I ended up going to Japan for three weeks in May 2016. I had never been to Asia before, which was a fundamental reason for me in planning this trip, but I had known prior that Japan was getting it when it came to fashion.
Logistically our plan was to be in Tokyo for one day, really just to gain our bearings, and then make our way south and loop back up again to where we started. We had a few big cities in the itinerary before we made it back to the capital, such as Osaka (read my post about BAPE Osaka on reddit) and Kyoto. But I knew that I wanted to ball out in the metropolitan sprawl that is modern Tokyo so I didn’t shop too much until then.
After arriving in Tokyo and doing a few of the typical tourist activities such as Sky Tree and Meiji Shrine, I decided to plan out a whole day apart from my crew just to hit the stores. I wont be detailing all the places that I went to since I hit up a lot just to browse most of the time, but I will discuss the places that I bought from.
Shibuya is the place in Tokyo where you see that crazy-ass omni-directional intersection with people going every which way. It’s featured in a lot of Western media and is something of a tourist landmark. It really is a sight to see, and even better is the fact that there are some really dope shops nearby.
I popped on the subway at about 10:30 AM, intentionally sleeping-in in hopes of missing that morning salaryman rush. Nope, going from Asakusa-Bashi to Shibuya at that time was the most cramped trains that I experienced in all my three weeks of travelling in Japan. No other line at no other time in Tokyo could even compare. We didn’t have the guys pushing us into the train but you could feel people breathing on you -that’s how close it was.
I got off at Shibuya station and made my way through the world-famous intersection down towards the first store on my list. TheSunGoesDown, a store not necessarily streetwear in purpose, but one that I had to check out knowing Japan’s fascination with Western clothing.
I’ll illuminate the background here a bit. To put it simply, in Japan, streetwear (in a flexible definition of style popular with the youth in an urban environment) has not always been majorly influenced by rap and extreme sports. The subcultures associated with these forms of self-expression arguably made streetwear what it is today in the States, but in Japan, Americana was shaping streetwear long before those elements were.
Americana continues to be very popular among the fashion-conscious in Japan. You can even see it’s influence in outfits that don’t directly incorporate pieces associated with it’s aesthetic. And it’s pretty dope. Especially to someone who is so used to what is popular in the States. It was a nice change of pace to see different silhouettes and color palettes, rather the same cardboard-box-colored hoodie + ripped jeans + boost combo.
Anyways, TheSunGoesDown imports vintage clothes with those types of Americana vibes from the UK, France and the US. They sling it out of a tiny shop on the second floor of a building that is ten minutes walk north of Shibuya station. They are staffed by one guy and open kinda late, but nothing too crazy. I at first thought that I walked into the wrong place because I couldn’t open their door, just turned out they opened at like 11:30 AM or 12:00 AM or something. In the mean time I got coffee and watched the intersection and hit up a few other stores.
But yeah, TheSunGoesDown had a lot of really good quality vintage stuff. Harley Davidson, 80’s track shirts from Oklahoma high schools, moccasin jackets all could be found on their racks. The atmosphere of the store is super relaxed and the interior is cozy due to both the design and the lack of available space. If you don’t like it when the employees watch you while you shop then this place will make you feel uncomfortable because there’s nowhere else for the employee to look. I mean damn that store was small, you could fit like tops 5 people in it.
Anyways, the one employee was really knowledgeable and extremely friendly; we ended up talking for a decent bit longer than I actually browsed the store. Unfortunately, the price point of the shop is fairly steep but that makes sense since even though the stuff they sell may be easier to find Stateside, that’s not the case in Japan. They have to find and import it first too.
I ended up buying a handmade necklace for about 5000 Yen (~50$) more so out of the fact that I liked the experience of the store and wanted something to remember it with than anything else. Having spent a lot of time in the Midwest and the Western portion of America in general, it was sincerely fascinating to see the appreciation and interpretation that TheSunGoesDown has for the culture of those places. It was one of the most unique uniquely-Japanese experiences I had during the whole trip.
