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Tokyo Shopping

Shopping Overview

Shopping in Japan, as in most other places, is an art form. But in Tokyo, youre going to need a lot more cash to express yourself creatively. However, prices on specific items, such as electronics, are dropping because of the current economic downturn. Check the retail prices, then head for the discount stores to make your purchase.

The Japanese have a long tradition of handcrafted wares, and they take deep pride in quality and the craft that it takes to make these items. Some delightful souvenirs include kimonos, calligraphy supplies, karate gear, good-luck charms, green tea, kites, Japan Beanie Babies and handsomely printed books. The best area in Tokyo to find high-quality traditional Japanese wares is along the Ginza and down its side streets.

All the major department stores carry a wide selection of traditional wares, too. These stores are a treat. Typically, they will have two basement levels dedicated to foods of every kind (with lots of samples): from pastries to liquor to fish to Japanese delicacies. If you ever make it out of the basement, there are floors loaded with shoes, accessories and mens and womens fashions. Theres also an exhibition floor where everything from Japanese swords to Picassos is displayed nearly every weekend. (Check the department store showings in The Japan Times.) And theres usually a bargain floor. Above it all sits a rooftop beer garden, amusement park, shrine and pet shop. The arrangement differs from store to store, but most of them have similar diversions.

If you have any thoughts of picking up some great antique bargains, forget it—relatively few of these bargains exist. For years, Japanese residents have been traveling abroad to buy back antiques that flooded out of the country after World War II, and theyre finding that prices are often better overseas. But if youre still interested, check out the Azabu area of Minato-ku, near the American Club (Kamiyacho station, Hibiya line). Another option is flea markets, which are gaining in popularity in Japan. Ask your hotels concierge if there are any going on during your stay.

Youll notice that comic books are hugely popular there—with people of all ages. Some are as thick as telephone books. Separate adult editions are sold for men and women, and some can be pretty racy.

SHOPPING HOURS

Generally, most stores are open daily 10 am-8 pm. Department stores close around 7 pm and remain closed one weekday each week (they alternate days, so one store may be open when another is closed).

ANTIQUE STORES

Art Plaza Magatani—If your interests lie more in the direction of Japanese curiosities, try Art Plaza Magatani for vintage tableware, armoires and other antiques. Closed Sunday. 5-10-13 Toranomon (Minato-ku, near the Kamiyacho station, Hibiya rail line). Phone 3433-6321.

BOOKSTORES

Jena—This small shop carries English-language editions and some English novels and magazines. 5-6-1 Ginza (Chuo-ku). Phone 3571-2980.

Kinokuniya—For English-language editions. Takashimaya Times Square, 5-24-2 Sendagaya (Shibuya-ku). Phone 5361-3301.

Kitazawa—This store doesnt sell novels, but it does carry Japanese culture books and some English-language editions. 2-5-3 Kanda Jimbocho (Chiyoda-ku). Phone 3263-0011.

Maruzen—English-language books. 2-3-10 Nihonbashi (Chuo-ku). Phone 3272-7211.

CAMERA SHOPS

After years of high prices, a weaker yen is making cameras a good buy again in Japan. These cameras, however, tend to be different models from the exported versions. This is done to prevent a "gray market" in reimported cameras. But if youre intent on buying one, first visit a manufacturers showroom to pick up