Tomigaya: All you need is a dog in Tokyo!


Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Dogs in strollers


When you think of dog-loving cities, most likely you are going to think of Paris, but on the other side of the world, Tokyo is now the ‘Paris of the East’ (in terms of their obessions with their pets or dogs).

Tomigaya is an area in Shibuya, located on the southwest of Yoyogi park, that has become a ‘hip’ place for locals and foreigners alike. Perhaps it is due to its low-key neighbourhood feel, and its interesting mix of independent shops and eateries, but it certainly feels less commerical and touristy than Harajuku, which is on the southeast side of the park. And you know the area must be cool when there is a Monocle shop here!

Walking around the area on a Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that dogs have literally become the new LV bags in Tokyo (there was a time when the LV monogram bag was carried by 90% of the women here)! Some of them were even being pushed around in strollers like babies, which I thought was quite bizarre to say the least.


Tomigaya cheese stand  Tomigaya dogs

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog


According to Nikkei, the market for pet products and services is growing robustly in Japan even as the number of pets falls. Over the eight years through March 2016, the market for pet products and services in Japan grew nearly 10% to 1.47 trillion yen ($13.2 billion), according to Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.

In a country where the population is aging rapidly, and birth rate falling to a record low, perhaps it is not surprising to see people here turning their focus onto pets or animals. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and you can affirm this belief in Tokyo.





dorian gray Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


monocle tokyo

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The eclectic mix of independent shops here include Monocle and Norwegian Icons (bottom row)


Aside from dog-spotting and the Monocle shop, you can find a variety of shops here including Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (which I have written about previously) and Norwegian Icons that is dedicated to mid-century (1940 to 1975) Norwegian designs and furniture. I often think that Scandinavian and Japanese furniture designs share a great deal in common, hence I believe that Norwegian designs would not look out of place in a Tokyo home.


camelback tokyo

camelback coffee  camelback sandwich

fuglen tokyo

shibuya cheese stand



This area is also full of cool cafes and eateries, and Camelback sandwich & expresso is probably the most popular takeout counter here. There are only a few benches outside, and usually there is a long queue here (mostly foreigners), so be prepared to wait for some artisanal sandwich and coffee. Hayato Naruse is a trained sushi chef, and his signature sushi-style tamagoyaki omelet sandwichi is the bestseller here. Was it worth the 20-minute wait? Yes, it was delicious and so was the coffee.

If you prefer to sit down while you eat and drink, you can visit the nearby Fuglen, a coffee shop and bar with vintage decor that is originally from Oslo, and now a huge hit in Tokyo.

Shibuya Cheese Stand is another popular eatery here where you can taste freshly made cheese like mozzarella and ricotta made in Hokkaido, the northmost island famous for its diary produce.


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So books


The best thing about Tokyo is that often you would stumble upon some unique/wonderful shops while rambling in different neighbourhoods. And this was how I came across So books, located on a quiet street not far from Yoyogi Hachiman station. It is a small bookshop that specialises in rare photography books (new and secondhand), with also some art, design and craft books. The friendly owner Ikuo Ogasawara speaks very good English, and he was surprised to learn that I had simply stumbled upon the shop. I bought a few books that were easy to carry – I would have bought more if I didn’t have to travel further on. Luckily, the owner told me that they have an online shop and ship internationally (not many Japanese shops like to ship overseas), so it is great news for photgraphy book fans out there.


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hinine note

hinine note

Hinine note


Hinine note was the shop that I was seeking in the area after reading about it before my trip. It took a bit of effort to find it (with the help of google map), but it paid off. This is a stationery shop where you can customise and create your own notebooks. You can choose the size you want, the paper style, cover designs and binding methods. There is a wide selection of designs/colours to choose from, and everything is made on the spot. Not only you can enjoy using your one-of-a-kind notebook, it would help to reduce waste too. Love it.






I think this is an interesting neighbourhood that is not just full of trendy and established shops (which I tend to avoid), and I definitely would want to return and explore further.


