Tokyo’s Ultimate Vintage Shopping Hitlist
Arm yourself with Google maps, put on your comfiest pair of shoes, stay hydrated and go rummage.
When you’re talking about Tokyo’s vintage trail, it pays to separate fact from fiction. Yes, it’s one of (if not the) best cities in the world for picking up vintage clothes. It’s true that the quality of everything for sale is impeccable. And just as you’ve heard, it’s a treasure trove for second-hand designer cuts.
But not all the rumours are true. Contrary to popular belief, vintage shopping in Japan doesn’t have to break the bank – in fact, if you’re used to Australian prices, you’ll find things to be very good value on the whole and certainly cheaper than home. Nor do you have to be tiny-sized to fit into the stock on offer. While there’s an obvious skew towards the smaller sizes, a lot of Japan’s vintage stock is actually imported from the US, so the average-sized Westerner shouldn’t have a problem fitting into what’s for sale.
So what makes Tokyo a vintage shopping paradise?
Spend a day or two strolling the streets and you’ll quickly realise just how much attention is paid to looking good. Japan’s achingly fashion-forward as a rule, and Tokyoites pay serious attention to their appearance. Pair that emphasis on style with tiny Tokyo apartments and the even-smaller wardrobes that go with them and you’ve got a high turnover of meticulously cared for, high quality clothes, resold into second-hand shops every day.
The only bad thing – if you could call it that – is that the sheer number of shops to hit is overwhelming. There’s hundreds throughout the city, with stores running the gamut from perfectly preserved 1920s lace to oversized ’80s jumpers at their neon best. If you’ve got limited time, it’s best to arrange your plan of attack carefully. There’s three main areas for vintage shopping: the central Shibuya/Harajuku zone, the rising neighbourhood of Koenji and the less busy suburb of Shimokitazawa. If you can, devote a day to each. If you can’t, stick to the shops around Shibuya. And maybe pick up a second suitcase to bring everything home in while you’re at it.
There are Chicago branches throughout the city but if you only hit one, make it the Harajuku store. There’s tonnes of Americana-style vintage stores in Tokyo, but Chicago is one of the best, with a huge range of stonewash denim and varsity jackets, skirts, pinafore dresses and ’70s-style accessories. About half the store is menswear, with prices reasonable throughout – expect to pay between $20 and $50 for a denim jacket and between $15 and $40 for a skirt.
Address: 26-26 Tanimura bldg, Jingumae 4, Daiichi, Shibuya-ku
Drumroll please: we’re calling Kinji as our favourite Tokyo vintage store. While there’s a few in the chain around, you want to head for their Harajuku store, which sprawls over a huge basement shop on the Jingumae. This is one of the cheapest vintage stores around – it’s more op-shop than boutique, with prices starting as low as $70 and generally not exceeding $50, with the exception of prized items like vintage Dior winter jackets. The shop is particularly well organised, with staff dividing the aisles up into “trends” – like a whole rack of striped tops, or the entire gothic section. Pretty much every style of clothing is accounted for here, though pieces tend to be newer – think ’80s onwards – than many of Tokyo’s other stores.
Address: 4-31-10 B1F, Jingumae, Harajuku (YM) Square, Harajuku, Shibuya-ku
Another chain that focusses on all things Americana, you can find Flamingo on Harajuku’s famous Cat Street, which is lined with vintage shops (all of which seem worth poking your head into). Like Chicago, prices are reasonable, and the stock tends to centre on jumpers, denim, handbags and mid-length skirts. There’s another good Flamingo branch in Shimokitazawa. Just look for the neon bird out of the front.
