On my most recent trip to Tokyo, Japan, fashion exploration was priority number one. From exploring the vintage treasure trove that is Shimokitazawa , to the daring street style of Harajuku, I dove deep into the 5 most exciting fashion shopping districts that the city has to offer.
Japan's Most Iconic Fashion District
Best Known For: Street fashion, High End, Indie Brands, Vintage
I’m not generally one for shopping sprees, but this suburb had my bank account bent over, and let me tell you, mama liked.
The vintage clothing game in Harajukuis beyond exceptional, and its collection of exciting local and international streetwear brands will absolutely have your mouth watering. Wander onto Omotesando street to window shop high fashion brands, and maybe even splurge on a quality piece from a local independent designer!
It's a truly tantalizing combination that, no matter how many times I walk away, always leaves me craving for more. There is a lot of innuendo here, but I really like Harajuku. Like… meet the parents like (even though I know they’ll never understand him the way I do).
You could wonder for days without seeing everything that this iconic suburb has to offer. Even without entering a single store, the streets and sidewalks themselves are electrified by an eclectic dance of styles from past and future.
If the huge variety of clothing stores weren't appealing enough on their own, Harajuku has a superb selection of cafes and restaurants. Chavaty cafe was a noteworthy favorite, with soft serve tea ice cream that makes my mouth water just writing about, and an aesthetic so cute and cool that I'm still not over it.
This vibrant district is situated between Shinjuku and Shibuya, and is surrounding Harajuku Station. Positioned on the Yamanote Line, it is only a 5 minute train ride away from Shinjuku Station, Tokyo's busiest train station.
The Most Unique (and Most Crowded) Fashion Street in Japan
Best Known For: Kawaii Culture, Souvenir Shops, Trendy Fashion
Beginning just across the road from JR Harajuku Station, the narrow street of Takeshita Dori is one of Tokyo's most outrageous fashion and culture phenomenons! Okay, so this is technically a part of Harajuku, but it is an area worth mentioning all on its own.
Harajuku is Tokyo's youth culture capital, and Takeshita street is its pinnacle. It is, in a way, the personification of every youth centric Japanese stereotype that I've personally ever encountered. With its ultra-cute neon rainbow aesthetic, Takeshita is the loud pop culture yen to Japan’s soft spoken and historically rich yang. To me, it feels like a protest to strict tradition. A rebellion created by and for young people. It’s a jolting contradiction that seemed to leave my cells vibrating, though Japan in general does have that effect on me.
As a slow fashion designer and advocate, it's worth mentioning that this shopping street isn't one that I'd actually recommend buying clothing from, as, however cute it may be, it's still primarily cheap fast fashion. Hopefully, as youth culture continues to move in the direction of a more humanitarian approach to clothing, this aspect will improve.
No, You Haven't Died and Gone to Heaven, You're Just in Shimokitazawa
Best Known For: Vintage, Vintage, Vintage
Shimokitazawa is vintage heaven. I talked a big game about Harajuku, I know, but that was before, and this is now. Now, here I sit in the second floor of Tokyo Burger, with its wall to wall windows overlooking the charming narrow Shimokitazawa streets, and its clear that my heart has been stolen. I’ve moved on, and I’m happier than ever.
A bit further out from the city center, over saturation of tourists is a non issue. This particular spot is snuggled right in the midst of quiet residential Tokyo, making for a very peaceful stroll passed an alternating roster of trendy cafes and heart stopping vintage havens. While Harajuku is jam packed with vintage stores, I’ll admit that on this particular Tokyo visit in 2023, they came across quite over picked. It was a lot of 90s that remained… and while I have no problem with 90s, vintage is meant to be a beautiful and chaotic blend of the decades.
Shimokitazawa, however, my brand sparkly new favorite Tokyo neighborhood, is home to an absolute surplus of vintage shops that just keep on giving, and while some run a bit pricier, the cool spots are selling everything for an average closer to $50 USD. I’m only a few shops in, and I’ve already found a pair of sick ass space age sunglasses that must be from the 80s, and an authentic (I hope, haha) 90cm Hermes silk scarf for a jaw dropping $60 USD.