Hong Kong’s vintage toy & stationery museum – Silver stationery shop

san po kong

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Top: The entrance of an industrial building in San Po Kong


Since I started this business, I was lucky to have met and made friends with many like-minded designers and entrepreneurs in Asia and London. After working with Hong Kong’s ten Design stationery for years, I became friends with their designer Paul Lam. Paul and I met up while I was in town, and he suggested a visit to Silver Stationery shop, a quirky vintage toy and stationery shop museum located inside an industrial building in San Po Kong. Paul is friends with the owner Joel and Ryan, a product designer who works there, so he was keen to show me this one-of-a-kind museum that is not featured in the standard guidebooks.

Paul made an appointment a few days before my departure back to London (all visitors have to make an appointment before visiting), unfortunately, Joel couldn’t be there and so I missed the opportunity meet him. However, I was given a tour by Ryan, a toy designer and founder of Makeitwork Studio who is one of the few designers working there.


silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop  silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop


Graphic designer and founder of this shop museum, Joel Chung has been preserving Hong Kong’s culture for the last decade or so. Aside from preserving the works of the King of Kowloon (Hong Kong’s famous calligraphic graffiti artist), he has also been preserving and collecting toys and stationery locally for the last 30 years. In 2015, he rented a studio space inside the industrial building and recreated a shop that mimics a vintage 1960s/70s toy and stationery shop that were ubiquitous in Hong Kong at the time. The decline of these local style stationery shops started the 1980s, and now they have become rare finds in the city. The aim of this shop museum is to preserve Hong Kong’s cultural heritage; most of the products featured were donated by local shop owners before the shops’ closures. The shop museum was recreated in a precise manner, every detail was considered to create an authentic shop ambience that would transport the visitors back in time. All the products at the shop museum are for display only and they are not available for sale.


silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop  silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop  silver stationery shop


As a stationery addict, I was immensely overwhelmed and joyous by what I saw. I picked up a pink pencil case (see above), and it reminded me of the ones I collected when I was a kid. It certainly brought back a lot of childhood memories.

Aside from the shop museum, the studio is also a collaborative space that features works by local designers, as well as selling an array of vintage stationery, toys and games. I was surprised to find that another brand that we work with, Open Quote, has moved from Soho to this new premise.

After Ryan’s interesting tour of the studio, the three of us spent some time chatting and comparing Hong Kong and London’s design industries, and the possibility of collaborating in the future.


silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop

silver stationery shop  silver stationery shop

ten design stationery

silver stationery shop  silver stationery shop


It is very encouraging to see that Joel‘s passion and efforts in the preservation and promotion of Hong Kong culture have paid off since the opening of the shop museum. Nowadays, he is frequently interviewed by magazines and newspapers, including foreign ones. The museum shop is also attracting visitors from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, so it may not be a hidden secret soon. If you love toys, stationery and Hong kong culture, then a visit to this shop museum is unmissable!


Silver Stationary Shop (銀の文房具)
Address: Room 1B, 1/F, BLK B, Wing Chai Ind Bldg, 27 Ng Fong St., San Po Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Tel: +852 6311 8789 (best to call and make an appointment first)


New product ranges from Japan

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Katamaku – an upcycled stationery and product range


In the last 2 months, we added three new product ranges from Japan, including: upcycled stationery by KATAMAKU, textile products by Tenp, and Sola cube and Sola Zukan by Sola.

During my trip to Japan earlier this year, I met up with Japanese architect Shimon Mioke from k2m design, the designer behind the upcyled brand KATAMAKU. The idea of the range arrived after the architect saw unused parts of industrial membrane used for constructing stadiums, domes and tents being thrown away. The designer and his partners decided to use these waste materials to create a new upcycled range to reflect the beauty of these materials in the simplest way.

Since the durable but stiff materials come in large rolling sheets, the easiest way to handle them is to cut and mold them. The designers took inspirations from origami and kimono, and employed these elements in their designs. And like origami, all of the cases can be reverted back to its original state – a flat sheet of fibre. Minimalist and functional, the KATAMAKU range also reveals what can be done with waste materials, which is crucial in changing our wasteful culture and behaviour.


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Left: Katamaku cases; Right: Shimon Mioke from k2m design


When I first saw the Tenp textiles range, I was instantly attracted to the unusual weaving patterns. I later learnt that these new patterns were created using the traditional sashiko weaving technique famous in the Tohoku region of Japan. I have seen Japanese textiles that feature this technique before, but I have never seen it done in a contemporary context. Last year, Japanese design studio Nendo also collaborated with Kyoto’s weaving house Hosoo to release a textiles range employing the same techinque, but in a more traditional style. 


