Shibuya is known as the fashion mecca of Tokyo, and non-fashionistas like myself are said to have a hard time finding stuff to like and buy in this ultra-fab district.
However, you can still score quirky, unfashionable-yet-fun finds in this neck of the woods — if you know were to look. So without further ado, here’s my top five favorite places to max out my cards in (and none of them have anything to do with clothes, shoes, or accessories) while in Shibuya :D
Tokyu Hands (MAP) is a DIY store that stocks everything from housewares to party supplies — but to me it is literally Tokyo’s biggest toybox. I can spend hours just in the arts and crafts section ogling origami paper sets and washi gift-wrapping paper. I also love their toys section when you get a great feel of what the Japanese sense of humour is like: all battery-operated fart machines and remote-controlled jumping peens :D
You’ll also find a million things you’d like to buy in their travel goods and housewares sections, where they come up with deceptively simple yet stunningly brilliant consumer goods and lifestyle helpers. Last but not least, you will be tempted to blow your entire budget (like I did) in their electronics floor, where they sell the neatest iPOD accessories, USB-powered toys, and other fun stuff.
Sure, their stores in Akihabara and Nakano are larger and more comprehensive, but the Shibuya branch (MAP) of giant anime and manga chain MANDARAKE has one thing the other branches don’t: normal people :D While the other stores can be intimidating — even scary, the Shibuya store has the most normal mix of patrons in the bunch, including mini-skirted high school girls stalking the BL section and fashionably tanned young gents getting lost in the giant robots section.
The store is also surprisingly popular with overseas tourists, probably due to its location and its perceived accessibility (no hardcore collectors, just fans). I’ve run into my share of foreign fangirls running around the BL stacks searching for books, not being able to make much sense of the stacking system (here’s a tip: it’s organized by publisher, then by authors’ last names, then by titles).
My last three choices are all record bars, and they belong to the list for entirely different reasons. First up is HMV Records (MAP), the best local retailer of Japanese rock, pop, and alternative music. They might not be as pervasive as the big yellow chain across the street, but they definitely know how promote local J-pop acts.
They have nicer freebies for first-press purchases, and better prices for sale items than their competitors. Plus, their free in-store magazine looks slicker and more cutting edge than you-know-who’s, so they’re snapped up more quickly and read more widely than any other music-related free press.
Not to be outdone, Tower Records Shibuya (MAP) is the largest branch in the world, and has its own performance hall, bookstore, and a studio for their in-house record station. Due to their larger space and more specialized facilities, artist in-store meets are usually held at Tower instead of the the other Shibuya record stores.
My favorite thing about this record bar is actually not their CD section but their bookstore. The Tower Records books and magazine section stocks some of the best music and graphic arts publications from all over the world. I spent literally hours just browsing their shelves, and almost inevitably take the train ride going home laden with new books and magazines.
Starbucks Tsutaya Records
Starbucks Tsutaya Records Shibuya (MAP) holds the honor for being the busiest branch in the world. With its location smack in the middle of Scramble Crossing (aka the most photographed crosswalk in Tokyo), it’s really no wonder. People often use the store as a landmark for meet-ups when Hachikomae is too crowded. Meanwhile, tourists and photographers alike camp out front to take snapshots of the crowd.
The cafe’s mezzanine floor has a bar that runs the length of the building’s glass-fronted wall, and it’s a wonderful place to sit down, rest your feet, and people watch. Trust me, the lattes taste different with the view. Just be extra discrete when taking pictures of the view outside, as the baristas sometimes ask guests to refrain from doing so.
So that’s about it for the love-fest. If you’ve been to the district and have your own list of shops you prefer, drop me a line in the comments section, and let’s swap street guides. Or if you plan to fly there and are in need of a guide, then take me with you! There will definitely be much fun to be had :D