Star Speak is an ongoing series of columns, penned by celebrities we are used to seeing on these pages. This is their space to write about their take on fashion, the fraternity and whatever else catches their fancy.
Actor, television show host, columnist and now the newly appointed Brand Ambassador for Japan Tourism, Koel Purie is our guest columnist this week. It’s only fitting that she talk us through her favorite shopping spots around Tokyo and spill some insider secrets. We don’t know about you but we sure are taking notes and paying close attention. Read on! And when done, you can follow Koel on Twitter here and find her on Instagram here.
Shopping In Tokyo
Did I tell you I have the best job in the world? The Japanese government has hired me as an ambassador to promote tourism. Instead of listing out all the tourist attractions (and there are more than you can imagine), I’m going to give you the best reason to book your flight to Tokyo – shopping. You’re about to read my carefully collated and personally experienced shopping spots. Feel fortunate, this is classified stuff.
Tokyo is like Delhi – nothing opens before 10.30 -11am and when you’re in a once in a lifetime place such as this your day has got to start earlier than that. So, get your sleepy butt to Shibuya (it’s the busiest crossing in the world). Park yourself and your yummy latte at a window seat on the 2nd floor of the Tsutaya/Starbucks (beautiful library-cum-bookshop-cum-café) and marvel at the discipline and orderly pace that 2,500 people cross every time the signal changes. Then walk or jump in a cab to Harajuku Takeshita street – this is home to all the whacky, tacky, young, cos play, Japanese fashion. It’s cheap and teenagey but if you have a good eye it can be heaven for a few statement pieces. It is here all the crazily dressed blonde gothic Lolitas known as “Harajuku girls” find their stash. Walking through Harajuku is also a great study of what’s trending in the world of cool in Japan. I went for a themed birthday bash to Moscow last year and the insane costumes I grabbed from here, outdid everyone else.
After getting your fill of nonsense must-haves, walk down Jingumae street heading towards Omotesando. This is the high-end chic lane (a la Knightsbridge), full of stylish shops, cafes and restaurants. Don’t forget to look at the modern architecture of the buildings. Go into the Comme de garçons store, Prada, Issey Miyake and Hugo Boss just to check out the cool layout. If you don’t want the world brands, then veer off right onto Cat street which has lovely little boutiques where you can pick up a quaint, delicately crocheted dress or a military jacket that fits just right or red faux fur flatforms. Back on the main road Settimissimo is an unassuming basement shop with delightful clothes, accessories, bags, shoes. I went a bit nuts in this shop, greedily ‘overshopping’ and have since worn on repeat everything I bought from there. Walk on further and enter GYRE building to find the Moma design shop with super funky things. In the basement of this building is the famed cupcake bakery from NYC, Magnolia Bakery. On the same side of the street is Oriental Bazaar – a 3 storey one stop shop for all Japanese souvenir goodies; from Sake sets and tea pots to kimonos to origami earrings to Japanese doll book marks to paintings, antiques, wind chimes to furniture and elaborate Japanese screens and gorgeous goodies you didn’t even know existed. Great place to pick up gifts and stuff for back home. Pass The Baton on the other side of the street is a vintage shop of wondrous little accessories, clothes and curios. Winged wheel has divine handmade stationary. Stop and have a break at the Aoyama flower market tea house for a coffee or wine and then onwards.
My top favourite place for Japanese styled clothes is the Lumine shopping centres in Shinjuku – they have about 3 or 4 (although I discovered a new one yesterday) next to each other ranging in price bracket. Each of these Lumines has 7 to 8 floors of unadulterated fashion and accessories. I’m salivating as I’m writing this. It’s an open plan layout of the funkiest stand-alone boutiques featuring little known Japanese designers. Everything is asymmetrical or with upside down pockets or buttons at the back. I challenge you to find a plain white shirt. The colours are usually subtle and the material used is generally expensive natural fabrics. How such loose, unfitted, retro clothes can look so slick and elegant is beyond me. Japan style never goes out of fashion. You will want everything from the high waisted, wide legged culottes to the suede jumpsuit but only a few golden items will hang on you the way they are meant to – we just don’t have the Japanese bodies. We’re all curves, hips and busts and they are all straight lines, narrow and petite. A word of caution – just because it fits don’t buy it, the wide legged pants don’t work as skinny leggings no matter how much you want them. Oh and most things only come in one size, so unless you are blessed with Japanese bone structure- one size definitely does not fit all.
Of course, you can’t give Ginza a miss. This is the district of big department stores – Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi (both these have a great mix of international brands and are like the Selfridges and Harrods of Tokyo). For more local Japanese brands I would go to Esetan (best food hall) and Marui (written 0101). There are also tons of boutiques dotted around. Few typically Japanese stores that locals love are – Muji, Uniqlo, Gu, Bic Camera (for all imaginable electronics). These are everywhere and the prices will make you jump up with joy.
Like everything else here, shopping in Tokyo can be rather Zen or Disneyland on steroids and as an outsider you will never know which one you’re going to get where. The shop staff can either be invisible and yet read your mind, bringing you exactly what you want even before you’ve decided. The gentle politeness can put you in a meditative shopping trance. But just like that the moment can be broken with a shrill shop assistant welcoming on a loop apparently, no one. This eerily happy performance of nonstop greeting – “Irasshaimase and Gozaimasu” on repeat will drive you mad and you will want to run out screaming but not before stuffing the culprits mouth shut. Let’s hope you get the invisible assistant assisting you. If you are a determined shopper than I suggest carry large heavy duty headphones with blasting techno so nothing can interfere with you and retail magic.