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Left: Nendo & Hosoo’s collaboration that features sashiko weaving; Right: Satoshi Takiguchi from Tenp


In Tokyo, I met up with architect Satoshi Takiguchi, who is the director behind the textiles brand Tenp. In 2013, Satoshi invited his friend, Japanese illustrator Toshiyuki Fukuda to collaborate with sashiko weave artisan Kenichi Ohazama from Miwa Orimono in Fukushima to create a range of contemporary textile products.

I love Toshiyuki’s abstract geometrical patterns inspired by flora and fauna. And due to the weaving technique, a large piece of textile is first produced and then cut into smaller sizes. Hence, each piece in the collection is unique, with no two products alike. The merge of new design and traditional technique is what I love about this range, and I hope that I can add more products (like stationery) from this brand next year.


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Tenp textiles range


Our last product launch of the year was Sola Cube and Sola Zukan from Japan. Since I love nature, it is no surprise that I would be drawn towards these tiny cubes that contain a preserved plant. Created by Japanese creative director Koichi Yoshimura from Kyoto who was inspired by artifacts seen at the natural history museum, the small 4 x 4 cm cube offers us a glimpse into the universe. The name ‘sola’ comes from the Chinese kanji character ‘宙’, which means ‘universe’ or ‘blue sky’.

Each cube features a preserved Japanese plant in transparent acrylic resin, and it is handmade by craftsman in Kyoto. Through trial and error over the years, the craftsmen use a vacuum kiln to force out all the air bubbles, which further enhances the beauty of the plant.

To accompany the cubes, a set of botantical learning cards was also created to inspire children and adults to understand the wonders of nature.


american sweetgum sola cube sola cubesola cubessola cube


I think it is a shame that many people in our world today don’t appreciate and respect mother nature. We keep destroying nature for the sake of technology and profits, and these acts would ultimately bring us inreversible consequences i.e. climate change. I hope that these small cubes would remind people that nature must be preserved rather than destroyed, and we must all act in our own ways to prevent further damage to our planet.


Design & stationery shopping in Western Tokyo

d47 design travel store d47 design travel stored47 design travel stored47 design travel store Takuro kuwata at tomio koyama gallery

d47 design travel store and Tomio Koyama Gallery at Hikarie



d47 design travel store (Hikarie 8F 2-21-1 Shibuya) – Muji is now an international brand that many non-Japanese are familiar with, but in Japan, d & department Project is the fastest-growing household and lifestyle brand in recent years. Established in 2000 by the famous graphic designer Kenmei Nagaoka, it started as an self-initiated project on connecting cities in Japan under the name of ‘design’. The shop name stands for ‘dream design department store’, and their shops sell a wide range of new and recycled furniture and everyday objects that are timeless and functional.

At this store, it offers a collection of traditional Japanese wares, tools, handicrafts, regional specialties and gourmet ingredients sourced from the 47 prefectures of Japan. If you are looking for souvenir with a difference to bring home, then this store is the place to visit.


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Top two rows: Postalco; Bottom: Flying books


Postalco (1-6-3 3FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) Founded in New York in 2000 by Mike and Yuri Ableson, the company has since moved to Tokyo, where it creates highly practical and understated stationary and leather goods. Located on the 2nd floor of an inconspicuous building, the quaint shop in Shibuya is not easy to find. Once inside, it is hard not to be drawn towards the appealing leather products and stationery, prices are not cheap but quality and timelessness of the products are the main draws here.

Flying Books (1-6-3 2FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) – Under Postalco within the same building is a cafe and bookshop that stocks an international selection of new and used books and magazines on music, art, design, philosophy and world religions etc.



Shibuya Publishing booksellers


Since I was staying near Shibuya, I was keen to explore the area, particularly on after hours shopping. As a supporter of independent booksellers, I was thrilled when I discovered Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (17-3 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya), an independent bookshop and publisher that opens from noon until midnight. The shop was designed by architect Hiroshi Nakamura, and there is a illusory mirror-like window that allows customers to see the office behind. This unconventional bookshop is not interested in selling bestsellers, instead it carefully curates a selection of new and used books and magazines on topics like food, culture, art, design, photography and lifestyle. Besides books, the shop also sells an interesting selection of stationery, jewellery and lifestyle products. Being able to linger and browse in a bookshop at 11pm was a luxury that I seldom experience outside of Asia, so I truly cherished my time spent here.


