Every Japanese department store worth its hand-harvested sea salt has a depachika, a basement food hall offering an array of high-quality comestibles. These immaculate shrines to consumption offer a cultural, eating and shopping experience all in one.

The name depachika is a portmanteau combining the Japanese words for department store (depaato, shortened to depa) and basement (chika). While the brand-name boutiques on the upper floors trade in hushed refinement, depachika have all the bustle of a modern-day bazaar, and are always the most crowded part of any department store. The capital Tokyo naturally has the biggest range, but there are department stores with depachika in cities across the country from Naha to Sapporo.

Gourmet goodies

Encompassing from one to several floors, depachika typically have dozens of vendors selling everything from the finest shade-grown green tea from Fukuoka and seasonally themed wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), to fresh baby sardines on ice and cuts of marbled beef from Kōbe. They are also known for selling shiny unblemished fruits: this is where you'll find those US$100 melons with the perfect shape and crosshatch.

Many vendors are outlets of famous shops from around the country, while others offer takeaway meals from name-brand restaurants. Fierce competition keeps the popular depachika on top of lucrative gourmet trends; the debut of a heavily touted cream puff can draw a crowd. At regional department stores, depachika may have vendors specialising in local cuisine items you won't find in the food halls in major cities.

While shoppers could spend a small fortune stocking their cupboards here, very few people do their regular grocery shopping at depachika. Instead, they are places to pick up gifts, something to serve guests or to mark a special occasion, and also for a pick-me-up after a long day.

Food to go

Depachika are also great for food on the go. Beautifully arranged bentō boxes make a great picnic lunch or a quiet dinner back at your lodgings. Most department stores have rooftop gardens where you can sit and eat all the goodies you've amassed. Or pick something up for the shinkansen (bullet train) journey to your next destination. Time your visit for the hour before closing – usually around 8pm – when prices are significantly slashed on perishables such as sushi and karaage (pieces of fried chicken). For travellers headed home, depachika are the perfect spots to spend that last stash of yen on souvenirs – think gorgeously packaged rice crackers, pickles, sake and tea.

Tokyo's best depachika

  • Isetan Tokyo's fanciest department store naturally has the fanciest depachika. It's also the most cosmopolitan, where you're as likely to find Russian caviar as old-fashioned mochi (pounded rice cake) sweets.
  • Daimaru Located inside Tokyo Station, this classic depachika is the place to pick up bentō before a long train journey.
  • Ginza Mitsukoshi This is an all-around fave, with a good spread of sweets and savouries, and a convenient location right in the heart of Ginza (department store central).
  • Ginza Six Representing the new generation of depachika, the basement food hall of this high-end shopping mall has a smaller, curated selection of vendors that swing from the orthodox (like artisan soy sauce) to the trendy (like limited-edition liquid-nitrogen gelato).
  • Tokyū Food Show Come here for the excellent deli counters, popular with office workers heading home from Shibuya Station.

Last updated in December 2017

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