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The pedestrian crossing at Shibuya. Photos: Corbis, Eurasia Press

Tokyo's couture secrets are off the beaten track

The city's best edgy looks aren't only found in the big designer stores, writes Annie Gotterson

Asia travel

visit Tokyo for fashion. They've all seen the street-style blogs and heard designers, celebrities and photographers from around the world give props to the city's eccentric tastes. But Tokyo is no runway and, unless you attend fashion events, most people you see are dressed in the same clothes seen on the streets of all big cities. The same goes for the shops: these days in the main shopping districts, the largest and most easily accessible shops stock clothes that are perfectly lovely, but not extravagant enough to satisfy the fashion tourist's appetite for edgy Tokyo style.

Some of the city's best shops, and those favoured by fashionable locals, are squeezed into tiny spaces or tucked down side alleys, and often overlooked by newcomers. But as long as you arm yourself with a few helpful Japanese phrases, Google Maps and a wad of cash, there's no reason you can't get pieces that will elicit praise and envy from friends back home.


A former epicentre of cosplay (dressing up in costumes) and fashion sub-cultures, these days in Harajuku you're more likely to see trendy young Tokyoites in Junya Watanabe and A.P.C. than the gothic Lolita girls and flamboyant, attention-seeking youths that used to congregate here. But it's still a fashion hot spot and, if you avoid the tourist trap Takeshita Dori and venture away from the towering designer shops that line Omotesando Dori, some of Tokyo's best fashions can be found here - not to mention some of the most fabulously attired shop assistants in the city.

At the fore is Faline. A pint-sized boutique, that focuses on fun, colourful fashion with a sense of humour. Stock ranges from an original brand to edgy street label KTZ and what seems to be everything ever produced under the Jeremy Scott umbrella. Faline is a long-standing Tokyo trendsetter and recent visitors include Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters, Katy Perry and French graffiti artist Fafi, whose creations cover the store's walls.

On the other side of Meji Dori, the main road a few minutes walk from Faline, is the entrance to Harajuku Street. The vintage, skate and street shops that line this web of alleys are worth exploring. Poke around and try the staircases and elevators, there is an impressive number of shops squeezed into tiny spaces. The pick of the mix are popular Japanese street label Lad Musician, casual men's label White Mountaineering and Dog Harajuku.

Lad Musician and White Mountaineering are quite commercial. The former features easy-to-wear minimalist cuts. White Mountaineering offers fashionable outdoor wear in a variety of colours, patterns and textiles. Both labels regularly show at Tokyo Fashion Week and have a huge Japanese following.

Dog caters to the experimental tastes of the city's most fashionable locals and stocks '80s vintage - lots of studs and leather - along high-fashion pieces by Takashi Nishiyama and mouth-dropping, one-of-a-kind creations.

  • Faline, 1-7-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku
  • White Mountaineering, 4-21-7 Jingumae
  • Lad Musician, 4-26-35 Jingumae
  • Dog, B1 Trinity Bld, 3-23-3 Jingumae


Aoyama is a short walk up Omotesando Dori away from Harajuku station, and is one of the best places to shop for high-end threads. While most of the brands sold in Aoyama are available all over the city, the quiet, leafy suburb is much easier to navigate than the larger shopping hubs. A mix of upscale residences, restaurants, cafes and boutiques, Aoyama is one of Tokyo's wealthiest neighbourhoods, and the look is decidedly high end. There are also individual shops here, many of which were designed by leading architects and interior designers. A visit to Prada's Aoyama Epicenter, with its glass facade and six floors of Prada, is worth the trip. Opposite Prada, and a short walk down Aoyama Dori, is a line of Issey Miyake flagship stores, each catering to a different demographic. Pleats Please Issey Miyake and Haat are the standouts. Next door is Loveless Aoyama, where well-known luxury labels such as Chloé and Helmut Lang rub shoulders with smaller brands and the in-house label. The best thing about Loveless is its selection, which leans towards the experimental side of luxury fashion. Fashion tourists will want to visit Yohji Yamamoto while in Tokyo, and his flagship in Aoyama is the place to do it. The large store stocks the latest pieces from the designer's eponymous line, as well as a selection of pieces from Y3, the collaborative label between Yamamoto and Adidas. Rising design star Keita Maruyama's sole Japanese flagship store is also in Aoyama.

