Markets in Tokyo You Should Visit

| © Junghyeon Kwon / Culture Trip
Corlena Bailey

With so many eye-popping goods for sale at every turn in Tokyo, it’s easy to get lost in its mass of glitzy shopping centres and flashy stores. For an enthralling alternative in retail therapy, follow Culture Trip’s guide to Tokyo’s smaller retail moments that really draw you into the real city.

While Japan’s capital city is famous for its cutting-edge, high-concept, high-tech retail centres, it also has an array of markets that are well worth checking out, from flea markets to food markets, from retro clothing to eye-boggling Harajuku fashion.

1. Purchase a memento of your Tokyo trip at Nakamise Shopping Street

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Women in traditional Japanese costume at Nakamise Shopping Street, Tokyo
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Lining the approach to must-see Sensoji Temple is – perhaps surprisingly – one of the oldest shopping centres in Japan, Nakamise Shopping Street. From 1688 to 1735, special permission was granted for locals to open shops in thoroughfares surrounding the temple, in service to its visitors. Today, picture-perfect Nakamise Shopping Street – lined with red chochin lanterns – has around 90 shops, some dating as far back as the traditional Edo era (1603–1867), that sell various keepsakes. You’ll find everything from fridge magnets to typical maneki-neko cat sculptures, but look out for some good bargains on clothes and shoes, too. It’s also a great place to buy traditional snacks and dishes, particularly those that are popular during festivals.

2. Search for retro clothing at Mottainai Flea Market

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Flea markets have become increasingly popular in Japan in recent years, and many of the country’s second-hand set-ups are organised by locals, civil organisations or recycling councils. At the popular Mottainai Flea Market, tucked in the heart of electronics shopping district Akihabara, organisers aim to reduce waste by peddling second-hand clothing as well as books, CDs, DVDs and more, all of which tend to be in perfectly good condition. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Two of the biggest and best electronics shops in the city are right next door: Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera.

3. For Harajuku fashion, head to Takeshita-dori

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People fill the streets at Takeshita Dori shopping street, Harajuku, with shop signs lining the walls
© Filip Fuxa / Alamy Stock Photo
Gwen Stefani made Harajuku a household name with her controversial hit Harajuku Girls and subsequent clothing ranges, but the birthplace of this playful fashion centres on a shopping street in the heart of the neighbourhood. Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street) runs past Harajuku Station and through Meiji-dori, and is a crossroads for street-style culture. Along the pedestrian-only road, shops specialise in unique clothing, such as punk fashion or costumes, as well as jewellery and fun patterned socks. Look out, too, for the trendy street food stalls such as the giant rainbow cotton candy from Totti Candy Factory. The whole scene gets pretty crowded at weekends, but it is still well worth visiting for the people-watching alone.

4. Visit one of Tokyo's Intangible Folk Cultural Assets, Boro-Ichi Street Market

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People walk in Setagaya Boro-ichi Market Tokyo/Japan - January 15 2018: people walk in Setagaya Boro-ichi Market in tokyo. Setagaya Boro-ichi is a Tokyo-designated intangible folk cultural as
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Dating back some 430 years, Boro-Ichi Street Market is the best place in Tokyo to shop for antique kimonos, toys and clocks, among other covetable Japanese items. In the 1570s, Boro-Ichi was established as a “free market” where taxes were withheld to boost the economy. Today it is a biannual two-day event on 15-16 December and 15-16 January, attracting more than 700 sellers. The history of the market is so integral to Tokyo that it has been deemed an Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. You’ll need to hop on a train to westerly Setagaya, around half an hour from Shibuya, to trawl its stalls, but consider it an opportunity to explore one of Tokyo’s less touristy corners.

5. Check out Ueno's Ameya-Yokochō

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One of the Chinese restaurants in Ameyoko market
© Lucas Vallecillos / Alamy Stock Photo
Ameya-Yokochō, which is also referred to as Ameyoko, translates as “Candy Sellers’ Alley”. You’ll find the vibrant market in the Ueno area, but its origins are rather different to its standing today. Ameyoko started out as a black market known for selling sweet potatoes and sugar after World War II. Today, almost anything can be purchased from its stands, and visitors will find bargains on clothes, shoes, fish, meat, anime DVDs and more. Heavily discounted facial masks, disposable hand warmers and Japanese-style dried snacks at shops such as Matsumoto Kiyoshi are a particular draw. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars around for a mid-shopping pick-me-up.

6. Buy the freshest seafood at Toyosu Fish Market


Merchants and customers stand in shops at Tsukiji/Toyosu fish market in Tokyo, Japan.
© Cameron Hilker / Alamy Stock Photo
Toyosu Fish Market, to the south of central Tokyo station, is the largest seafood market in the city, with fresh fish on sale for a reasonable price. It was previously located in the city’s most famous market, Tsukiji, and the quality and range of fish on offer is just as exemplary in the market’s new spot in the Toyosu area of Kōtō ward. You don’t need to be buying anything to visit, because it’s simply an unmissable eye-opener. Set your alarm to be here for 5am to watch the live tuna auction, then stick around for a breakfast of the freshest sushi ever.

7. Taste food from around the world at Tokyu Food Show

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Fish stall at an exhibition of food in Tokyu department store Kichijoji, Tokyo
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Depachika, or underground food halls, are some of Tokyo’s best places to eat. Located in the basement of Tokyu Toyoko Department Store, Tokyu Food Show is one of them – a beehive of stalls selling sweets, pastries, deli goods, wines and a variety of foodstuffs from all over the world. The self-proclaimed “theatre of food” is one of the largest depachika in Tokyo, with an awesome spectrum of goodies. Many of the stalls are associated with established restaurants, and while the majority are takeout only, a few have counters where you can eat on the spot.

8. Uncover treasures at Nogi Shrine Antique Flea Market

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On the fourth Sunday of each month, the people of Tokyo, as well as visitors from all over the world, flock to see the goods available at Nogi Shrine market. It is held on the road of Nogizaka’s Nogi Shrine – near upmarket Aoyama in central Tokyo and more than 40 outlets sell furniture, second-hand clothes, cookware and antiques. You’ll also find various food stalls selling snacks and sweets.

9. Shop for luxury items along Omotesando Dori


Shoppers outside the Omotedando Hills shopping center, Shibuya, Tokyo
© Photo Japan / Alamy Stock Photo
Omotesando, in Harajuku, is an avenue lined with high-end stores that lure Tokyo fashion shoppers. Broad and tree-lined, and to be found south of Takeshita-dōri, it is known as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysées. Granted, we’re not talking standard-issue market stalls here, but this is a great place to go shopping. Many of the high-end international stores sprang up after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and wealthy consumers love the famous cafés, boutiques and restaurants. Looking for something cheaper? Don’t miss the multi-storeyed Kiddy Land – a wonderland of only-in-Japan souvenirs, themed around popular anime cartoon characters.

Alicia Miller contributed additional reporting to this article.

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