Ginza is probably the most obvious place to begin one's Tokyo shopping adventures. I would describe it as Tokyo's Mayfair, and it's packed full of shops -- both high street and designer. A number of Japan's major department stores have branches in Ginza, and they are a convenient port at which to call when searching for high-end Japan-exclusive brands. They also stock the usual major international lines such as Chanel, Dior, YSL, etc., but I usually give these a wide berth because of the hefty mark-up on imported cosmetics.
Before I turn to some of the department stores, a few notes which I forgot to include in my introduction to this series:
- Tokyo is probably the hardest city to navigate that I have ever visited. The highly confusing Japanese address system is based on district (chōme), block (ban) and house numbers (gō). These numbers are rarely marked and there are almost never street names, which makes finding your destination very tricky. I was getting by quite happily relying on Google Maps to take me everywhere until Apple screwed me over with the iOS 6 upgrade -- now I just wander about blindly... [Note that the Apple Maps app does work if you type the addresses in Japanese, but this is mostly beyond me and it doesn't seem to be able to cope with transliteration at all.]
- To combat the problem, Ginza has recently launched a Navigation Tags System. There are now coloured flags dotted around the area with the chōme and ban numbers of locations marked on them. These correlate to a colour-coordinated map which is available in hard-copy or on smart phones. I have tested this out and it does make it easier to find what you want, but you do have to keep your eyes peeled for the flags because they have been placed fairly high up in trees and on street signs, etc..
- Confusingly for a UK-er, in Japan the ground floor is actually the first floor (I believe this is the same as in North America).
- Consumption tax is levied at a rate of 5%. Visitors to Japan can claim a refund of the amount of consumption tax paid on most products (provided the day's purchases exceed a certain set value). Each department store has its own procedure and tax refund counter and information is usually available on their websites.
- When you buy beauty products in department stores the sales assistant will usually open the box to confirm that you're getting the right product and that there are no problems with it. I believe that this is because it is not generally possible to return items once purchased.
View Beauty Destination: Ginza Department Stores in a larger map
Matsuya's Ginza store was established in 1925. There is another branch in Asakusa in Northern Tokyo near the famous Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji.
Matsuya Ginza has a large beauty department on the ground floor. As well as the obvious high-end Western brands (including Guerlain, Nars, Chantecaille and Sisley), Matsuya stocks Aesop, Origins, cle de peau, Kanebo, Helena Rubenstein, KOSE, est and more. Note that Matsuya does not carry Addiction, THREE, RMK or Suqqu, but it does have Lunasol which isn't stocked by Mitsukoshi.
I find Matsuya pleasant enough, but a little lacking in character; I tend not to visit unless looking for a brand not stocked by my preferred shops.
Also in the area (just down the road from Matsuya, over the main Ginza crossing) is Matsuzakaya, another department store which originates from Nagoya and dates back to 1611. Sadly, the Ginza branch doesn't have quite the same upmarket feel as Matsuya or Mitsukoshi and it feels a bit grubby and bedraggled inside. The main store is located in Ueno.
Opposite Matsuya and next to the Apple shop on Chūō-dōri is OPAQUE -- a rather charming boutique department store, with an interesting beauty section on the ground floor. The beauty department houses some harder to find (at least in Tokyo) brands including Kure BAZAAR, rahua, jane iredale and deborah lippmann. I really like this little store and appreciate the plethora of natural and organic brands it stocks.
There is another OPAQUE boutique in nearby Marunouchi which, in keeping with its status as Tokyo's financial district, is home to a number of boutiques and high-end shops.
I've saved my favourite until last; Mitsukoshi Ginza is make-up shopping heaven on earth. Mitsukoshi, which was founded in 1673, is Tokyo's oldest department store. It is now owned by the same parent company as my other favourite department store, Isetan (which will feature in Part II of this post). Mitsukoshi is on the corner of the main Ginza crossing, and is easily accessed through Ginza station exit A11 (as well as one of the many above-ground entrances).
Mitsukoshi's beauty department is located in the basement (floor B1). On the floor below is the food hall, which is extremely impressive and very worth looking in on; I was quite overwhelmed the first time I entered!
If you only visit one department store in Tokyo, then consider making it Mitsukoshi. It carries most brands that one might be looking for on a trip to Japan -- including Suqqu, Ladurée, Addiction, THREE, Anna Sui, Sonia Rykiel, Kanebo, RMK, Cosme De Corte, Shu Uemura, Shiseido and so on. I find the beauty hall to be very well laid out and designed. I love it in there and can spend lengthy periods exploring :).
Just around the corner from the main beauty hall is an area housing a number of perfume brands (including Diptyque and Jo Malone). This leads into a little accessories section with decorated mirrors and other such knick-knacks, plus Mason Pearson hairbrushes and a Hakuhodo stand. There is only a limited range of Hakuhodo brushes available at this counter -- mostly travel sizes and some brushes from the S100 Vermilion range and the G and Basics series. I will be doing another post in this series on where to find Japanese brushes in Tokyo, including the full Hakuhodo range.
As far as I'm concerned, no trip to Mitsukoshi is complete without a visit to Minori Cafe on the 9th floor. They do sweet little soup and sandwich lunch sets, but I always head straight for the ice-cream :).
|Mikan and Strawberry Milk. This was delicious.|