It’s been a dream destination of hers for years, and in 2019, FQ editor Zoe Walker Ahwa finally visited Tokyo. She shares some of the top style spots in her new favourite city.
I’m often described as “cute”; a word I’ve come to have a complicated relationship with. Sometimes its connotations reek of something a little backhanded: small, girlish, not cool. But in Tokyo, I found my style soul city: where cute (kawaii) is part of the culture, and not once did I feel I had to apologise for wearing a heart-shaped barrette. The shopping is so good, it’s hard to know where to begin, but there are icons of Japanese retail you must visit – many offering an insight into the city’s various style subcultures. Think of multi-brand boutiques such as Beams, Journal Standard and Ships. Every luxury store you could want is in Omotesandō, including Isabel Marant’s with its lemon-yellow exterior. In the back streets of Harajuku, away from the touristy Takeshita Dōri, is Romantic Standard, packed with appropriately frilly, kawaii clothes. Pivoine, in the hipster hub of Tomigaya, neatly presents another Tokyo look, with its selection of straw bags, leather sandals and lots of linen. Part of the reason I think the people of Tokyo are truly stylish is that they find real joy in their clothes – and they look after them. Plus, they like to pass them on, which brings me to another key element of Tokyo shopping: vintage.
Monocle Store image by @b_e_r_t_o
Isabel Marant in Omotesandō, image by @jeje_aa_
Tokyo is famous for its vintage offering, and it’s a fashion-industry secret that many designers and op-shop owners will visit Japan’s capital to look for inspiration or source new stock. From designer vintage to affordable buys, there’s a jaw-dropping variety – and it’s actually good. Everyone will tell you to go to Kinji in Harajuku, with its packed but orderly racks of affordable, more everyday vintage. I found it slightly overwhelming but admittedly I’m not the best vintage shopper (and they were playing death metal at full volume). With stores across the city, Ragtag has a high-end focus, its racks organised by designer so you can go straight to Dries or Margiela, depending on your vibe. For designer accessories – you’ll go giddy over the selection of vintage Chanel handbags – head to Vintage Qoo in Omotesandō. And don’t miss Pass the Baton nearby. Hidden down an unassuming staircase off the main street, it has an incredible edit of second-hand clothing and homeware. Each item features a photo of its former owner, along with a story or memory of the object. These are only a few of the city’s many great vintage stores, so if you pass one on your meandering, just go in.
Comme des Garçons at Ragtag image by @dat.data
Hats from @passthebaton_official
You could easily spend your time shopping exclusively at huge, multi-level department stores, where you’ll discover things you hadn’t even thought about possibly needing. Shibuya 109 is like a beacon for young, fashion-obsessed women, with multiple stores-within-store and a constant flow of playfully dressed locals. When I visited, groups of giggling young girls were lining up to meet members of K-pop band Seventeen, and the style watching was incredible. Harajuku’s Laforet has 13 floors, including one dedicated to Lolita style, plus a Sailor Moon boutique and outposts for cult ‘90s streetwear brands X-Girl and Milk Fed. In Ginza, Dover Street Market is worth a visit for its stylish staff alone; with luxury brands and the Rose Bakery on the top floor (it’s also conveniently connected to the world’s biggest Uniqlo store). You could – and should – spend hours roaming the Shibuya branch of Tokyu Hands, the iconic variety store that truly feels like it has everything you could ever need. Stickers in the shapes of fruits and vegetables? Yes. 400-plus toothbrush options? Sure! Glasses for your cat? Level 6C. (I definitely regret not buying them.)
Sunglasses for pets
For lovers of print, Daikanyama T-Site is a dream. The serene bookstore is split across three building wings with what they describe as “magazine street” connecting them through the middle. Here you’ll find an incredible offering of fashion magazines from around the world. There’s a collection of archival books and magazines in the Anjin Library upstairs, where you can sit with a coffee or cocktail and read back issues of Vogue from the ‘60s and ‘70s. For some more boisterous fun, head to a Karaoke Kan outlet (or any other karaoke joint you can find). The Shibuya one was made famous by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, and has costumes if you really want to get into the spirit. Directly across the road is Purikura No Mecca, a brightly lit room filled with an array of photo booths. You enter, pose, then edit your photos with stickers, filters, borders and more, before printing – some light-hearted fun that’ll make you feel 13 again. Outside is a variety of gachapon, or capsule toy machines. You’ll find them all over the city, and the fun is finding the most random offerings; my haul included a bear-ear hat for my cat, a cat sitting in a litter tray, and a tiny sleeping red panda.
T-Site’s unique facade
You’ll eat well wherever you go, be it a casual neighbourhood izakaya (pub) or a fast and furious sushi train. The choice is endless and we didn’t make it through our list of suggestions. Those we did get to included the famous Ichiran, cheap and delicious ramen that you order from a vending machine before it’s handed to you through a small window. (The oft-repeated anecdote is that you can go there and choose to speak to no one if you wish.) Afuri is a modernised version with better branding and a slightly fresher taste due to their use of yuzu. It may seem silly eating at a New York-inspired pizza joint in Tokyo, but the people watching at hipster favourite Pizza Slice is worth it; there are a few outposts but try the one in Minamiaoyama as there’s some great shopping nearby (including boutiques H Beauty & Youth, Maison Kitsune and Beautiful People). Curry Up is another spot that attracts cool young things. Established by Japanese fashion designer Tomoaki Nagao, the founder of cult brand A Bathing Ape, it keeps it simple with just five curries on the menu. At the other end of the spectrum is the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt. I felt embarrassingly touristy as we made our way up to the 52nd-floor bar, but the staff are well versed in welcoming those not staying at the hotel yet making the Lost in Translation pilgrimage. We spent our last night in Tokyo here, having one eye-wateringly expensive cocktail overlooking the sprawling city lights. It was worth it.
Curry Up’s cute signage image by @miku_0372
A sweet treat in Harajuku
Ramen from Afuri image by @chloe_visual.diary
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when booking accommodation in Tokyo. The city has some of the world’s best hotels, but an Airbnb is simple and often more affordable – and the host can usually offer a locals’ insight into the neighbourhood too.
Here are four design-led Airbnb options:
A charming fourth-floor studio apartment located in the luxury Ginza neighbourhood, with a stylish wooden bathroom and a view of trains rollicking by outside.
If it’s kawaii you’re after, this is the place, with pretty pink interiors and cherry blossoms decorating the ceiling. It’s also an easy walk to all of Harajuku’s famous hotspots.
This fully furnished two-bedroom apartment is ideal for families, offering a bit more space than the typical Tokyo apartment. Extra details include a tatami living area, black stone bathtub and Muji appliances.
You can’t miss this quirky house, with an exterior in the shape of an egg (or grain of rice). Inside, it’s a minimalist’s dream, with a central staircase connecting the four floors.
Words: Zoe Walker Ahwa
Photos: Zoe Walker Ahwa, Instagram and Supplied.
This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 3, 2019.