Tokyo's shopping districts

Tokyo's shopping districts: Nothing cookie cutter about retail hot spots

Pedestrians at Tokyo's famous Shibuya scramble crossing. It began in 1973 and is now the world's busiest with more than 3,000 people crossing at a go during rush hour.
Pedestrians at Tokyo's famous Shibuya scramble crossing. It began in 1973 and is now the world's busiest with more than 3,000 people crossing at a go during rush hour.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

For all the size and scale of Japan's bustling capital, there is hardly anything cookie cutter about its many major shopping districts, which are each marked by their own distinct je ne sais quoi.

This makes each a destination spot in its own right.

Loosely speaking, Shibuya is home to the youth, Shinjuku is tailored at the middle-income salarymen, while Ginza's department malls are aimed at the more well-heeled shoppers (not to mention the busloads of Chinese tourists).

And then there is Harajuku for street fashion lovers, and Akihabara for tech geeks, all of them connected within 20 minutes of each other by an intricate train network.

Beyond these hot spots, there are also niche neighbourhoods like Daikanyama for the more stylish crowd, Shimokitazawa for the more bohemian, or Jinbocho for vintage lovers.

While global brands are ubiquitous in Tokyo, they are spaced out across districts and do not drown out Japanese designers from the high-end Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto to street labels such as Onitsuka Tiger and Beams, or even bargain stores like Don Quijote.

Tokyo was visited in 2016 by more than half of the total 24.04 million foreign visitors to the country. The highest spenders in Tokyo were the Chinese, who each spent 203,816 yen (S$2,418) on average in 2016 though this marked an 18 per cent decline from 2015, according to statistics from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

 
 
 

Singaporeans were the next biggest splurgers, with each spending an average 164,758 yen, a 1.5 per cent increase from the year before.

Meanwhile, ideas only recently rolled out in Singapore have long been the norm in Tokyo.

The Shibuya scramble crossing - now the world's busiest with more than 3,000 people crossing at a go during rush hour - began in 1973. Ginza, which saw its first department mall in 1924, has gone car-free on weekends since the 1970s.

Even so, Tokyo's various districts are not resting on their laurels. Ginza opened its largest shopping mall, Ginza Six, last year to much fanfare.

More ambitiously, massive redevelopment works are ongoing in Shibuya, which has been a hub since 1885, when its train station opened. The makeover, slated for completion only in 2027, will not only ensure better rail connectivity across the many different lines serving the pulsing commuter hub, but also comes with a slew of gleaming new malls.

Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe has big dreams for his ward, which also extends to the neighbouring fashionable tree-lined boulevard Omotesando: "It may sound presumptuous, but I want people to think of Shibuya in the same way they do London, Paris and New York."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2018, with the headline 'Nothing cookie cutter about retail hot spots'. Subscribe