I lived in Tokyo on three separate occasions. Two of those times, Madeline lived with me. We both love Tokyo and greater Japan. But Tokyo is a special place for both of us since we’ve spent so much time living and taking in all the city has to offer. And with nearly 14 million people, Tokyo offers lots of shopping.
Tokyo has every kind of place to shop. There are tiny shops to buy noren or knives. And there are huge department stores with a dozen floors of every kind of product. One even has a theater!
And read more about our travels in Japan!
Kappabashi, also known as Kitchen Town, lies between Ueno and Asakusa. Since 1912, it has been the go-to location for Japanese restaurant professionals and tourists who cook. You’ll find all sorts of things, from kitchen equipment to tableware to clothing and decorative items. If you want to take home some traditional Japanese bowls or dishes or chopsticks, there are plenty to choose from. Kappabashi is also the place for plastic food.
When I first went to Japan, I couldn’t read any of the Japanese character sets. I couldn’t speak much Japanese either. But I noticed many restaurants had realistic plates of food in their shop windows. The food had enough detail that I could see its ingredients. If it looked good, I pointed to it to order. Fake food, called sampuru, originated in 1917. There are many stories about how it started. But the end result was using wax to make realistic models of food.
Sampuru replicate the shape, size and color of the real thing. It is an art form that starts with hand crafting from real food samples. After World War II and the reconstruction period, sampuru proved invaluable for American soldiers who couldn’t read restaurant menus. Today, a large variety of plastic materials has replaced wax. You can buy elaborate models of any recognizable food and take it home with you.
You’ll also find the legendary Kamata Hakensha. You can buy a well crafted and exceptionally sharp knife at Kamata, and they will engrave your name in Katakana or Kanji on the knife. If you are curious about cooking, or if you want some cooking related souvenirs, visit Kappabashi.
What a department store! Ginza Mitsukoshi is the equivalent of a Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s packed with all the luxury goods you could need. In Mitsukoshi, they smother you with service. In the lady’s shoe department, there must have been 10,000 shoes and 100 people waiting to serve you. The store is a landmark in Ginza and its origins are over 300 years old.
A great place to shop for affordable gifts is the lower level, where they have a gigantic food court. There are hundreds of cookies, cakes, candy, brownies and all sorts of things you can buy as an authentic Japanese treat. The food court also has every kind of food you could desire, including Japanese, Italian, American, and Chinese. They have fresh soups you can take home in a reheatable bag. The food court is much more affordable than the Italian handbag you might like to purchase, but you can buy just about anything at this store.
Many tourists will find this store readily because of its size and impressive location in the middle of Ginza. However, the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi is even more impressive.
Mitsukoshi is a huge brand of department store and is known worldwide. This Ginza store is very easy to find and has its own subway entrance. As with the Nihonbashi store, the basement is a food court. You can buy sweets to take home or a takeaway meal for yourself. There is no place to sit down in eat, however, on this floor.
There are plenty of restaurants in the store where you can have a meal. If you are a foreigner, you should bring your passport because they will not charge you VAT if you can prove your identity. The store is immense, and all the major brands are here with very helpful salespeople everywhere.
Nissin World Delicatessen
There are plenty of grocery stores in Tokyo, and they are outnumbered by convenience stores. If you are staying in Tokyo for an extended period, this is a great supermarket. It has three floors with kitchen pots, cleaners and other simple hardware items on the ground floor. The second floor has a full grocery store with things you will recognize from America, New Zealand or Australia. The selection is nice, and we found lots of things to cook. The butcher area is very broad and just about anything you like is available. The third floor has a full wine shop with bottles from all over the world. Nissin is a great place to shop if you have an apartment and want to cook your own food. Or go there for their wine selection!
Another value is that they will pack and ship all their groceries to your apartment free of charge and take them straight to your kitchen!
We love Nissin. The staff is very friendly. And even if what we wanted wasn’t in stock, they’d ask if we’d purchase it if they could find it. The next time went back, they’d remember us and bring the item out. Nissin’s customer service is fantastic.
When we lived in the Hiroo area, we found National Azabu, a very nice expat supermarket. It had a good selection of international foods. This is a smaller store than Nissin World Delicatessen, which is about a mile away. But National has a very wide selection of foods from home that you’ll recognize.
You can pay for everything in your cart with your credit card. And they’ll arrange to have it delivered to your apartment later that day. Where is that level of service in the United States? Everyone is friendly, and if you can’t find something, they’ll either find it for you or consider ordering it for you for your next visit.