  • Prada Aoyama Epicenter, 5-2-6 Minami-Aoyama
  • Pleats Please Issey Miyake, 3-17-14 Minami-Aoyama
  • Haat, 4-21-29 Minami-Aoyama
  • Loveless, 3-17-11 Minami-Aoyama
  • Yohji Yamamoto, 5-3-6 Minami-Aoyama
  • Keita Maruyama, 4-25-10 Minami-Aoyama


This small, outer suburb is a haven for vintage stores that find it hard to pay rent in Tokyo's central districts. With more than 70 shops that range from sparse spaces with nothing more than racks of cheap, used clothes to shrine-like shops dedicated to a particular theme or period, Koenji serves up equal amounts of nostalgia and fashion.

Just a few minutes away from Shinjuku by train, the suburb has a completely different look and feel to Tokyo's central districts. The narrow streets formed by old, wooden buildings are dotted with cafes, restaurants and small shops, some no bigger than a cupboard. Koenji is a popular weekend destination for Tokyo's young, but despite its increasing prominence still feels laid back and neighbourly. Make sure you visit on a weekend afternoon when the streets are buzzing and the shops are guaranteed to be open.

'60s store Peep Cheep.

Koenji is small and easy to navigate, so it's worth spending some time exploring on your own, but make sure you begin at Koenji Minami and take the South Koenji exit from the station. Standout vintage shops within five minutes' walk include: Peep Cheep, dedicated to all things from the swinging '60s; Vivid, which only stocks vintage items made in Japan, and Spank, a Tokyo institution with a strong '80s to early '90s vibe and an affection for pastels. Prices at vintage stores usually fall in the range of 1,000 yen (HK$78) to 20,000 yen and are non-negotiable. Bargaining is not part of Tokyo shopping etiquette and attempts to do so will only leave you and the shop staff utterly confused.

While in Koenji a visit to Kitakore building should be high on the agenda. A series of four ramshackle shops/workspaces, Kitakore offers a mix of repurposed and straight vintage, new and bespoke pieces, many of which are created onsite by some of the city's most closely watched underground designers including Garter, Hayatochiri, ilil, and Dog.

It doesn't look like much from the outside and some of the items can seem junky, particularly as they aren't displayed in the immaculate fashion favoured by most shops, but if unique, experimental Tokyo fashion is what you're after, this is the place to find it.

  • Peep-Cheep: 4-24-4 Koenji-Minami
  • Vivid, 2-22-8 Koenji-Minami
  • Spank, 2F Shiraishi Building, 4-24-7 Koenji-Minami
  • Kitakore, Kitakore Building, 3-4-11 to 3-4-13 Koenji-Kita


Shibuya is one of the largest and most famous shopping destinationsin Japan, and accordingly, caters to just about every level and taste in fashion.

The best shops to visit are those that can't be found anywhere else in the city. Candy is at the top of the list and is part of a famous trio of shops that push avant-garde fashion, sure to get you noticed on the street.

The outlandish Candy and Kitakore in Koenji-Kita.
Whether it's a mesh and PVC bustier, a spray-painted blazer jacket or neon brogues, Candy does not deal in basics. Stock includes edgy local brands Akira Naka, Public Eyes, Runurunu and Balmung, along with a range of international imports. Above, Candy & Sister and Fake Showroom are also worth a visit.

Next on the list in Shibuya is the Parco shopping centre, just a few blocks from Candy. On the fourth floor you'll find Pyarco, a relatively new addition that stocks upcoming and established contemporary Japanese labels such as Facetasm, Keisuke Kanda and Anrealage - all cutting-edge, but wearable labels with a distinctive Japanese look. There's also with a great selection of old, new and repurposed vintage Japanese accessories and knick-knacks at Pyarco that make for wonderful souvenirs and gifts.

  • Candy, 18-4, Udagawa-Cho, Shibuya-Ku
  • Parco, 15-,1 Udagawa-Cho, Shibuya-Ku


Other tips for the Tokyo fashion traveller.

An offshoot suburb of Shibuya, Daikanyama has a lot of the same shops as Shibuya and Harajuku, but the laid-back, leafy suburb popular with art and design types is worth a leisurely look.

Just a few stops past Koenji on the Chuo line, Kichijoji is one of Tokyo's fastest growing suburbs. Head towards Inokashira Park, the streets around it are filled with fun vintage stores and small independent boutiques, many of which have a hippie vibe.

Last year Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons brought her experimental market-like luxury shopping mall concept from London to Ginza. DSM Ginza has the largest range of Comme des Garcons in Tokyo and is worth visiting for the artistic displays, interior design and installations alone.

  • Dover Street Market Ginza, 6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-Ku



This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tokyo