After spending more time browsing what Shibuya had to offer, I ate a late lunch at McDonalds not because I’m some uncultured and unappreciative bastard. They had the Hawaiian sandwich there at the time, shit looked good yo.
Then I was on my way to HARAJUKU. This place is internationally known, to the point that for those into the fashion scene it deserves no introduction. Trends are born here like no other and it’s denizens live up to the acclaim that the West has showered them with.
You could easily spend a full day here and still not make it to everywhere you want. That’s why I decided to approach it more so organically and without a plan to hit up a lot of specific stores. I knew that I wanted to hit a vintage place called Chicago and that was about it. It was unintentionally the first place I walked into because it’s just a straight walk from the Harajuku station down 413 on the south side, right before Meijijingu-Mae station.
Aside from being a developed and inclusive vintage depot, Chicago also acts as a vendor for used kimonos. That is why the entrance may not be what you expect when trying to find a thrift store. But once you go inside it can be safe to say that you see few thrift stores like this stateside anyways.
The clothes are coordinated based upon the type of garment and its color. They had an area reserved strictly for coveralls, with one side starting with very light blue going to dark navy. They had another corner of the store that only had leather jackets, with the same color coordination scheme. It went as far as if a decal on a shirt was purple, and the shirt was black, you could find it on a rack with the rest of the purple decal black shirts. Very organized, in an unconventional way. It made it a lot easier to shop for me personally because I could think of an item I wanted in a specific color and immediately would know what part of the shop I should go check out to find it.
I ended up buying a dope wolf shirt just busting Travi$ $cott vibes here, along with a drapey big polo. Some of my friends asked me why I was buying retro American clothing in Japan but really Tokyo has some amazing thrift shopping if that’s the kind of thing you’re going for.
Leaving Chicago, I walked up (north-east) on 305, down the Fukotoshin metro line. And to my surprise managed to stumble on another amazing thrift store called Kinji. I saw it on the corner of my eye on the east side of the street, down a floor from street level and decided to check it out.
It was pretty similar to Chicago in set up and organization but two big differences I noticed was that this shop was larger and that it had some merchandise that Chicago didn’t really focus on. Namely, band tees. It had a lot of different band tees, from vintage Marlyn Manson/Korn to stuff like Creed and even some Black Metal like Emperor. Despite being worn and faded, prices for these tees were the same as regular new bands tees, so like $25-$30. I guess that’s expected when you’re getting something that’s hard to find and already has that worn aesthetic, if that’s what you’re trying to go for. Which a sizable portion of Japan’s fashion conscious are, again playing into a sort of Americana counter-culture that’s obsessed with American counter-culture.
Kinji also had a lot more outerwear, and I would say more athletic wear. I bought a NASCAR shirt here, again seemingly trying to blend in with Japan’s street fashion’s obsession with kitschy American clothes.
Afterwards I backtracked more towards Takeashita Street, but not quite the street itself. I spent time walking around there but didn’t go into any other stores and chose instead to people watch so I could really get a feel for the fashion here. You’d see a lot of what you’d expect in Harajuku and some things that you wouldn’t expect anywhere really. In that sense it was refreshing, and felt like I was at runway show, in the most figurative yet slightly literal of senses.
If I had a bit more time, I would have also checked out BerBerJin in Harajuku. It’s a bit further away from the main station so I didn’t get the chance to make it out there. But it’s often lauded as being a must-visit destination if you’re a fan of streetwear.
I would also have tried to make it out to Shimokitazawa, which is just West of Shibuya by train. That area of the city has a lot of cool restaurants and other very established thrift stores. It’s one of those places that young people like to hang out at, of which Shibuya and Harajuku are included. I’d definitely recommend visiting those parts of Tokyo with some time dedicated to shopping; you’ll find more than enough pieces to stuff your suitcase.