We were interested in Kappabashi for the knives. A Japanese cooking knife is a splendid thing. We went there for the legendary Kamata Hakensha.
You can purchase a well crafted (and exceptionally sharp) knife at Kamata, and they will engrave the knife with your name in Katakana or Kanji. The knives are not cheap, since they are exquisitely made and meant to last a lifetime.
This is the original store for Mitsukoshi brand, which began in 1673. It is two separate buildings, and the architectural view from the street is stunning. You’ll see massive lion statues flanking the store’s entrance, which were installed in the early 1900s. Soon to follow was Japan’s first escalator inside the main entrance. This is a department store with major brands available on every floor. Like the Ginza location, the basement is for dining and takeout. Sweets and savory items are available. What’s also special about the Nihombashi store is the theater on the sixth floor.
The store is worth visiting, even if you don’t want to shop. Take a tour of this amazing place. Start on the basement level, which is connected to Mitsukoshi Mae station of Tokyo Metro.
Here’s how you arrive if you take the subway, which I recommend. In the basement level, you’ll see art deco pillars, and a picture scroll that depicts the scenery around the Nihonbashi area. After seeing the historical earthquake-resistant pillars, go to the first floor, which is how you’d enter the building from the street.
The first floor has a fossil of ammonite that might be the biggest in Tokyo. Within the building are 3000 ammonite fossils. Also see a massive statue of the Celestial Maiden. She’s more than 30 feet tall and can’t be missed. Above the Celestial Maiden is a pipe organ that is still played. This massive Wurlitzer was built in New York in 1930. On either side of the maiden are marble stairs. The ceiling is five stories high, with art deco stained glass. This is a piece of history I highly recommend.
Mitsukoshi is so big it has its own theater for special events. It looks like the theater seats hundreds of guests.
We wanted to see the theater, and a nice woman graciously opened it for us and let us take some photos. Just imagine what the theater was showing hundreds of years ago! Any department store that’s been open for nearly 350 years is very impressive indeed.
Bengara is a very small shop and hard to find. But it’s a great place to shop for authentic Japanese noren. If you have visited Japan, you’ve seen noren. They are fabric dividers, hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways or in windows.
A wave noren serves as an entryway or divider. Typically, you’d see one on a restaurant or shop. Some are only 18 inches or so long; others hang down several feet. They are usually colorful, and we wanted to purchase one for our home. Bengara is the place to go. It’s near Asakusa, which is a high-traffic tourist spot. The owner and his wife had many splendid norens to choose from.
We purchased two norens for our home. The owner must get many foreign tourists because he had useful directions in English available. If you or someone you know admires Japanese culture, this is a reasonably priced souvenir or gift. You can hang it in a doorway or on a wall with a wood dowel. Either way, a noren brings a bit of Japanese design to your home.
While Roppongi is known for its nightlife, Roppongi Hills is quite different. It centers around Mori Tower, with the Tokyo City View for an amazing panoramic experience of Tokyo from 780 feet up. Roppongi Hills is magical during Christmas. There’s a beautiful lighting ceremony and a concert with singers and dancers. Attending is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit!
All the best stores are here, like Michael Kors, Gucci, Kate Spade and more. There also are less expensive restaurants in the complex. It is adjacent to TV Asahi. Between Mori Tower and TV Asahi are programs, usually on the weekend in a large plaza.
Roppongi Hills draws many Japanese who like to shop the luxury stores. But you’ll see plenty of children and parents just strolling about. At Mori Tower, the large cinema offers movies in English but with Japanese subtitles. We had no trouble getting along in Tokyo and loved Roppongi Hills; it was just a short walk away from our apartment at the Oakwood Residence Azabujuban.
We heard about Oriental Bazaar from our good friend, Rene, who was my boss several times when I worked in Tokyo. Rene knew where to shop and we were looking for souvenirs, so she told us where to go. As a result, Madeline would go here regularly and would take our children here in case they wanted something of Japan to take back home with them.
This guy is hugely impressive and you can’t miss the place when he’s guarding the store. I liked going to the store, tagging along with Madeline to see if there were new souvenirs or nice items for our home.
You can approach the Oriental Bazaar from Harajuku or Ometesando. It’s a large store with lots of products. There are two floors and a basement. And you can always find someone who speaks English. It’s a great place to look for interesting items in Tokyo.