A great shopping experience is about more than just finding what you need: it’s a combination of entertainment, new discoveries and satisfaction. Commerce in Japan has been a refined activity for centuries, and that time-honoured spirit remains alive even today. A range of subtle techniques are used when serving customers and designing shopping spaces – all in order to create a richer experience. Japanese department stores, particularly the three renowned retailers featured below, combine the traditions of Edo-era clothing shops with European and American influences to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
SUAVE SUITS AND LUXURY LEISURE
Making your way through the floors of this iconic department store requires plenty of self-control: you’ll be coming face to face with amazing products at every turn. Founded in 1886, Isetan Shinjuku has always been at the forefront of both fashion and innovation, and continues to count on the loyal support of a young client base sensitive to the latest styles and trends. Your first stop here should be Isetan Men’s, a separate building next to the main one. The second floor here is known as the International Creator’s zone and is home to the freshest boutiques and designer wear from around the world, so you’re sure to find something new and unexpected. And on the eighth floor you’ll find Isetan Men’s Residence, a hip space that goes beyond shopping for luxury gear by inviting you to have fun while picking out just the right item. The selection includes watches, cameras, audio equipment, fountain pens, fragrances and much more, as well as a men’s spa and a florist.
HOT RIGHT NOW
The main Isetan building also offers a rich array of items and ideas. The Beauty Apothecary on the second basement floor goes beyond brand and category distinctions to present an exquisite selection of cosmetics and food. Meanwhile, Tokyo Kaihoku on the second floor is a conceptual space with a regularly rotating selection of items. It shines the spotlight on the latest brands and up-and-coming creatives to bring to life novel collaborations that reflect contemporary Tokyo. But far and away the trickiest place to come out of without reaching for your wallet is the Foods Floor on the first basement level.Easy to navigate and manned by an army of expert staff, it’s a real treasure chest of unique sweets and deli fare. Keeping your hands in check will be harder than it sounds.
Isetan Shinjuku. 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku. 03 3352 1111. www.isetan.co.jp/int.
THE GOLDEN OLDIE
The flagship location of Japan’s most historic department store, Nihombashi Mitsukoshi occupies a building that’s been designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Noteworthy details include the lion statues at the entrance and the pipe organ on the second floor balcony, but you’ll also find plenty of other architectural highlights throughout the luxurious space. On the sixth floor is the Mitsukoshi Theatre, which retains the gorgeous style of entertainment furnishings from the early Showa period (mid-1920s). As a place that fuses the traditions and present of Japanese culture, Mitsukoshi has a loyal crowd of regulars, many of whom have patronised the store for decades, but it is now also being discovered by young locals and international travellers interested in Japanese culture.
One of the reasons for this newfound interest is the fifth-floor section featuring handicrafts from Tokyo. This space invites artisans to exhibit their works, many of which offer a contemporary twist on traditional Tokyo crafts. All items here are worth a closer look – our favourites include the traditional Matsuzaki dolls Omame-san (small dolls) and Maneki-neko (‘lucky cats’) by Kakinuma Ningyo, both fun options for decorating your home and wildly popular among people of all ages.
Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store. 1-4-1 Nihonbashi-Muromachi, Chuo. 03 3241 3311. www.mitsukoshi.co.jp/int.
Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous shopping district, and it’s here that you’ll find Ginza Mitsukoshi, a true area landmark. Refined shoppers have been frequenting this store for generations, always coming back for the world-class service and hospitality. It all starts with the small things: take the handkerchief corner on the ground floor, where spending a mere ¥32 (incl. tax) on a gift box with your purchase will get you a jaw-droppingly skilful performance of packing that results in an attractive wrapping that’s sure to delight the recipient. And at the scarf counter, you can ask the staff to show you the elegant tying technique known as the ‘Ginza Knot’. Lined with luxurious products from both Japan and overseas, the cosmetics zone also features an information desk where expert advisors will help pick out the perfect item just for you.
FOOD BECOMES ART Another unmissable part of Ginza Mitsukoshi is the food section, which is spread out across the second and third basement floors. This heaven on earth for gourmands stocks fresh fish, meat, fruit, sweets of both the Western and Japanese varieties, artistic deli fare and much more. Make sure not to miss out on the beautiful and delicious bento boxes: Masumoto’s ‘Fukumasu’ box contains miniature versions of several classic Japanese dishes, while Jiraiya’s ‘Tokugawa’ wows with onigiri rice balls stuffed with shrimp tempura. Take one of these gorgeous treats to a kabuki play or head up to the rooftop Ginza Terrace for a bento picnic.
Ginza Mitsukoshi. 4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo. 03 3562 1111. www.mitsukoshi.co.jp/g/int.