Tokyo’s Niche Shopping Districts

Entrance to Kappabashi

The start of Kappabashi Kitchen Street

Tokyo’s quite an amazing city for shopping – if you’re looking for electronics, home furnishings, toiletries, medicine, beauty products, luggage, clothes, etc, you can find them all over the city; the myriad department stores and big chains like Uniqlo, BIC Camera, and Donki Hotei make it easy to find whatever you’re looking for.

Interestingly, though, a few highly specialised shopping districts have formed over the years, with large numbers of the same type of businesses congregating and competing in the same locales.

These are obviously the perfect solution should you happen to be in the market for their wares, but they’re also interesting areas to check out – probably not something for your first few days in Tokyo, but perhaps if you’ve been there for a while (or it’s a repeat visit) and you’re looking for something a little different, a stroll through one of these areas will show you another side to the city.

Kappabashi sign shop

Kappabashi Kitchen Street

Kappabashi is one long stretch of street lined on both sides by kitchenware vendors – pretty much all Tokyo’s kitchenware shops are here, supplying Tokyo’s thousands upon thousands of eateries with cooking equipment, no smoking signs & toilet signs, paper lanterns, plastic food for window displays, and all sorts of other restaurant related goods.

View of the Skytree from Kappabashi

Though it exists very much for the food industry and not for tourists, it’s also become something of a tourist attraction in its own right. The shops and their wares are fascinating, and really what better souvenir is there than those realistic life-size pieces of plastic sushi?

An assortment of plastic display sushi from Kappabashi

An assortment of plastic display sushi from Kappabashi

Japanese toilet sign from Kappabashi

Japanese sign from Kappabashi (on my parents’ bathroom door in England)

Kappabashi is associated with the kappa, a kind of gremlin-like spirit in Japanese folklore. Kawaii (cute) Kappa mascots are all over the place, and there’s a more serious statue in a recess halfway along the street. For more on kappa and other yokai (folklore spirits & monsters), see here

Kappa mascot

Kappabashi’s a short walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line.

Jimbocho Bookstores

You can find bookstores all over Tokyo, but most of them are branches of the same huge chain stores. Those clustered in the area immediately south & east of Jimbocho Station, however, are small independent shops, selling mostly used books, and in some cases dealing with highly specialised material and antiques. Some carry English books but it’s mostly Japanese stock (unsurprisingly), and those English books you do find include some seriously old & obscure academic tomes; not exactly light reading material for your next bullet train ride, but fascinating to browse.

Books on sale in a Jimbocho side street

Jimbocho side street (taken with my crappy old keitai phone hence the fuzzy pic)

What’s cool is just the atmosphere of the shops with their comforting & permeating smell of used books, and even some of the side streets where the bookshelves have overflowed along the outer walls of the shops.

For more information on the specific shops with recommendations for where to find English books, see this great blog post.

Jimbocho Ski Shops

This area won’t be of much interest if you’re not into outdoor sports (especially skiing & snowboarding), but if you are it’s like hitting the absolute jackpot. Here you’ll find most of the winter sports stores required to meet the demand of all the millions of people in Tokyo, concentrated into a single neighbourhood.

Ski & outdoor shops in Jimbocho

(Screenshot from Google Maps street view)

Prices for imported gear aren’t cheap at all, but the close proximity of so many stores makes it easy to shop around for special offers and reasonable discounts can sometimes be scored. The ski shops are located further along to the east of the bookstore district, between Jimbocho Station and Ogawamachi Station.

Nippori Fabric Street

Most of Tokyo’s traditional fabric sellers are gathered along the same half-mile stretch east of Nippori Station. Again, if you’re in the market for some Japanese fabric this is the ultimate jackpot! But even if not it’s a decent place for a wander – some of the fabrics on display are gorgeous, and these are multi-generational family businesses which gives the area a nice old-time feel a world away from the neon of Shinjuku & Shibuya.

Nippori Fabric Town

(Photo credit: David Pursehouse, used under cc)

Any questions about these districts? Give me a shout below and I’ll get back to you.

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