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Shopping in Japan
Shopping in Japan

Japan is a shopping paradise with a wealth of stores selling everything from traditional souvenirs and local food to the latest electronics and hottest fashion brands. Both domestic and foreign brands are represented, as are stores for all budgets, from the 100 yen shops to high-end fashion boutiques. Large cities sport several shopping districts, each with their own unique character. Things that people like to bring back from Japan are: candy & snacks, genuine Japanese folding fans, two-toe socks, yukata sets, ceramics, stationery goods, Japanese amulets (omamori), and chopsticks.

Large cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, sport several shopping districts, each with their own unique character, usually grouped around major train stations. Shops are also found in shopping centers, along covered shopping arcades and in extensive underground malls. Outside of the city centers, large big box retailers, outlet malls and suburban shopping malls compete for shoppers with lots of variety. Shopping in Japan is usually a pleasant experience. The sales staff are generally polite, friendly and attentive, and great care is taken to provide a high level of customer service. Although foreign language services are rarely available, some stores that regularly serve foreign customers may have some staff that speak English or other languages.

In general, large shops and department stores are open daily from 10:00 to 20:00. Smaller stores and shops around tourist attractions may have shorter hours. Most stores are open on weekends and national holidays (except January 1 when many stores close). Large chain stores open everyday, however smaller independent stores may close one day a week or one day a month. When you walk into a store, the sales staff will greet you with the expression "irasshaimase" meaning "welcome, please come in". Customers are not expected to respond.


From cutting edge electronics to colorful anime goods, traditional crafts, trendy fashion and branded goods, Tokyo has a shop for practically anything one could ever want to buy - although not necessarily in your desired price range. Tokyo's varied sightseeing districts double as shopping districts, many of them with their own character and specialties. The following is a general rundown of what to expect on the shopping scene of each district so you can familiarize and prepare yourself for a shopping spree in the big city.

  • Shinjuku Centered around Shinjuku Station, a major transportation hub and the busiest train station in the world, this district is home to half a dozen major department stores, including several companies' flagship stores; as well as outlets of Japan's largest electronics retailers combined with a host of other shops and boutiques along its streets and underground shopping arcades.
  • Shibuya Around Shibuya Station is another large shopping district that is the birthplace of many of Japan's youth fashion trends. It is home to some well known, trend setting clothing stores such as Shibuya 109, as well as dozens of small fashion stores along its streets. Small boutiques, including high fashion and designer brands, continue to be found through to Aoyama and Daikanyama where the atmosphere is more subdued compared to the electric brightness of Shibuya.
  • Harajuku Harajuku has a split personality with two parallel shopping streets that cater to very different shoppers. Omotesando, known as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, is a tree lined avenue with upscale boutiques, cafes and several leading designer brand shops. Takeshita Dori, on the other hand, is a center of youth fashion and counter culture found along a narrow street crammed with shops and cafes targeting the younger, teenage crowd.
  • Ginza The Ginza features high end department stores, boutiques, art galleries and designer brand stores. Nearly every leading Japanese and international brand name fashion and cosmetics company has a presence here, as well as major electronics brands such as Sony and Apple. The shopping extends into the nearby Yurakucho area with more department stores, boutiques and electronic retailers.
  • Nihonbashi The Nihonbashi district served the capital as one of the leading centers of trade and commerce during the Edo Period. It is the site of the flagship branch of Mitsukoshi, Japan's first department store and many smaller shops with centuries-long histories. Thanks to tasteful, recent redevelopment that built on the district's history, Nihonbashi will delight shoppers with an interest in traditional products and regional foods.
  • Marunouchi The Marunouchi district, on the west side of Tokyo Station, is a business district where many of Japan's largest companies have their headquarters. The lower floors of several of the office buildings along the central Nakadori avenue contain cafes, restaurants and an abundance of shops. Additional department stores and an underground mall can be found at nearby Tokyo Station.
  • Ikebukuro Ikebukuro is another large shopping district centered around Ikebukuro Station, Japan's second busiest train station. Ikebukuro is a battleground between large department store groups including Sunshine City, Tokyo's first city within a city. Ikebukuro also competes with Akihabara as an electronics center, with big electronics retailers aggressively expanding in the area.

Kyoto features a unique mix of shopping, where modern, high end fashion shops can be found alongside stores with centuries of history selling traditional Kyoto crafts or specialty foods. This is well expressed in the city's largest shopping district along Shijo Street at the heart of central Kyoto.

The shopping area along Shijo Street is centered around the intersection of Shijo and Kawaramachi streets where you will find the Takashimaya and Marui department stores. A Daimaru department store, as well as high end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, stand nearby. If you continue along Shijo Street across the Kamo River toward Yasaka Shrine, the large stores give way to smaller shops selling fashion and Kyoto specialty foods and crafts.

Branching off Shijo Street around the Kawaramachi intersection are the Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. These two parallel running, covered pedestrian streets, are packed with shops and restaurants that sell day-to-day clothes and goods and draw a younger crowd than the more upscale stores along Shijo Street. Also found in the area, Nishiki Market, a colorful narrow food market street known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", runs about a block off parallel to Shijo Street.

Kyoto's second largest shopping area is around JR Kyoto Station and includes the extensive Porta underground shopping mall, a massive Aeon shopping mall south of the station and big retailers such as a Bic Camera electronics store. The Kyoto Station building itself houses a large Isetan department store and "The Cube" shopping center with various souvenir shops, boutiques and restaurants.

For a more traditional, old Kyoto atmosphere head to the streets of the eastern Higashiyama District around Kiyomizudera where you will find a wide range of souvenirs, specialty foods and handicrafts, including the famous Kiyomizu-yaki pottery. This area's shops and restaurants have been serving travelers and pilgrims for centuries, and the district maintains its traditional feel with its narrow lanes, stone paved streets and wooden buildings.
For one stop souvenir shopping, check out the Kyoto Handicraft Center just north of Heian Shrine. The first floor of the Kyoto Handicraft Center features higher end items such as lacquerware, folding fans, damascene jewelry, armor and swords, while the upper floors have retailers selling more inexpensive souvenirs like kokeshi dolls, yukata and wood block prints.

Kyoto has also a few flea markets that are of interest to tourists. One is held every month on the 21st at Toji Temple south of Kyoto Station, while the other is held on the 25th of every month at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Both are filled with vendors selling clothes, tools, antiques, art and plants.

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