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Daikanyama T-site 


My after hours shopping continued the following evening at Daikanyama T-site (17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku), Tokyo’s most talked-about lifestyle bookstore in recent years. Design by Klein Dytham Architecture, whose design won the World Architecture Festival, it is considered to be a dream bookstore for many. Tsutaya‘s complex comprises of three interlinked two-story buildings with a convenient store, a cafe, a lounge inside and several restaurants outside. I was particularly dazzled by its vast magazine selection, I am not sure if I had ever seen so many magazines at one place before! It is easy to spend hours here, and luckily, the store is open from 7am until 2am, so do enjoy the midnight shopping experience here!



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Top, 2nd & 3rd left: Pass the Baton; 3rd right: MOMA design store; Bottom: Comme des Garcons’ Play Box at Gyre


I have previously written about shops in Omotesando, so I will not repeat the list again. I will only add two shops to the list, and one of them is Pass the baton (Omotesando Hills West Bldg 2F, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku), a contemporary recycle/consignment store that sells not only fashion but also antiques, furniture and crafts. Designed by well-known interior designer Kasamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, the basement shop feels more like a vintage museum, and it even has a small gallery at the back. Don’t expect bargain charity shop prices here, but the quality and selections are a cut above the rest. Many items include a photograph of the previous owner and a personal anecdote from them about each item. Emotive storytelling is an effective communication tool, and the success of this shop proves exactly that.





Quico (5-16-15 Jingumae, Shibuya) – inside a white building designed by architect Kazunari Sakamoto is a split-level store filled with a well-curated collection of homewares, textiles, fashion, shoes and furniture from around the world. The store also has an exhibition space upstairs.


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It excites me to see the products we carry in stores… Top left: Rocca games; Top right: Marusa balloons; 2nd & 3rd rows: stationery and books that I bought on this trip


Design & stationery shopping in Eastern/Central Tokyo

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.


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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.


maito tokyomaito tokyo maito tokyoleather bag shop kuramaeYuwaeru Shouka M+ Tokyo

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.


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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.




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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.


N3331 CafémAAch ecute mAAch ecute

 N3331 Café


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!


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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.


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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).


Tokyo Station


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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.




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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 Kayanoyas 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.


Mitsukoshi NihonbashiMitsukoshi Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi NihonbashiMitsukoshi Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi NihonbashiTakashimaya Nihonbashi Takashimaya Nihonbashi

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.


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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…

The art of letter writing


New paper stationery by Kuroyagiza from Japan


Can you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter from someone? I can’t (postcards don’t count). Have we lost the art of letter writing? Did you ever have pen pals when you were younger? In recent years, authors, designers and retailers are trying to revive this ‘ancient’ way of communications. Even pen pals are making a comeback according to a Guardian article, so perhaps this form of art is not quite ‘dead’ yet.

My love affair with writing paper began during my primary school years, and many of my school friends shared the same passion. We often exchanged cute and wonderful Japanese writing paper with each other, and this activity was one of my fondest memories of my school years. About a year ago, I accidentally discovered a large box containing writing paper that I had exchanged during those years, which certainly brought back many childhood memories.


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KUROYAGIZA’s letter sets are delightful and has a nostalgic quality to it


During my secondary school years, I was sent to boarding schools by my parents who reside abroad. Apart from communal payphones, the only way for boarders to communicate with the outside world was through letters. My parents insisted that I wrote a letter to them every week, and so I did. And when I changed schools, I corresponded with friends from my previous schools weekly. Everyday, boarders anticipated letters from friends, families or loved ones, this was our ‘gateway’ to the outside world. A week without any incoming letters could make us feel neglected, we all longed for the connection with people who mattered to us.


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Korean design studio Ttable Office’s letter set are heart-warming and imaginative, they evoke innocence and childlike qualities within us


I have a male school friend who has corresponded with me continuously since we left school. We would meet once every few years (because we were both constantly moving to different countries and cities), and even when his outer appearance has changed, his handwriting has not and I would recognise it as soon as I see it. When our correspondence eventually stopped, he would still send me a lovely Christmas card every year with a note attached telling me how he is doing. Last year, I received a Christmas card from him with a photograph of his new family and a note expressing his joy on his new life and future. I could ‘feel’ his happiness through the lines of his handwriting, and I was so over the moon for him. Friendship like this is hard to come by these days, and so I will always treasure it even when we no longer correspond regularly.


