Japan isn’t only known for its beautiful scenery, historic temples and local shotengai. From the cool stationery that is so popular in Japan to all the beauty supplies you can dream off, Japan has tons of shops popular among the locals that travelers are highly recommended to visit. Visitors come from all over the world for a chance to peruse through the shelves of Japanese department stores for rare and unique items. Throughout the year shoppers can find many seasonally specific items. Many of the stores are well known for their discounted items or providing a unique store aesthetic not found in any other country. If you remember to bring your passport many of these stores even offer tax-free discounts for foreign travelers. In this article, we put together a list of the ten best shops to visit in Japan for a bit of retail therapy.
1. Don Quijote
Known simply as Donki (ドンキ) to local shoppers, Don Quijote is a popular discount chain store with over 150 branches throughout the country. Although Donki carries a lot of everyday items like makeup, clothes, electronics, etc. visiting this colorful store can be an experience itself. Walking through the store can quickly feel like a maze where around every corner you’ll find a new section of the store to be mesmerized by. The biggest flagship store is in Shibuya, called Mega Don Quijote. Mega Donkis have seven floors or shoppers to peruse in their leisure and often you will find a supermarket in their basement. They’re opened 24 hours a day 7 days a week – perfect for last minute shoppers who need to find a souvenir.
2. 100 yen stores
100 yen stores are the rough equivalent to dollar stores in America. However while dollar stores generally have a low reputation, in Japan 100 yen stores are well known for providing high-quality products at an extremely affordable price. They carry everything from makeup, gardening supplies, cleaning supplies, cutlery, and much more. The most famous 100 yen store in the country is Daiso (ダイソー). There are over 3,000 stores around the country, plus an additional 500 around the world, and recently they have opened a new lifestyle store called Standard Products in Shibuya Station. If you’re not a fan of Daiso there are other 100 yen stores in Japan including Seria (セリア). and Can-Do (キャンドゥ).
Convenience stores, aptly called konbini (コンビニ) in Japanese, can be found almost anywhere in Japan. Especially in the bigger cities, there will almost always be a konbini around the corner, most of which are open 24/7. True to the name they offer items one might need while on the go including food, shampoo, books, and even clothes. Many visitors might be familiar with the popular 7/11 convenience store found in America. Unfortunately, you won’t be to experience the same $1 slushies in Japan, but you will be pleasantly surprised to find that 7/11 and all other konbini in Japan do offer many (seasonal) delicious treats, fresh meals and a wide variety of hot and cold drinks. Japanese businessmen often stop by convenience stores for a quick meal or maybe even an after-work drink. Aside from 7/11 other convenience stores are Lawson, FamilyMart, and New Days.
Similar to Donki, Loft (ロフト) is a franchise diy store that sells kitchen utensils, cosmetics, stationery, and even furniture. Loft is particularly well known for its cool stationary with over 100 different selections on pens, notebooks, stickers, and planners. The Shibuya Loft flagship offers six floors to explore to find the perfect souvenir for your friends and family back home.
5. Tokyu Hands
If you’re looking for something unique, Tokyu Hands (東急ハンズ) is a great place to visit. Tokyu Hands is a huge department store known as a hobby store by the locals because aside from selling basic home goods there are many items used for crafts and DIY projects. The flagship stores in Shibuya (the first Tokyu Hands location opened in 1976) and Shinjuku are the most popular to visit among the locals.
While many brands plaster their name and bright colors over their items to generate brand awareness, Muji (無印良品) takes the opposite approach. You’ll hardly find a branded item in the store since the company philosophy values functionality and quality design over giant logos. The name Muji is actually short for Mujirushi Ryohin which can be translated as No-Name Quality Goods. The Japanese retail company is known widely as furniture selling high-quality beds, storage containers, chairs, and much more. Muji quickly expanded into all concepts of lifestyle including clothing, food, stationary.
7. Isetan Mitsukoshi
Originally two separate stores Isetan and Mitsukoshi, the stores combined in 2008 to create Isetan Mitsukoshi (三越伊勢丹). Mitsukoshi is the oldest department store in Japan, first opening its doors in 1673 and Isetan is one of the most influential department stores in Japan featuring luxurious brands and fancy restaurants. Isetan Mitsukoshi is based in Shinjuku and appeals to both local and international shopping crowds. You can also find Mitsukoshi in Nihombashi and Ginza and in Tachikawa there is another Isetan store. In total there are 20 stores managed by the Mitsukoshi Isetan Group all over Japan. The large department stores sell anything from kimono accessories, herbal teas, bridal gowns, and children’s toys, and is also particular popular for holiday shopping.
8. Tsutaya Book
Book lovers will be happy to know that they’ll be able to peruse a healthy selection of Japanese and international book titles at Tsutaya Books (銀座 蔦屋書店). The Tsutaya chain has over 1,400 bookstores throughout Japan and is a great place to hang out, study, and enjoy a cup of coffee. The Tsutaya Daikanyama location is quite popular among the locals for its unique design as a “library in the woods”.
As big as Isetan Mitsukoshi, Lumine department stores (ルミネ) can be found all over Japan at major train stations. They’re typically 4-5 floors high and hold over +100 stores selling sophisticated and trendy items including clothes, accessories, cosmetics, and other miscellaneous items of good quality against affordable prices. Besides popular boutiques there are also many restaurants in the huge buildings so shoppers can take a break between shopping. Lumine is targeting working mothers and hence offers services for mothers shopping with children like free strollers etc.
10. Bic Camera
As far as electronics shopping in Japan goes, Bic Camera (ビックカメラ) manages to stay ahead of the curve. Japanese electronics are popular worldwide and make great souvenirs for foreign visitors. The consumer electronic mass retail store is one of the largest electronics retail chains in Japan selling cameras, game consoles, kitchen appliances, and home furniture.
If you’re wondering about your ability to enjoy your shopping experience in Japan, there’s no need to worry. As Japan anticipates an increase in foreign tourists over the next few years, many stores have started to internationalize their stores. Information many items or special events can be found in English, and many of the staff members are able to speak English as well. Japan has a lot of different stores around the country and each one is certainly worth a visit. Be sure to bring your passport for a discount and remember to have fun!
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Jamila Brown is a five-year resident of Japan, teaching in the day and writing at night. She enjoys movies, reading, cosplaying, and eating good food in her downtime.
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