So you’re in Tokyo, right? You’ve got over your crippling jet-lag (or as Samuel and I do: power on through it!) and you’re ready to explore the wonderful world of shopping in Japan. Stepping off the train at Shibuya station, you’re immediately confronted with a full-on stampede of people streaming in every direction and everyone else seems to know where they’re going – apart from you. And that’s before you’ve even left the station platform. Let us take you gently by the hand, readers, and guide you through the sometimes confusing but always incredible maze of Japanese shopping.
(Egg magazine, June 2009)
We’ve been there, we’ve done, and we’ve probably got the limited edition t-shirt too. Read on for our five tops tips to make the most of your Tokyo shopping experience…
One: Know your size. This sounds ridiculously simple, but often clothing shops in Japan don’t allow you to actually try on clothes, so it helps if you have an idea both of your size and of Japanese clothing sizes too. I personally find that while I’m a smaller size in the UK, I’m more likely to be a medium in Japanese women’s sizing, while Samuel on the other hand is a small in the UK & Japan. I also find that having an ample derrière (ahem!) means that I can’t easily buy trousers, and both Samuel and I are pretty tall so we find that leg length/arm length/skirt length tend to be on the short side for us – we get around this by choosing styles that are slightly more generous! Do also be aware that, as with every country, sizing can vary between shops – I know that lolita fashion brands often run on the small side; shirring and elasticated waists are everyone’s friend! Whereas in the US and UK, there’s numbered sizing (6, 8, 10 etc) in Japan there’s usually just S, M, (if you’re lucky) L, or F – free size, my favourite!
Two: Know your style. This has got easier for me as I’ve got older! Sometimes shopping in Japan, Tokyo in particular, can get rather overwhelming and it’s temping just to grab and splurge on the first things you see that catch your eye. However, I’d always recommend taking a step back and thinking objectively – will the neon green jumpsuit fit into the rest of your wardrobe? I had a moment of revelation when I realised I’d been living almost exclusively out of a tiny (black) section of my wardrobe for several months, and I’m now highly unlikely to buy an item that doesn’t coordinate well with what I’ve already got – leave the neon green jumpsuit on the shelf. I’d also suggest thinking hard about what you bring with you, as a capsule wardrobe can easily be livened up with a couple of striking new purchases from your favourite new shop…
Three: Do your research. Keep an eye on what brands are releasing, save images and ideas, and of course take advantage of our interactive Tokyo shopping map! I keep huge lists of must-visit places to make sure that I never miss out. Do bear in mind that often shops and cafes may be on an upper floor rather than ground level – don’t forget to look up! Oh, and of course I do suggest one of my favourite hobbies… exploring! I can’t tell you the number of amazing little places I’ve found through chance or just biting the bullet and walking into somewhere unknown. Smaller establishments usually have business cards, so don’t be afraid to pick one up if you need a quick reminder.
Four: Money, money, money. Your budget is totally down to you. Tokyo, like any city, is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want! Look for set menus, sales and give haggling a go (Samuel will be writing about this shortly!). I like to keep an eye on the exchange rate too – I fondly remember the golden age when the rate was GBP1 = JPY200, now we’re lucky if we get GBP1 = JPY140. Japan is largely cash-based too, so while it may feel odd to carry cash rather than plastic, you can’t rely on the wonders of chip & pin just yet even for rather hefty purchases. ATMs tend to close early or not open on a Sunday, but things are slowly changing and more 24hour ATMs are popping up; nonetheless, always make sure you keep a little extra on you just in case!
Five: Smile. Chances are that at some point you’ll get lost, the pasta your ordered will come with something foul on it, or that your flawless Japanese language skills will crumble in the face of a shop assistant who just won’t get it. Don’t worry. Smile, laugh, and chalk it up to experience. Who would you rather be: the person who got frustrated and made a scene, or the one who laughed and left a good impression? As I said, sometimes Tokyo can be an incredibly overwhelming place – I’m a city girl at heart, but I sill love just sitting down in a quiet cafe with a cup of tea watching the metropolis go about it’s business at a frenetic pace outside the window.
So there we are – our top five! If you’ve got any more tips you’d like to share then leave us a comment!