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Korean design studio Gongjang’s eco letter sets are one of our best selling paper stationery. Many customers also use them as ‘Thank you’ notes.


Writing by hand requires more conscious effort because you don’t want to make mistakes as you can’t delete it and scribbling over it would look messy and careless. We need to think or construct more on what we want to convey before writing it down on paper. And there is no doubt that receiving handwritten love letters or poems through the post is much more romantic than receiving it through emails or text messages.

Due to my passion for letter writing, I have continued to stock writing paper designed by different Korean designers and they have sold surprisingly well. Hence, I want to continue to advocate this form of art and encourage more people to enjoy the magic of letter writing. I discovered Japanese design studio KUROYAGIZA one day, and I was drawn to their wonderful and slightly nostalgic letter paper and mini note sets. I later found out that the designer Junko used to have 30 pen pals around the world when she was younger, which subsequently inspired her to set up her own studio and share her passion through her paper stationery.

You can check out our new range of paper stationery range by KUROYAGIZA, and surprise your loved ones by a handwritten note or letter. Let’s help to revive this art form and not let it drift into obscurity!


The habit of diary writing

eco balance diary

Gongjang’s eco Balance diary


A few years ago, I was doing some decluttering at home and I found an old diary written by me at the age of seven. The diary was about a holiday with my family and the ‘dilemma’ that I was facing then. Of course what bothered me at seven seems trivial now, but it made cackle because it was silly and sweet at the same time. Unfortunately, I stopped writing after the holiday, so the diary was left mostly blank.

This diary, however, reminded me that I was told to keep a diary when I was a child by either my teacher or parents. Why? No idea, but this turned out to be one of most beneficial habits that I still keep (on and off) decades later.

I did not write consistently over the years but there were certain periods of my life when I did write quite obsessively. The first period took place in my mid to late teens, and it certainly wasn’t all about my study… it contained a teenage girl’s insecurities, fantasies, desire and disappointments, a bit like the female equivalent of Adrian Mole. Every night, my room mate and I (we were boarding at the time) would write before we went to bed, it was like our daily ritual! Some of these diaries even have locks… in total I must have written about 6 diaries over a two-year period; I had no intention to read them again, so I locked them all away about 10 years ago.


eco balance diary


When keeping a diary, one is often anxious about the possibility that someone may accidentally find it and discover all their hidden secrets. I sometimes think that too, but at the same time, I want to be honest with myself, so occasionally I would use codes to disguise people’s identities. Is it necessary? Probably not, but it is part of the fun of diary writing. Yet why keep a diary in the first place? For me, I see it as an outlet to express my feelings, emotions and anxieties. Sometimes I would be emotionally affected by an event, but it is only when I write things down that I become fully aware of my subconscious thoughts and feelings. And when I experience personal crises, writing becomes a cathartic tool. For me, diary writing is not about reminiscing because I would seldom read them afterwards; it is more to do with giving myself the time to record and articulate my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I also see the act as a self-discovery/ personal development tool.

Unlike writing blog entries, I never know what I will be writing beforehand, it’s spontaneous and words would flow as I put my pen down. I don’t need to check spelling or grammar, and sometimes I would be so sleepy that words would slant off the lines. And since there is no audience to consider, I can allow my deepest and darkest thoughts to emerge. Honesty is essential for diary writing.

Perhaps the reason why I continue to stock notebooks and diaries is because I know that like myself, there are many people who would prefer to write with a pen than to type in front of a computer. There is also something psychological comforting when you hold a pen and write on a smooth piece of paper, the experience is totally different from pressing your fingers onto a cold metal or plastic keyboard.

If you don’t keep a diary, I urge you to start one today because I guarantee that there will be plenty of surprises in store for you.


Vintage Japanese & Chinese bookmarks

This month, I would like to ‘show-off’ some of my vintage stationery collection from both my childhood and travels. Even though I have loved stationery since I was a child, I never thought that I would be selling stationery one day, so life is really full of surprises sometimes!

