For those big shoppers out there, I bet you’ve picked up a few tricks along the way when it comes to shopping. Well, so have I — I definitely have a few takeaways from my time in Japan, and I’m here to share them with you in hopes that it will make your shopping experience even more fun and exciting. They will not only help you in Osaka and Tokyo but also in other parts of the country when you just randomly walk into a local store.
Sometimes, Japan can be quite different from the rest of the world. Shopping is no different. Obviously, most of the basics are the same — you browse, try something on, fall immensely in love with the piece and then you buy it. On occasion, it may not be as smooth as you expect it to be here.
What can be so different from one’s perspective of Japan shopping, you ask? Well, let’s go through the important tips that will highlight the key differences and how to slightly tackle them!
1. Know your budget
First and foremost, you have to know your budget. Generally, one would have a rough estimate of how much they would want to spend on their trip. Here’s a tip: instead of setting aside a sum of money just for shopping, why not budget yourself to how much you’d put as a maximum amount for a piece of clothing?
Trust me on this, you’ll get easily swayed by the prices of the stuff in Japan. Imagine budgeting yourself spending ¥50,000, and when you see a pair of trousers that costs ¥15,000, you’ll be like “oh that’s not so bad, I’ll still have ¥35,000 left for the rest.” At the end of the day, you’ll end up with 3, maybe 5 pieces of clothing.
If you set a budget for each piece of clothing — say, ¥5,000 maximum for a shirt and ¥8,000 maximum for trousers — you’ll end up with more stuff for the same overall budget of ¥50,000!
2. Basic phrases are lifesavers
You’re right, the Japanese language is hard to master. But, it’s not that difficult to memorise a few sentences to make your shopping experience that much more smooth-sailing! To be very honest with you, people can get away with just knowing a few vocabulary words and not even a full sentence, so there’s no excuse!
The easiest ones to remember are colours: kuro (黒) for black and shiroi (白い) for white are just your basic two colours that you’ll soon find out you’ll be using the most. If you want something that’s white in black, just point at the item and say “kuro arimasuka?” (黒ありますか？) — it’s that simple!
A sentence that you can remember easily is “ikura desu ka?” (いくらですか？) which means “how much?” Learn your basic one through ten before using this sentence though, as you wouldn’t be able to understand the response if you use it and not know the numbers. Once you do, this sentence is a lifesaver!
There are a few other simple and basic phrases to ease your shopping experience — it will 100% make it a lot more fun, if anything!
3. Be aware of the size conversion
This one can get quite tricky. Just like how the UK size chart is different from the US size chart, the Japanese have their own size chart! Their shoe sizing follows a different kind of measurement and the S/M/L sizing can run rather small to accommodate the smaller physique of the locals.
Do your research in advance or have the size conversion charts for all the various types of clothing and accessories saved on your phone. Some shops, especially the small, local ones, do not allow customers to try on the clothes or accessories, so you have to roughly guess if the items fit you or not.
Basically, the thing to note is that everything just runs smaller than usual. The Japanese are slim and petite in general, so some lengths may not be suitable for taller people, either. Be sure to check before you make your payment — some places, just like the “no trying” rule, have the “no refund or exchange” rule!
4. Don’t forget your passport
Oh, the privilege of tax-free! Visitors are lucky enough to claim the taxes back, but unlike some countries where you claim them all at once at the airport, in Japan, you can claim them at the store itself! There’s one catch, though: you have to have your passport.
I have made the mistake countless times — when I was first in Japan for travel — of not bringing my passport along with me and had to face the consequences of not getting the tax amount refunded. I guess if you’re as forgetful as me, you have to pay the price — literally!
5. Keep your eyes wide open
One thing I notice about Japan is that the good and great things are, more often than not, hidden. Sometimes, there wouldn’t even be signs to point to these amazing stores! I guess that’s just the exclusivity factor in play.
Because of that, make sure you get your cup of brewed coffee in the morning so you’re on high alert with eyes wide open to spot these hidden gems. These treasure chests of stores can gift you with all sorts of stuff — from unique, rare items to bargain prices!
The best ones are the ones that are underrated and underground, and that is no less for Japan shopping. Some are even literally underground! Who wouldn’t want one-of-a-kind items that only you have and no one else can get?
So there you have it — 5 exclusive tips from my own personal shopping experience in Japan. In my opinion, Japan is one of the best countries to shop in, and every piece is guaranteed quality. Whether you’re into luxury goods or thrifted items, rest assured you won’t be disappointed when shopping in The Land of the Rising Sun.