Address: Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 4-26-28 Jingu-mae junk yard 1F
Get off the train in Koenji, then walk south (the direction of the McDonald’s) and you’ll find yourself on a giant pedestrian street. There’s over one hundred vintage stores in Koenji and most of them are either in the pedestrian mall, or on one of the streets off it. One of the first you’ll pass on your way down is Spank!. It alone would make the trip to Koenji worth it. Run by Tokyo fashion figure Tavuchi, Spank! is the shop of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girl dreams. Most of the stock is just converted pastel sleepwear, which might not sound appealing, but prepare to stand corrected when you see how cool the staff look in it. There’s also a good range of handmade jewellery, Saved By The Bell tees and more My Little Pony dolls than you can poke a stick at. Seriously: go to Spank!.
Address: 4-24-7 Kita-Koenji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Parallel to the main Cat Street drag – where Ragtag and Flamingo are – is another smaller street, marked by neon “Harajuku” signs on either end. Stroll down there and you’ll find Dog, which is a must-visit even if the goth, internet-inspired stock isn’t your cup of tea. Don’t be put off by their all black contact lenses – the staff will help you navigate Dog’s selection of out-there threads, which are a mix of vintage and new. Legend has it this is where Lady Gaga shops on her trips to Tokyo.
Address: 3-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001
If you’re after designer ware, this is where to go. Ragtag is a chain of consignment stores and you won’t struggle to find them throughout Tokyo – but, as ever, the Harajuku store is a good starting point. The shop is divided by designer, making it easy for you to find the pieces you’re after, from Comme DesÂ GarÃ§onsÂ to Chanel and beyond. As you’d expect, the prices here are higher than Tokyo’s regular vintage stores, but still very good value for what they are: a dress that would’ve set you back $500 in stores last season will go for around $150 at Ragtag.
Address: 6-14-2 jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Haight & Ashbury
One of the city’s quieter neighbourhoods, Shimokitazawa isn’t as quite as delightful as Tokyo’s other vintage hoods, but it’s still worth a visit. One of the area’s best shops is Haight & Ashbury, which has been in business for over 20 years now and with good reason. The prices are cheap – you’ll pick up most of the items for under $30 – and the potential to strike gold here is high. Guys and girls will find themselves equally well catered to.
Address: 2-37-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Wego is another chain store you won’t be able to miss. While most what’s on sale is new, every Wego has a vintage section up the back, and the selections are good: think leather skirts, denim jackets and button up shirts, all with low price points. Every store has different vintage stock, so it’s worth popping into each one you walk past. The contemporary section of the store is worth a look, too – there’s lots of cheap and easy trend items, plus a great range super-kawaii accessories (like a whole wall of fluffy earrings).
Address: Literally everywhere
Another store that divides their stock between new and retro, Bubbles is a Tokyo trendsetter. You’ll find new items designed by the store’s owner like pleated school skirts and sheer tops alongside vintage Adidas jumpers and ’80s leather skirts. If you’ve ever wanted to own some knock-off pink Nike earrings, this is the place for you.
Address: Shibuya, Jingumae, 4 Chomeâˆ’32-12 1F
Wear slip-on shoes: It’s considered bad manners in Japan to walk into a changing room with your shoes on and staff will expect you to take yours off before entering (even if you’re only trying on a jacket). Make it easier on yourself and leave the lace-ups at home.
Google maps is your friend: You probably won’t have internet on your phone if you’re just visiting Japan, but Google Maps can still help you out. Enter the address of the store you most want to visit, load the route before you leave the Wi-Fi zone and the dot will guide you there – even when you’re not connected to the internet. Still lost? Every Starbucks has wi-fi you can use for free (or the cost of a coffee).
Look up, look down: Stores in Tokyo aren’t just at street level. A lot of the best vintage shops are either up on the first or second floor, or down in a basement level. Get into the habit of looking up and down at shopfronts as you walk so you don’t miss them.
Bring your dude friend: Unlike a lot of other vintage hubs, Tokyo doesn’t only cater to the ladies. There’s tonnes of stores that only stock menswear, and most of the bigger second hand shops are split equally between the sexes.
(Lead image: Roberto Trm/Flickr)