Recently I found a bag full of vintage bookmarks in my drawer, all the Japanese ones were bought during my travels with my family to Japan when I was young, so they have sentimental values to me. These vintage Japanese bookmarks range from souvenir style ( i.e. Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower) to the more traditional ones, but my favourites are the fairy tale/ folklore ones with storylines and characters… I have not seen these types of bookmarks around in Japan these days, so they are really quite special.


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Unlike the Japanese bookmarks, most of the Chinese ( the Communist style) vintage bookmarks were discovered accidentally when I was visiting a Japanese designer friend living in Shanghai about 12 years ago. We stumbled upon a vintage toys stall at a touristy market in the city when the vendours were packing up to leave. Since we showed a lot of interest in the vintage toys, the passionate owner invited us to his narrow house behind the stall. After we greeted his wife, he told us to follow him up to his attic via a narrow set of wooden staircase where he revealed his ‘treasure’… an amazing collection of vintage toys, collectible memorabilia, old photographs of Shanghai, vintage stationery, adverts and packaging. My friend and I thought we had discovered Aladdin’s cave! We spent the next hour or two ramaging through his collection and ended up leaving with a bag full of stuff that most people would regard as ‘junk’. Among the ‘junk’ are these bookmarks that trace an important era in the Chinese history that was long gone… I doubt the small stall is still there now ( assuming that he has moved onto a more profitable venture), I am just glad to have discovered these seemingly unimportant bookmarks that reveal how life used to be in China only a few decades earlier.


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Souvenir from Asia

A long-overdue entry on some interesting finds I bought while I was traveling around Asia…



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Fun 3-dimensional cards from Japan


In my previous entries on Kyoto and Tokyo ( click here to read), I have included some stationery and cards that I bought from specific shops, but here are some others including a washi paper card holder, botanical illustrated writing paper and A4 plastic folders from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.


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Top left: washi paper card holder; top right: botanical illustration writing paper; Main: different sizes of plastic folders, great for travel!


The Japanese are well-known for their beautiful packaging especially when it comes to food. Hence it is hard to resist the temptation even when I have no idea what the food inside tastes like! In the basement underneath the rather complex ( and overwhelming) Tokyo station, there is a food and dining area called Gransta where you can eat at a wide range of restaurants, or buy bento boxes, snacks and souvenirs for your onward journeys. Here I found some chocolates and mints with lovely packaging that are designed especially for the opening of Tokyo station’s Marunouchi building.

Besides food, their books are also full of beautiful illustrations, and even though I tried not buy too many books when I travel, I bought a Kyoto guide book ( in Japanese) full of illustrative maps and nice photos, and “Retelling old patterns for a new world” ( with Japanese and English texts) on the Norwegian textiles designer/ artist, Inger Johanne Rasmussen.

Last but not least, a cute umbrella with a rabbit-shaped cover, which I am sure will cheer me up on many of the rainy days in London!



Top left and right: chocolates and sweets packaging; Middle left: New Mints packaging that celebrates the opening of the renovated Tokyo Station; Middle middle: A cool notebook with pen designed by D-Bros; Middle right: A Kyoto guide book: Bottom left: Retelling old patterns for a new world; Middle left: Rabbit umbrella



Aside from contemporary designs, traditional handicrafts and letterpress cards can also be seen in many shops in Taiwan. Previously, I have written ( click here to read) about two stationery shops in Taipei, Mogu and 324 print studio, and they both sell wonderful letterpress cards ( see below). The slightly pricey but lovely card from 324 print studio even includes 2 metal types in the pack. Cool!


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Top left: Mogu letterpress cards; top right: a traditional handicraft gift from a friend in Kaohsiung; Main: The cute letterpress postcard inspired by Turkish folk dance handmade by Yang Jung-Ming from 324 print studio


At the Suho memorial paper museum in Taipei, the small shop area sells a range of paper made products, books and even CDs. I bought a cute set of stickers that illustrate the process of paper-making, a box containing 100 pieces of floral paper lamp decoration ( a collaboration between Suho and Taiwanese design studio, Biaugust) and an intriguing and meditative CD produced by an ethnic-minority Chinese musician. The music ( without much lyrics) reminds me of nature and wild life, which is suggested by the songs’ titles… mysterious and yet powerful.