I have to admit — I’m a shopaholic. But who doesn’t like shopping? There’s always that part of us that wants to get the new collection’s pair of trousers, or for some of us, it’s anything that’s made and designed in Japan.
Whether you’re in Japan or overseas, it’s kind of hard to shop in-store — especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of stores go online, and recently Japan has been following suit. Hooray for us!
So if you’re looking to get your hands on some Japanese-made or Japanese-designed fashion products, here are top 10 Japanese online stores — some even offer international shipping!
First off, we have the famous Japanese lifestyle fashion brand that offers casual clothing pieces, Uniqlo. They offer everything from basics to new collections, but everything is timeless — you can wear right now as well as ten years from now. That’s the beauty of this brand.
They’re not stagnant, though. It is constantly expanding its categories as well as partnerships. The past few collaborations include Walt Disney, famous artists as well as local talents like anime illustrators to produce every piece of clothing on the rack including graphic tees.
Not to mention their top-notch quality — Uniqlo is dedicated to providing only the best of products. You won’t see a slip up in quality in any aspect; the fabrics are always soft on the skin; designs are constantly innovating; comfort has always been the key.
Uniqlo ships domestically in Japan and, depending on where you are in the world, Uniqlo does ship internationally too.
Under the same company as Uniqlo, GU is considered like the discounted version without compromising quality. It’s an extremely popular clothing brand that offers both basic pieces as well as modern and trendy ones — all at affordable and, dare I say, cheap prices!
Not only are there modern designs but also collections to include traditional Japanese pieces like yukata and kimono. What’s more, GU does occasionally feature quirky ones that reflect Tokyo’s fashion scene — from eye-catching prints to funky embellishments, you’ll be taken aback by what this classic brand comes up with.
This brand is also extremely supportive of collaborations, especially with local artists and brands. One notable one is their collaboration with a popular anime series, Sailor Moon, offering graphic tees and other exclusive pieces.
GU, unfortunately, doesn’t offer international shipping — but you can find ways around that.
This online Japanese marketplace is much like a combination of Amazon and eBay — This e-commerce website is the largest one in all of Japan. From brands and manufacturers to normal consumers, you get sellers that offer not only clothing products but also Japanese cosmetics, household appliances, electronics and much more. Prices of products can have a huge range, giving you the choice without compromising the quality.
Rakuten also has an international website that includes Japanese resellers who are willing to ship their products outside of Japan. While it’s not as big of a marketplace as Rakuten Japan, you’ll still be able to access Japanese products when you’re out of the country.
Since 2004, This online Japanese clothing store provides an online platform for brands to sell their products online. Zozotown is the largest online fashion retail website in all of Japan and has various offshoots including ZOZO, a custom-fit clothing brand, and ZOZOSUIT, an at-home measurement system.
Zozotown has a huge selection of not only Japanese brands but also international brands including Adidas and Nike with exclusive pieces. They act as the middleman for Japanese customers to get their hands on international brands, and the same for the other way round — for international customers to get their hands on Japanese brands.
Zozotown offers international shipping — they have two separate shopping pages: a Japanese one and a US one. The Japanese one only supports domestic shipping but the US website ships to the US as well as other countries in the world.
Harajuku is the most iconic place to be when it comes to Japanese fashion — multiple subcultures were born in this neighbourhood. WEGO is a Japanese clothing company that is famous for its combo of casual and Harajuku-style designs.
This Osaka-based local brand aims to cater to a fashion-forward audience of their mid-20s, and is famous for its exclusive collaborations with other major brands like Kappa and Disney. Now that WEGO has an online store, there’s no need to run down to the nearest WEGO outlet when the next collection drops. Simply go onto their website to browse through their designs.
Unfortunately, WEGO doesn’t support international shipping just yet — but there are platforms that act as the middleman for it.
Salz Kimono offers the chance for people — regardless of whether or not you’ve been to Japan — to get a taste of Japanese souvenirs. This online store offers authentic Japanese products including vintage kimono and yukata, as well as original designs like graphic tees, dresses and unique accessories.
Alternatively, you can even make use of their customization services where you can custom-make your own kimono and even zori sandals!
The best part about Salz Kimono is that this online Japanese clothing store ships internationally — and fast!
Mercari is an online customer-to-customer marketplace, one I use quite often. What’s great about Mercari is that you can find one-of-a-kind pieces of impeccable condition at stellar prices — even though they’re mostly second-hand, you won’t even notice it!
There are two Mercari shopping pages: the Japanese one and the US one. If you want Japan-exclusive items, it’s on the Japanese Mercari.
