This is an excerpt from the Shopping chapter of Lonely Planet's Tokyo guide.
Tokyoites shop as they work – long and hard. Despite a challenging economy, Edokko (Tokyoites’ nickname for themselves; literally ‘children of Edo) continue to shop, for themselves and for gifts to grease the wheels of complex social and business relationships. Since the time of the Tokugawas, this city has craved the latest and greatest.
1. Ameyoko Arcade (アメヤ横丁)
One of Tokyo’s only old-fashioned, open-air pedestrian markets and a good place for bargains – from spices to shoes. This unabashed shopping street is one of the few areas in which some of the rough readiness of old Shitamachi still lingers. Step into this alley paralleling the JR Yamanote Line tracks south of JR Ueno Station, and ritzy, glitzy Tokyo may seem like a distant memory. The gravelly irasshai (Welcome) and ikaga desu ka? (How about buying some?) of fishmongers, fruit and vegetable sellers, knock-off-clothing vendors and a healthy smattering of open-air markets couldn’t be further from Ginza or Aoyama. Ameyoko earned its notoriety as a blackmarket district in the years following WWII, though today it’s primarily a bargain shopping area. Simple shops spill out into the alleys, selling block after block of cheap clothing (for Japan, anyway), produce, dried fruit, dried nori (seaweed), dried mushrooms and dried squid. Some of the same tourist items on sale in Ginza sell here at more reasonable rates. Shopkeepers also stand on less ceremony than those in other shopping areas in Tokyo, brazenly hawking their goods with guttural cries to the passing crowds. In the Ameyoko Center building, Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian merchants have set up their own shopping arcade where you’ll find exotic cooking spices, fresh seafood, durian fruit and other unusual imported items.
2. Hachiman-dōri (八幡通り)
Lined with shops purveying high and low fashion trends, this street is a delightful treasure hunt for local designs. Tokyo’s southwestern corner has some of the most forward-thinking and interesting shopping in the city. Yebisu Garden Place, connected to JR Ebisu Station by moving walkways, has general mall and department store shopping, while up Hachiman-dōri, Daikanyama is the place to go for one-of-akind clothing by local designers.
3. Kappabashi-dōri (合羽橋通り)
Food, food everywhere, and nary a rice grain to eat – because it’s plastic. This street is most famous for its shops selling plastic food models, but Kappabashidōri supplies many a Tokyo restaurant in bulk, selling matching sets of chopsticks, uniforms, woven bamboo tempura trays and tiny ceramic shōyu (soy sauce) dishes. This makes it the perfect street for stocking up if you’re setting up an apartment or seeking small, useful souvenirs.
4. Marunouchi Naka-dōri (丸の内仲通り)
A dignified assortment of top international brands. Tokyo’s epicentre boasts two of its oldest-line department stores in stately Nihombashi, and busy malls like Oazo and the Marunouchi Building by Tokyo Station, as well as in the station itself. International name-brand luxury shoppers and luxury gawkers will find plenty to enjoy along Marunouchi-Naka-dōri.
5. Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り)
Leading up to the grand gate that opens onto Sensō-ji, this is home to countless trinket, snack and knick-knack shops. Nakamise-dōri, the long, crowded pedestrian lane running from Kaminarimon gate to Hōzōmon gate, has more than 80 stalls that for centuries have been helping the Japanese people fulfil their gift-giving obligations. The wide alley is chock-a-block with small shops selling temple paraphernalia as well as traditional items of varying beauty and quality. The little arcade of Nakamise-dōri is also the place to pick up locally made, salty sembei (crispy rice crackers) and age-manju (deep-fried bean buns).
6. Takeshita-dōri (竹下通り)
Takeshita-dōri is to teenagers what Omote-Sandō is to dilettantes. This teeming alley, which lies at the heart of Harajuku, represents Tokyo's propensity for both teenage kitsch and subcultural fetish. Boom boxes blare at full volume while young, angst-decorated adolescents browse through racks of cheap versions of the day's latest trend. This is the place to look for outrageously gaudy jewellery, punk accessories, trendy hair boutiques, fast-food joints and cuddly toys.
7. Nippori Nuno no Machi (日暮里布の街)
Where seamstresses, tailors and designers buy their fabrics. If you’ve got a notion to sew, decorate or you like clothing on the cheap, this several-block stretch east of Nippori Station will hit you like a proverbial bolt. Dozens of shops purvey buttons to brocade, bathrobes and blankets, used kimono and contemporary wear. Many of the wares are off-price or remnants. If you’re seeking something particular, shop around before leaving home; some of the fabrics are generic and you might find better deals where you come from.
8. Omote-Sandō (表参道)
Known as the centre of Tokyo’s haute couture culture, Omote-Sandō is the place to take in Tokyo fashion on parade. Home to the famed Harajuku girls, Takeshita- dōri and the alleys packed with small, independent designers’ shops and secondhand stores, Omote-Sandō is the most eclectic, experimental neighbourhood in Tokyo. High fashion rules the Aoyama end of Omote- Sandō, where ‘fashionable’ has an entirely different meaning than it has for the hipsters of Harajuku layering haute couture with secondhand finds. Creatively active but solidly established, Aoyama is grown-up, refined yet innovative. It’s no wonder artistic designers and high-fashion flagship stores have made this section of Tokyo their creative home.
9. MISC (ミスク)
Meguro Interior Shops Community is an up-and-coming design district along Meguro-dōri, west of Yamate-dōri, with some 60 design shops and dozens more cafes and restaurants. Look for vintage 1960s modern furniture, antiques from Japan and overseas, and stylish furnishings. Individual shop hours vary, but afternoons tend to be busiest and Wednesday is the most common closing day.