This article is part of a guide to Tokyo from FT Globetrotter
One of the highlights of my recent year spent in Tokyo was the chance to shop — and not just shop, but dive into exquisite selections of clothes, ceramics, paintings, antiques and more. There is a refinement, not just at the top end but across the board, to the merchandise shops offer and the way it is displayed: from glittering jackets hanging like religious icons to trays packed with silks in subtly shifting colours.
Of course, it’s not all presented so artfully — there are also shops selling vintage Americana in Shimokitazawa where the racks are double-height, heavy with patched or fraying jeans. Stalls at the Oedo Antique Market offer everything from the rapturous to the deeply, deeply dubious. But the one thing I am certain of is that if you can imagine it, it will be for sale somewhere in Tokyo.
6 Chome-14-2 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001
In too many places, “vintage clothing” means racks of generic workshirts, identikit dresses and ugly trousers, but Ragtag’s selection is much more artful. Specialising in Japan’s best designers — Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and its manifold diffusion lines — across several outlets, it also stocks streetwear staples and cute rarities, such as the Porter pineapple-print purse I once bought.
You will, of course, pay for the privilege — not as much as new, but Ragtag understands the value of its stock. On my last visit, I left with a massively oversized raincoat, inspired by a character in the film Sweet Smell of Success, for about $200. But even this I find pleasing: it shows the clothes are being taken seriously. (Open 11am–8pm. Website; Directions)
4 Chome-10-3 Meguro, Meguro, Tokyo 153-0063
A long stretch of this street, running south-west from near Tokyo’s Parasitological Museum (yes, that’s what you think it is), is populated with antiques shops — plenty of midcentury modern furniture, electrical items, records and antique paraphernalia, but also one of my favourite ceramics places, Douguya Maru Kaku.
Both of its downstairs rooms are heaving with pottery, from hefty 19th-century stackable jubako food boxes to delicately painted dishes for soy sauce. Up some steep stairs are two smaller spaces with furniture and paintings. I never quite found the Meiji-era hand-painted vase I wanted here, but I certainly enjoyed the search. (Directions)
Oedo Antique Market
3 Chome-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005
Sited near the Ginza shopping district, this claims to be Japan’s largest outdoor antiques market, and I can believe it — dozens upon dozens of trestle tables laden with everything from chopstick rests and 20th-century illustrations to wooden sculptures and hefty vases. There is so much to see that you can expect to spend at least a couple of hours here.
On my visit, I had to take a taxi back to my apartment; I had bought a black-lacquered cedarwood tansu (chest of drawers), made under Emperor Taisho (1912-26), and it wasn’t coming home under my own power. The calibre of objects is high, but the prices are surprisingly reasonable. A warning: I did spot one person selling Nazi memorabilia, unchallenged by stallholders or visitors. (Usually open every first and third Sunday of the month, 9am–4pm.Website; Directions)
4 chome 4-9 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001
When the edges of a cashmere scarf began fraying, I did what any logical person would do: I went to a shop I found selling old kimono silk and had a tailor nearby sew some lengths of it over the fray. (Purple with red and white lilies, since you ask.) Voilà, a second life for the scarf.
It was lucky that I had found Gallery Kawano, with its rainbow selection of vintage kimono material, full of strips for patching or scarf-mending. It also sells obi, the belts that go around kimono, for all your sartorial needs. (Open 11am–6pm.Website; Directions)
Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031, Japan
There is no Tokyo vintage scene without Shimokitazawa. There must be dozens of shops in this district with specialists to suit every taste — Americana, military, kimono, high-end designer clothing (one particular shop, Haight & Ashbury, is particularly good for this last). The prices run the gamut — plenty for cheap, but it’s also possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a unique piece.
I used to come back laden; on my last visit I was particularly keen on a military-style store, so I left with a black cotton sailor’s top, a navy boiler suit, a long navy Italian nurse’s coat and a belt so hefty I’m pretty sure it was used to tie down jets to stop people flying off with them. (Website; Directions)
What are your favourite vintage and antique shops in Tokyo? Tell us about them in the comments.
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