One of the most famous Japanese fashion brands is Punyus, founded by Naomi Watanabe. Naomi Watanabe is a famous Japanese comedian — her aim for this brand is to challenge the sizing standards of the Japanese fashion industry. Japan is known to offer extremely petite sizing, but Punyus offers sizes up to US 16, proudly showing off their body inclusive factor.
Punyus aims to spread the word of body positivity through every piece of clothing and new designs. In fact, even the brand name loosely translates to the Japanese word for “chubby”. Punyus designs are a refreshing take of the Japanese fashion scene, bringing in modern styles of streetwear, hip hop and even “kawaii”.
Many big-name celebrities including Lena Dunham publicly support Punyus’ movement.
If you’re a fashion enthusiast like me, you probably have heard of BAPE — also known as A Bathing Ape. It’s popular for its modern lifestyle and streetwear aesthetics, started in 1993. BAPE has become such a successful clothing brand that it has successfully landed collaborations with big names such as Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Kid Cudi.
The brand doesn’t forget its Japanese roots, though — local collaborations like the one with Hello Kitty still takes the Japanese fashion scene by storm! Sadly, BAPE Japan website doesn’t ship outside of the country — but there are other BAPE shopping platforms that potentially do ship to yours.
Amazon Japan is like Rakuten. The Japanese version of Amazon is one of the most famous e-commerce sites in the country and offers products that are only available here. It’s also great for getting unique clothing pieces from resellers and manufacturers at affordable prices.
Not all Amazon Japan sellers offer international shipping — but most of them do. So don’t be bummed out just yet; make sure you set the filter on Amazon Japan for “international shipping” before you start your browsing.
Well…what are you waiting for? What’s stopping you from going on to one, or all, of these sites and get a head start on your monthly shopping spree? Even if we’re quarantining at home, we still have to look fab — why not be fab in Japanese brands?
Who doesn’t love going shopping? I know I do! I especially love shopping when travelling because it’s like discovering a whole other universe full of never-before-seen shops and designs. What you can find in one country, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find them in another. It’s kind of like getting a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else back home will have — only you.
Japan is one of the best countries to shop in, with various unique styles that originated from the country itself and thousands of local shops selling at affordable prices. In fact, it’s those underground, low-key ones that have the best bargains and stuff. But of course, not all good things are easy — don’t expect all the shopowners to be able to speak English.
So why not pick up some Japanese phrases to help you snag that cute, one-of-a-kind coat? I’ve compiled a list of them along with essential words that’ll definitely help you get around Japan’s shopping universe!
~ wa arimasu ka? (〜はありますか？)
If you’ve read a couple of the other posts on the blog, you’d probably have come across this phrase before. That’s because “~wa arimasu ka?” (〜ありますか？) is extremely useful in every situation. This phrase translates to “Do you have …?” How many times have you asked a staff lady if they have something in a specific colour or size, or if they sell a specific product? I lost count for myself.
It cuts down a whole lot of time searching around by myself — I’ll just approach someone who knows the store better than I do. Don’t panic; this phrase is a yes or no question, so the replies could only be one of two ways: yes (はい) or no (いいえ).
If you want to know if they sell hats, simply add the word for “hat” at the front of the phrase: “boushi wa arimasu ka?” (帽子はありますか？). Same goes for asking for a different colour or size — just add the word for the colour or the size at the front: “aka wa arimasuka?” (赤はありますか？) means “Do you have it in red?” and “eru saizu arimasu ka?” (エルサイズありますか？) means “Do you have L size?”
Here are some words that you can use with this phrase:
Red — Aka (赤)
Blue — Ao (青)
Green — Midori (緑)
Yellow — kiiro (黄色)
Orange — orenji (オレンジ)
Purple — Murasaki (紫)
White — Howaito (ホワイト)
Black — Kuro (黒)
Pink — pinku (ピンク)
Dress — Wanpisu (ワンピス)
Fancy dress — Doresu (ドレス)
Watch — Tokei (時計)
Scarf — Sukaafu (スカーフ)
Shirt — Shatsu (シャツ)
Shoes — Kutsu (靴)
Pants — Zubon (ズボン)
Jacket — Jaketto (ジャケット)
S — esu (エス)
M — emu (エム)
L — eru (エル)
Big — ookii (大きい)
Small— chiisai (小さい)
Kono hen ni ~ arimasu ka? (この辺に〜ありますか？)
Japan has a lot of stores lined up on a single street — it can get overwhelming and confusing. Where’s the nearest shopping mall? Where can I find the drugstore? I swear Google Maps said the bookstore is here…
All these questions, who to ask, and how? Easy, with this phrase: “kono hen ni … arimasu ka?” (この辺に〜ありますか？). This translates to “Is there a … around here?” I bet you noticed the phrase we used earlier — yup, I told you, it’s extremely flexible.
