Thursday, July 23, 2015

Upon visiting Tokyo this
spring, I was expecting Harajuku dreams, one-of-a kind wonders, and Kawaii
cuteness every step I turned. Only, in reality, there was little of it to be
found. Tokyo's current obsession with Brooklyn made the shopping selection
surprisingly American, and finding those special splurges for loved ones and
cute souvenirs for friends was more difficult than expected. And, let's
face it: no one really wants a chopstick rest, so traditional gifts weren't
quite right, either. This list of stores, market stalls, and shopping
meccas actually worth dropping by will help you conquer your gift list without
stressing about how mind-bogglingly difficult it is to find those odd-flavored
KitKats Japan is known for. Here's how to stock up on thoughtful gifts,
bizarre goodies, and the wildest cotton swabs you've ever seen: Matsumoto
Kiyoshi Though Tokyo's most ubiquitous drugstore (above) is a mecca
for beauty obsessives, the prices for cult favorites are on par with cosmetics
back home, making them more of an indulgence. Pop in for one of Japan's
legendary mascaras—Dolly Wink, Heroine Make, Fairy Drops—or famed skincare
products, like Cure AquaGel or DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. For low-cost gifts,
don't miss Japan's intriguing take on bathroom staples, like black cotton
swabs and cotton balls in pastel hues, as well as the mountains of matcha
KitKat bars near the register. (It's the cheapest and easiest place to find
them!) Tokyo Station Already well known for being a sneakily good spot
to get ramen, this massive train station (below) is also packed with the
best kawaii toy selection in town. Each of the 21 icon-specific stores on
Tokyo Character Street (located in the First Avenue Tokyo Station basement
level) sells more cute tchotchkes than one could possibly bring home, ranging
from the familiar—Snoopy, Hello Kitty—to the truly foreign, like Nameko, a
smiling stuffed mushroom. While there, don't miss Shokoku Gotochi Plaza
(http://metropolis. co. jp/dining/local-flavors/foodie-gifts/), a souvenir
candy shop a Tokyo food expert (thankfully!) tipped me off to. Though the
prices are frustratingly high for what's essentially drugstore candy, it's
the most reliable place in town to grab KitKats in whimsical flavors like rum
raisin, strawberry cheesecake, and wasabi.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Muji Sure, we have Muji
(below) back in the states, but comparing the two is like equating a gas
station with a WalMart. There are an abundance of goodies available at the
Japan-based store that will never make it stateside, and are ideal souvenirs
for your most minimalist friends. Stock up on small home goods for
organization-obsessed relatives, travel-sized everything for any jetsetters in
your life, and grab a couple bags of their pillowy matcha marshmallows with
red bean centers. © jeremy
sutton-hibbert / Alamy Tokyu Hands This multi-level Shibuya
wonderland truly does live up to the hype. Allot at least an hour or two to
make it through all 24 sub-levels—you'll have to dig to find some goodies
to take home, but it's completely worth it. Short on time? Be sure to check
out 2A's massive selection of stickers and washi tape, the uniquely Japanese
self-care interventions on 3A, and 3C for kitchen goods like panda-shaped
sandwich slicers and kitty cat onigiri kits. Streetside Umbrella Stands
Sounds banal, but isn't at all. At around 550 Yen, these tiny Waterfront
umbrellas cost only a few dollars, but make remarkable souvenirs you'll look
forward to using when the weather back home turns sour. The rounder models
typically offer fun designs for children and affable adults, and the
flat-sized ones are small enough to fit in your back pocket. They are
brilliant, simple, and—shockingly—not available online or in the states.
Loft Though the whimsical gift selection at Loft is worth checking out,
the store's paper offerings are next-level. The greeting card selection is
insane and very well-priced, so consider stocking up on a year's worth and
gifting a set to a friend. The basement holds enough professional stationery,
whimsical notepads, and desktop accessories to make all of your co-workers
happy. Fine Dining and Classic Bars If you stumble across a lovely,
timeless cocktail joint or find yourself having an extravagant dinner, always
check to see if the location offers any books or items for sale. During a
trip to Tokyo's famed Bar Radio I discovered their limited-edition cocktail
anthology, which was available on the spot but not online. Sukiyabashi
Jiro's dinner (below) will set you back hundreds of dollars, but their
petite-sized book, Jiro Gastronomy, costs just $10.  
Amazon More good reads from T+L:
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Southern California (Video) Find out where to go to buy souvenirs and
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