in the same building as a rather large branch of Loft.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:18 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you, or anyone you know like world whiskeys? Japanese whiskey has been blowing up. We get a lot more than we used to, but we're also actually losing a lot--vintage whiskeys (the ones with# of years on it) are disappearing from the US because international demand is outstripping supply, and they're being replaced by versions without age statements. They're fetching pretty healthy prices on the secondary market.
posted by danny the boy at 9:22 PM on March 17, 2016

If you're into mechanical keyboards, Akihabara has stores with huge lineups of keyboards in hundreds of styles, that you can type on. It makes it easy to find one that you like.

I bought a Topre Realforce keyboard about 10 years ago (way before mechanical keyboards became trendy). Everyone thought I was crazy for spending $200 on a keyboard. I'm using it to type this message. Best $200 I ever spent on computer gear.
posted by pguertin at 9:33 PM on March 17, 2016

For clothing, you want SmileLand in Shibuya. It's a plus sized store. When I went in February the store was pretty blah, but because it's almost Spring there should be a few good items.

You may also want to try Su*pu*re in Sunshine 60 Ikebukuro, but depending on your age, you may not like the clothing there.

There's also Shinjuku's Takashimaya's plus sized floor, which I think is on the 6th floor, conveniently in the same building as TokyuHands.

There's also Marui Model (looks like O101) stores, and other stores that sell As Know As Olaca. (Although another one of the As Know As brands in Takashimaya is now plus sized, it might be "pinky."

Don't forget a copy of plus sized magazine La Farfa.

If you want cosmetics, Ainz & Tulpe have Japanese sunscreen and lots of choice. You can also try @cosme -- they're REALLY close in Shinjuku. @cosme is in Lumine EST (NOT to be confused with Lumine 1 and Lumine 2) and Ainz & Tulpe isn't far away. The will both come up on google maps in English if you search.

For more skincare stuff, check out Reddit's Asian Beauty. (I may or may not have done a guide there recently on where to buy cosmetics in Japan.)

There's a shoe store in Nakano (the shopping arcade part, not the indoor part) that has some plus sized shoes for women. Plus Nakano is fun anyway.

Also, if you wear glasses, you might find these to be MUCH cheaper and more fashionable than those in other countries.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:46 AM on March 18, 2016

Also Uniqlo in Ginza (4 chome I think) has a plus sized section, it's itsy bitsy but it'll do. GU carries 3xl on their website. And don't forget Shimamura, I think the one in Aqua City Odaiba will have clothes that will fit you if you are a US 14.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:47 AM on March 18, 2016

If you are in any way interested in tabletop games, I feel like heading to Yellow Submarine in South Shunjuku or Akihabara and picking up every Oink game you can get your hands on would be a wise investment. I have played a handful of them (English rules are easily available) and they are all dynamite fun.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:46 PM on March 22, 2016

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