For the true vintage fashion collectors among you, run, don’t walk, to Shimokitazawa.
Only a few stops past Harajuku, you can reach Shimokitazawa via the Odakyu Line or Keio-Inokashira Line to Shimokitazawa Station.
Tokyo's Alt Vintage and Music Hotspot
Best Known For: Vintage, Alternative
Koenji is another trendy Tokyo neighbourhood for the vintage fashion fanatics! As a whole, this area gives off a much lower key feeling than that of the others I’ve listed, which makes sense given its reputation for alternative music, bars, and shops. While I’ll admit that I didn’t find it quite as electrifying as Harajuku, nor as charming as Harajuku or Shimokitazawa, my day spent here has been pleasant none the less, filled with enough vintage shopping to test even my limits (this is saying a lot).
I found the vintage collection in Koenji to be especially frilly, in terms of the womens fashions I browsed. This isn’t so much my style these days, but even so, the frillier that outfits seem through the shop window, the more thrilled I am to wander inside! If you’re on the hunt for kawaii vintage fashions, pastels, net, and lace galore, I would absolutely arrange a day spent in Koenji.
As far as the mens fashion is concerned, there is more than enough to go around. I didn’t spend quiet so much time combing those sections, ironically, since as I type I’m in almost entirely head to toe menswear, but I think it’s safe to say that whatever your fashion-gender identity, you’ll have a fine selection to chose from.
While not fashion related, it’s worth mentioning that Koenji is only a single train stop away from Nakano Broadway, the ultimate destination to shop vintage toys, and one of the coolest non-modernised selection of bars and resturants that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
While this review is a tad lack luster, I'm confident that if I'd visited Koenji with nightlife intentions, I would have enjoyed it MUCH more... maybe next time!
You can reach Koenji Station via the JR Chuo Line. Alternatively, take the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and stop at Shin-Koenji Station for a 15-minute stroll to the neighborhood's center.
Best Known For: Designer Fashion Brands, Department Stores
Ginza, the glitzy Tokyo fashion district world renowned for its glamorous high end shopping and home to Dover Street Market.
I've seen many'a blog and vlog touting this high fashion shopping district as a must-do part of your Tokyo experience. I am here to tell you, don't waste your time.
"But Sydney," You gasp, your stomach twisting and turning from this rollercoaster ride of a review, "you said TOP 5 neighborhoods for fashion!"
It's true, I did say that, but I lied to you.
As I paroused the streets of Ginza, it was impossible to miss the enthusiasm others felt for it, with stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton sporting impressive queues out of their doors and down sidewalks. Personally, I don't understand the hype.
These same luxury fashion boutiques can be found in any big city in the world, and I noticed no particular shop design or window display that wowed me enough to set these run of the mill designer stores apart from the rest. While it hosts a number of flagship stores, none of those held much appeal for me either. Ginza was a let down, a charmless and soulless suburb rooted in status driven consumerism (my least favorite of the consumerisms).
With only so many hours of my recent Tokyo trip having been allotted to the popular high fashion shopping district, it's entirely possible that I missed key components of Ginza which would have sold me. Honestly, I didn't step foot into a single one of the several large department stores that the area is famous for (I'd already seen photos, and couldn't be bothered).
Nevertheless, Ginza graces my Top 5 list because what it does, it does well enough... and because I had a 5th spot to fill. Honestly though, of the shopping areas I've mentioned, you could probably give this one a pass.
Goodbye, For Now.
When all was said and done, and my two weeks of Tokyo bliss had come to an end, I felt satisfied that I had soaked up a fair bit of the fashion culture that the famous city had to offer. It was a very happy shopping experience indeed, and I left with a suitcase full of eclectic fashion treasures from decades past, and even a couple of rare items from vintage luxury brands.
If my hot tips have lead you to find your own unique fashion treasures, or if I missed a crucial destination, hit me up on instagram at @sydneyduncanco! I'd love to see what you've found, and hear your take Tokyo Fashion!
If you'd like a more in depth guide to my Tokyo vintage shopping experience, check out all of my favorite vintage stores here.