If you’re looking for a supermarket, simply add that in the gap: “kono hen ni suupaamaaketto arimasu ka?” (この辺にスーパーマーケットありますか？). Similarly, it’s a yes or no question, so expect a yes or no reply — with a twist; there will be directions given most of the time, but that’s a whole other article on its own.
Here are some words of places to help you with your direction-asking:
Shop — mise (店)
Bookstore — honya (本屋)
Drug store — doraggusutoa (ドラッグストア)
Convenience store — konbini (コンビニ)
Department store — depaato (デパート)
~ sagashite imasu (〜探しています)
If you want a level up from asking if they have something or not, why not tell them what you’re looking for instead? To say “I’m looking for …”, say “~ sagashite imasu” (〜探しています).
For example, if you’re looking for a black shirt, combine the word for black and shirt with this phrase: “kuroi shatsu wo sagashite imasu” (黒いシャツ探しています). You can basically switch out anything you’re looking for and it’ll work just the same. You can even add “arimasu ka?” at the end to ask if they have what you’re looking for.
Shichaku shitemo ii desu ka? (試着してもいいですか？)
When you’re in a store, it’s only natural to want to try something on to see if it’s your size and if it suits you. I mean, that’s the only difference between shopping in-store and online. So how do you ask the staff person if you can try it on? With this phrase: “shichaku shitemo ii desu ka?” (試着してもいいですか？)
Unlike the others, this is a phrase on its on without the need to add any other words to it. It’s pretty straightforward — say it a few times and you’ll have it permanently locked in your brain.
~ sugimasu (〜すぎます)
So, after you’ve tried it on, it’s just not the right size. It may have been too big or too small — either way, you have no idea how to tell the staff person because you don’t know the words for it!
Don’t fret, this phrase is exactly that. “~ sugimasu” (〜すぎます) is like saying “it’s too…”, so to say something is too big, add the word for big before it: “ookisugimasu” (大きすぎます). If something is too small, add the word for small instead: “chisasugimasu” (小さすぎます).
And that’s all there is to it!
Nanji ~ aitemasu ka? (何時〜空いてますか？ )
When you’re travelling, opening hours seem to be extra important — that extra hour in the morning or an extra half hour of nighttime shopping is the game we all play. Most of the time, the opening hours reflected on Google Maps are up-to-date, but some local shops won’t even be listed on Google Maps. How does one figure out the opening times then?Ask, of course. This phrase gets you the opening and closing times depending on what word you use in the gap: “Nanji ~ aitemasu ka?” (何時〜空いてますか？). This phrase basically translates to “ … what time does it open?”
To ask what time does it close, add the word “made” (まで) to mean “until” in the gap: “Nanji made aitemasu ka?” (何時まで空いてますか？) This translates to “until what time do you open?”
To ask what time does it open, use “kara” (から) to mean “from” instead: “Nanji kara aitemasu ka?” (何時から空いてますか？). This means “from what time do you open?”
Ikura desu ka? (いくらですか？)
Most of the time, the price tags are plastered on each garment and accessory, but on the off chance it’s not, you need to be able to ask, “How much is it?” This phrase is exactly that. Approach the staff lady, point to the item and ask, “ikura desu ka?” (いくらですか？)
Be sure to practice your numbers in Japanese! It can get quite confusing — hyaku (百), sen (千) and man (万) do not exactly work the same way as hundreds and thousands.
~ onegaishimasu (〜お願いします )
So you figured out the price, found your size and colour, and you’re at the cash register. How are you going to pay? Cash or card? Do you want a bag? How are you going to convey all of that?
With “~ onegaishimasu” (〜お願いします) — duh! It’s like our first phrase where it’s pretty flexible and extremely useful. Want to pay by cash? Add the word for cash (現金, genkin) before that: “genkin onegaishimasu” (現金お願いします). How about card (クレジットカード, kurejitto kaado): “kurejitto kaado onegaishimasu” (クレジットカードカードお願いします).
Want a bag to put it all in? “Kaban onegaishimasu” (カバンお願いします) does the trick!
And you’re all set for your shopping trip in Japan! You’re able to find your stuff, ask for the right colour and size, get the location and opening hours of the store you’re looking for, figure out the price and pay for it — that’s all the steps! Now get your shopping shoes on and grab that credit card, and get shopping!