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Top left: An A4 plastic Doraemon folder bought from the “100 years before the birth of Doraemon” exhibition in Taipei; Top middle: Flip stickers by Feteme studio; Top right: paper-making stickers from Sohu paper museum; Bottom left: “A flower” paper lamp decoration by Sohu paper museum and Biaugust; Bottom right: Nature-inspired music CD bought at Sohu paper museum


In Kaohsiung, I bought various bamboo handicrafts and a colourful and practical nylon bag for less than £1 ( after some effortless haggling) from the bamboo street ( click here to read). I also bought some natural and organic bath products from Teasoap, a factory that specialises in handmade natural soap since 1957 ( The factory is also open to the public with regular DIY soap making workshops available).

I couldn’t leave Taiwan without buying their well-known Hakka floral fabrics ( popular in the 1960s and 70s but now making a comeback). Even though I already have piles of unused fabrics at home ( collected from my travels), I am sure I will make use of them one day.


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Top left: Various natural bath products from Teasoap; Top right: A nylon bag from Kaohsiung; Main: Various bamboo products from Kaohsiung’s bamboo street; Middle left: a fish-shaped oven glove; middle right: Hakka floral fabrics from Yongle fabric market in Taipei; Bottom main: Stamps promoting traveling within Taiwan


Hong Kong

It is not always easy to find locally made designs in Hong Kong but at Kurick cafe and bookshop in Yau Ma Tei, there are many wonderful products and stationery made by local designers and artists including a range of greeting cards by Hong Kong artist, Furze Chan.

When you step into the shop inside the Hong Kong museum of art, it is easy to dismiss it and assume it is a touristy souvenir shop, but surprisingly, there are some interesting stationery and books that are hard to find elsewhere. I discovered some unusual wrapping paper here, a porcelain-inspired paper by a local design company Sze’s Creations and two folk style and graphical ones by a Chinese company Red Lantern Folk Art, selling stationery and products that feature peasant paintings produced by amateur painters from Tianjin.


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Top left: Furze Chan’s greeting card design; Top right: Wrapping paper by Sze’s Creations; Bottom left and right: folk style wrapping paper by Red Lantern Folkart


After 2 pairs of broken headphones from JAYS, I have decided to switch to a different brand. After some extensive online research, I discovered a Hong Kong brand Sound Magic that has had amazing reviews from both experts and customers. I decided to go for their highly rated E30, the sound quality is great especially for the price ( HKD $300/ £24), and I like the fact that they are proudly made in China! I sincerely hope that they will last longer than my last two pairs!



My new Sound magic E30 headphones 


Design & stationery shopping in Tokyo

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Main: Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku; bottom left: Yuse’s sandwich tags; bottom right: fun fish pencil cases


With so many cool and unique design shops all over Tokyo, it is almost impossible to give a comprehensive list, so here is an overview of just some of them:


Tokyo’s Tokyo ( 4-30-3 Jingumae) – Located on the 5th floor of Tokyu Plaza, this design gift shop’s interior is inspired by manga comics. It sells very cool and fun Japanese toys, fashion accessories, stationery and other design products.

MoMA Design Store ( 5-10-1 Jingumae) – The first MoMA store outside of the US, this shop inside the Gyre building is a ‘MUST’ for all design lovers. Many classic design items can be found here, including well-known international and local names, but there are also many inspiring gift ideas that will suit all budgets.

Good Design Shop ( 5-10-1 Jingumae) – this shop below the MoMA store is a collaboration between D&Department Project ( a successful Japanese recycled/ lifestyle brand) and Comme des Garçons. An eclectic selection of Comme des Garçons’ fashion and accessories can be found at the back of the store, while the front and main part of the shop sells a wide range of timeless and functional furniture and household products.

Crayon House ( 3-8-15 Kita-Aoyama) – This wonderful multi-storey children’s shop is a gem… I especially love the simple wooden toys, beautiful illustrated children’s books and the wide range of organic beauty and food products. The basement restaurant also provides a good value vegetarian lunch buffet, it can get quite busy but it’s a steal in an expensive area.


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Main: Good Design Shop; Middle & bottom left: MoMA Design Store; Middle & middle right: Comme des Garçons at Gyre; Bottom right: Crayon House



Cibone ( 2-14-6 Kitaaoyama) – In the basement of the Aoyama Bells Common, this large lifestyle/ design shop is almost like a quirkier version of the Conran shop. It sells a range of carefully selected furniture, homeware, art, music, fashion, jewellery and books.

