There’s plenty to do in Kumamoto, but if shopping is your thing these are the spots to try. Visit one of the central malls to find a souvenir with Kumamoto mascot Kumamon’s face on it, or head to the narrow side streets with small, family-run stores.
Kumamoto has two central indoor shopping malls, called Kamitori (upper street) and Shimotori (lower street). Built in the 1960s, these long-established malls have some stores dating back hundreds of years, like the Nagasaki bookstore from the mid-19th century.
The two malls cover pretty much the whole length of Kumamoto city center. So, you can walk in comfort rain or shine, apart from having to cross over from one mall to the other across the city’s tram line. Both malls are lined with cafés, shoe shops, drug stores (very popular with Chinese visitors), stationary shops, electronic good shops, internet cafés and book stores. Look out for items featuring the city’s famous mascot Kumamon, for a souvenir to take home.
Both malls open a little late in the morning but the shops stay open until around 9pm, while the bars stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Shimotori is the longer and busier of the two malls, and Kamitori has a slightly more upmarket feel to it.
The new mall on the block, Sakura Machi, opened in 2019 and has a tree-lined terrace, where you can sip drinks while looking out at the city. The shopping centre itself has the usual mix of sushi and ramen joints, such as Panda Chinese food restaurant (in the basement), with various clothes and accessory shops on each floor. There is nothing particularly unique about this mall, but it is popular because it’s new and convenient since it’s right in the city centre. There is also a cinema, hotel and bus terminal within the complex.
Several large malls are on the outskirts of the city centre, such as the one in the Hikari No Mori area in the east or the recently built You Me Town mall in the Oe area.
If you don’t like malls, and would prefer to see a bit of old-school Japan try the wonderful old shopping road, Kokai Shoten Kai about two kilometres (1.2 miles) east of the city centre, on the way to Kumamoto University. Another old shopping road can be found in the south-east, at the end of the city tram line, Kengun Shoten Gai. The shops on these roads are still mostly small, family-run businesses, such as the tiny corner fruit stall at the start of the Kokai Shoten Kai market or the very basic bento take-away stall located in the middle of market with delicious pepper pork. There is often a cute grandmother in charge. Once she gets to know you she might even give you a free locally grown mikan orange, as ‘service’, as they say here. But hurry to see these old places before they disappear, as these older shopping streets are on the decline.
Dotted along the many narrow streets that come off Kamitori and Shimotori malls are various hip places run by individuals trying to do something different from the chain stores. Vinyl record store, Sweet Nothing Records is near Oaks Dori, just off Kamitori mall, and the hat specialist store, Koube, is on Washington Street, just off the top of Shimotori mall.
Lastly, a real hidden treasure is Kawaramachi shopping street – even many residents of Kumamoto haven’t heard of it. Find candle-making stores, bars with live bands, second-hand stores and little cafés here. It’s a unique spot in Kumamoto and worth visiting for its unusual vibe.