My final two Tokyo entries are on shopping, so I hope this will delight a few readers. I have written another entry under the same title 2 years ago, so this is an update/addition to the previous blog entry (click here to read). This entry will focus on Eastern and Central Tokyo:
On this trip, I visited a few new design shopping destinations, and my first stop was the up-and-coming Kuramae neighbourhood, which was featured in Monocle magazine last year.
Unlike the touristy Asakusa nearby, Kuramae is laid-back and relatively quiet. Kuramae means front of the warehouse, and the area was full of rice granaries for the Tokguawa Government during the Edo period. These days, specialist shops, artisan workshops and cafes are scattered around the area, so expect to spend some time wandering and discovering interesting finds.
Kakimori in Kuramae
Kakimori (4-20-12 Kuramae) – As a mega fan of stationery, Kakimori was partly why I wanted to visit this area. This small shop offers a vast array of stationery with a focus on pens, fountain pens and made-to-order (on-site) notebooks. On the day of my visit (which was a weekday), the shop was full of stationery enthusiasts. It is always comforting to see these independent specialist shops thriving in this day and age. Stationery is like comfort food, one can never have too many pens nor notebooks, right? There is a short video on this shop made for Monocle and you can watch by clicking here.
Top two rows: Maito; 3rd row: a leather workshop & showroom; Bottom left: Yuwaeru Shouka; Bottom right: M+ (Mpiu)
A few shops down the street is Maito (4-14-12 Kuramae), a family-run hand-dye specialist that uses only natural materials and dyes. Aside from fashion, accessories, the shop also sells artisan ceramics and similar lifestyle items.
M+ / M Piu ( 3-4-5 Kuramae) – There are many hand-crafted leather workshops/showroom in this area, but this one stands out for its original design, high quality Italian leather and exquisite craftsmanship. The craftsman/owner Yuichiro Murakami used to work as an architect before learning leather craft in Italy, so function and form play important roles in his creations.
Yuwaeru Shouka (2-14-14 Kuramae) – This is an organic food store with an attached restaurant, where you can enjoy a healthy and very reasonable priced set lunch (with a few options) in a relaxing and unpretentious setting.
Quaint toy shops in the area
Aside from the specialist shops, I was particularly intrigued by the quaint toy shops in the area. I have not seen these types of toy shops in other areas of Tokyo. It was only later that I found out about this area’s nick name: ‘toy town’, where you can still find many wholesale toy shops and offices of larger toy companies.
mAAch ecute Kanda Manseibashi Bridge
Akihabara is an area often associated with electrical goods, otaku subcullture (anime and manga) and maid cafes. Yet this area has been going through some transformations in recent years, and one major development project was the conversion of Kanda’s disused Manseibashi station (since 1943) into Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi (1-25-4 Kanda-Sudacho), a commercial complex with restaurants, cafés, and design-focus retailers.
Aside from cool design outlets, one of the main attractions at mAAch ecute is N3331 Café, located between the rail tracks above the arcade. This cafe is ideal for trainspotters, and there were trains passing by constantly while I was there. Admittedly, my lunch set was not at all up to scratch, but I guess people come here for the experience rather than for the food. I think it would even cooler to come for a drink in the evening and watch the world/trains go by!
3331 Arts Chiyoda
3331 Arts Chiyoda (6-11-14 Sotokanda) – Opened in 2010, 3331 Arts Chiyoda is an art and creative space that occupies the site of the old Rensei Junior High School. It offers a residency program open to artists, curators and creative practitioners internationally. On the ground floor, there is a cafe, a design/craft shop, and an art gallery space with regular special exhibitions curated by the organisation. On other floors, there are various galleries and exhibition space featuring resident artists from all the over the world. On the day of my visit, only a few rooms were opened… not sure if it was the ‘wrong’ day to visit, but it was surprisingly quiet and I ended my tour sooner than expected.
2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan
A few blocks north of 3331 Arts Chiyoda is an artisan institution: 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan (5-9-23 Ueno). This shopping arcade situated under the JR tracks offers an eclectic range of stores selling Japanese-made crafts and designs. There are several notable shops here if you are looking for quality souvenir to bring home: Nippon Hyakkuten (a Japanese design/craft department store), Hacoa (selling contemporary wooden stationery and lifestyle products), Hinomoto Hanpu (selling handmade and water-resistant canvas bags) and Nijiyura (selling hand-dye textiles, tenugui and scarves etc).
