A Guide to Vintage Shopping in Tokyo
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, vintage is “a collection of contemporaneous and similar persons or things.” What are those? Anything you define as such, apparently. That’s okay, sometimes we don’t know what we want until we run into it. So if you do consider yourself a fan of vintage shopping, follow me!
Of course, it is impossible for me to discuss here each and every vintage item one might consider buying, or list all of the shop names (they are so many!). What I can do for you today is give you a brief glimpse of what vintage shopping can offer you in Tokyo. At most, it all comes to deciding on two precious resources: time and money.
If you are short on time and know precisely what item you are looking for, you probably will want to pay a visit to specific store/s. If it’s clothing, accessories or shoes, check out the warm streets of Harajuku, Koenji and Shimo-Kitazawa.
Harajuku has some great kimono shops. They have both older and newer kimonos, although depending on your budget, you may find these a bit pricey. But you also might find a very rare piece that you can’t resist. Either way, one can certainly enjoy the vibrant spirit of the area while browsing.
I like to think of Koenji as Tokyo’s version of Seattle: liberal, artistic, and simply fun. It is home to many musical studios and hence the influence from musicians sets the tone. Not far from the JR Station you will find many shops of various time periods. You will find many American and European vintage clothing stores, and within them, sections with traditional kimonos and accessories as well. They are even cheaper (starting from 10 USD) than the kimono-only shops.
Shimokitazawa is similar. Shops are located next to each other mostly selling clothing. Many are focused on famous brands. Some shops also sell imported vintage items such as old post-cards with the stamps and signatures on them. In fact, their interiors are designed so well with every little detail such as opened old books with yellow pages and music playing, you may feel yourself swept back to a different era.
For those of you who are fans of retro games, of course Akihabara will be your paradise. There you can find vintage home electronic appliances as well. For fans of all things anime, manga, and toys, be sure to check out the more quiet Nakano Broadway shopping center as well.
If you have plenty of time, but prefer to look for vintage items for less money, you might consider exploring chain stores, such as Mode Off or Treasure Factory.
They mostly sell clothing, shoes, bags and accessories, as well as some furniture, tableware and collectable pieces. Those stores have so many typical home items, that it feels like your parents/grandparents’ attics with lots of memories and personal stories. You can find particular brands, as well as cheaper second-hand thrift items. They can often have retro games for low prices (1-3 USD).
If you are interested in something different, you might want to check out flea markets. There is a pretty well-known one in Yanaka. That area is famous for cats, so you have a chance to find cat related items. Lots of tableware and pottery as well.
Very close to the Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a beautiful shrine Seitokuinari (成徳稲荷神社), which holds flea markets every weekend. The items are diverse: clothing, tableware, decoration items, jewelry, dolls, books, bags, home electronic appliances, you name it! Many of the staff can speak English and accept credit cards.
Other great venues for vintage shopping are basic recycle shops located all around the city. Yes, they mainly deal with large pieces, such as furniture, but they also sell clothing, accessories and vintage perfumes. Known for its numerous Korean residents, Shin-Okubo has a lot of shops like that. I find it more likely to find better stuff outside the midtown, in Tokyo area. For example, Kunitachi–a lovely town in Tokyo province–has nice recycle shops that are less known and hence have a higher chance for cheaper prices.
Lastly, the most common venue is...a street. In Tokyo, homes last only 20-30 years, so people often move and get rid of their belongings. You may see boxes of unnecessary items in front of someone’s house. They are usually accompanied with a note that says: 自由にとって下さい, which means "Please take freely". Those items are often pretty and rare, besides the obvious reason of giving the still prime items a second chance and protecting the environment. Of course, be careful not to take items that are designated as a trash with an appropriate sticker, which I talked about in my other post.
Enjoy your shopping!