Spiral Market ( 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama) – Located on the second floor inside the multipurpose Spiral building, this sophisticated shop feels more like a gallery. There are many beautifully crafted tableware, stationery, handmade soaps and incense etc.

Francfranc Village ( 3-11-13 Minami Aoyama) – Franc Franc is a well-known home-grown interior/ lifestyle brand that is very popular for its contemporary mid-range/ affordable furniture and homeware. Francfranc village is their latest venture where you will find not only their own outlets but also cafes, restaurants and shops like The Monocle shop.

Found Muji ( 1-2F Nakajima Bldg, 5-50−6 Jingumae) – I have previously blogged about Found Muji ( click here to read) before I even visited the shop, so I was very much looking forward to visiting the shop. As soon as I walked into the shop, I saw a range of dyed textiles and its products, and on the wall, a map showing the regions where textile products originate from and a free catalogue explaining the design processes and background of each manufacturer. It is very encouraging to see an established brand evolving and going back to its roots and giving support to the local craftsmen and makers.


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Found Muji in Aoyama



DB in station ( Ecute Shinagawa 2F, 3-26-27 Takanawa Mintoku) – D-Bros is one my favourite Japanese stationery brands and this is their only retail outlet inside the JR Shinagawa station. The shop sells a range of unqiue and fun stationery as well as their DIY Stamp it collection where customers can customise their own stationery or greeting cards.


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D-bros’ shop and their humourous greeting cards



Itoya ( 3-7-1 Ginza) – I was very disappointed to discover that my favourite stationery shop in Tokyo is currently closed for renovation. Although the temporary shop is just around the corner from the original site, it is much smaller and the selection is not as interesting. I can’t believe that I will have to wait two years for the shop to reopen… nightmare!

Gekkoso ( 8-7-2 Ginza) -This wonderful art supply shop has been around since 1917, not only it sells art supplies but also its own stationery and accessories. It also has a gallery and cafe, a hidden gem in Ginza.

Kyukodo (5-7-4 Ginza) – If you are looking for traditional Japanese paper and incense, then Kyukyodo is the place to visit. Opened in Kyoto in 1663, the shop moved to Tokyo in 1880 and it is still being run by the Kumagai family that founded it. This is a great place for gifts, and you can find a wide range of writing paper, washi paper and stationery.

Muji Yurakucho ( Yurakucho Building 3-8-3) – If you are a Muji fan, then you must visit this outlet, the world’s largest Muji. Aside from selling adults and children’s clothing and accessories, stationery, beauty products, food, homeware, glasses and bicycles, there is also a Found Muji section, Meal Muji cafeteria and Atelier Muji exhibition space ( see my previous blog on the exhibition).



Top left & right: Itoya and its new expansion; 2nd row middle: Itoya’s temporary store; 2nd row left: Kyukodo; 2nd row right: Gekkoso; Bottom: Muji Yurakucho



Idee shop ( 2-16-29 Jiyugaoka) – Jiyugaoka is a neighbourhood that is popular with the locals, there are many independent cafes and shops selling fashion and homeware. The three-storey Idee shop here is their largest outlet where you will find furniture, homeware, lifestyle products, a bakery and florist.


Claska Gallery & Shop “Do” & Mixroom ( 1-3-18 Chuo-cho Meguro-ku) – Claska is a design hotel in Meguro, an area where there are lots of vintage and retro furniture shops. I have stayed here once before and found the location slightly inconvenient but I thought the gallery and shop here is unique and inspiring. They stock many young and aspiring Japanese designers’ work that are hard to find elsewhere.


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Loft in Shibuya


Museum shops – There are many cool design shops inside museums or galleries and two of my favourites are Souvenir From Tokyo at The National Art Centre and Art & Design Store & A/D Gallery ( run by Mori Art Musuem shop) at Roppongi Hills.

One-stop shops – There are several mega lifestyle shops that are great for one-stop shopping ( where you could spend more than two hours), they are Loft ( there is a multi-storey branch in Shibuya) and Tokyu Hands ( my favourite is the Shinjuku branch) which I think is the world’s best department store selling almost everything you could ( or could not) imagine!