Kitte – a shopping complex converted from the post office building in Marunouchi
Although I am not a fan of traditional shopping malls, I was curious to visit Kitte (2-7-2 Marunouchi), the newly constructed Japan Post Tower which incorporates parts of the 1933 Tokyo Central Post Office building opposite the restored Tokyo station. Opened in 2013, this 7-floor shopping complex houses 100 tenants, offering an array of restaurants and shops that focus on Japanese aesthetics and manufacturing.
After spending an hour here, I felt that most of the shops here are akin and lack distinctive character. The initial feel-good factor worn off and I was eager to leave. The issue is not with the products, but like most other shopping malls or complexes, the place feels rather soulless. Aside from the facade, there is no trace of the old post office remain inside except for some old photographs being exhibited in a retro dark wood room that overlooks Tokyo Station. Disappointing.
Coredo Muromachi in Nihobashi – 3rd row: Kayanoya’s store designed Kengo Kuma
Nihobashi is one of Tokyo’s most historical and prosperous districts. The area has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years, and the latest addition to this area is the Coredo Muromachi complex, consists of three skyscrapers inspired by the Edo Period heritage of the merchant district. The shops here specialise in traditional crafts or local foods from across Japan; I applaud Mitsui group’s endeavour in creating an appealing Edo-style shopping complex targeting at 40+, but I found the layout confusing and it was difficult to navigate from one building to another.
Unlike most other shopping complexes, there is a strong emphasis on fusing traditional Japanese heritage with contemporary design. This is conspicuous in the buildings’ interior furnishings like the floor and wall tiles, which are inspired by traditional Japanese motifs and kimono design.
The shop that is not to be missed is the Fukuoka-based soy sauce company Kayanoya‘s new flagship store designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The interior of the shop was inspired by Kuma‘s visit to the company’s production warehouse in Kyushu. Traditional soy sauce-making barrels hang from the shop’s ceiling and special wooden trays/koji buta used in the manufacturing process act as display shelves. Like other food shops in Japan, customers are encouraged to taste and sample their sauces, condiments and other natural produce at the counter.
First to third rows: Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store; Last row: Nihonbashi Takashimaya department store
Nihonbashi is the home to Japan’s oldest surviving department store chain, Mitsukoshi, which dating back to 1673. The Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main store was opened in 1935, and it is considered to be the “Harrods of Japan”. Wandering around this art deco store can be an exhilarating experience, especially when you encounter the 4-storey tall wood-carved statue of goddess ‘Magokoro’ in the central hall. This statue was the creation of master craftsman Gengen Sato who spent more than 10 years in completing it. This store is undoubtedly one of the most stunning department stores that I have ever visited, and it reminds us of the heyday of department stores.
If you appreciate art deco design, then it is necessary to visit the nearby Takashimaya Department Store opened since 1933. This was the first department store to be designated as an important Japanese cultural property in 2009. I especially love the art deco interiors, furnishings and lifts/elevators (always accompanied by smiley attendants). The food section in the basement is also very popular amongst the locals.
Top right: Haibara; Others: Saruya toothpick store
There are two notable traditional specialist shops in Nihonbashi, and one of them is Haibara (2-7-1-chome Nihombashi), a washi paper specialist store founded since 1806. If you love washi paper, then this shop will not disappoint, because you can find a variety of traditional washi writing paper, tapes, envelopes, wrapping paper and other paper objects here.
I have been wanting to visit Saruya (1-12-5 Nihonbashi Muromachi) for some time, because it has been producing toothpicks by hand since 1704. Since our company name is related to this product, I felt obliged to pay this store a visit. Most of the toothpicks here are made by hand from lindera umbellata, and some would come in miniature wooden cases with traditional motifs/characters/ names. In some cases, each toothpick is wrapped in a piece of paper with a ‘love fortune’ poem written on it.
I don’t know if Westerners would consider giving toothpicks as presents, but I think they are unusual and functional. Hence, I decided to buy a box to give to my parents back home!
To be continued…