travelknitter’s guide to tokyo

Phew!  I can’t believe how long it took me to put this post together; it seems like my trip to Tokyo was such a long time ago.  Anyway, here’s a snapshot of a few crafty highlights from my trip, and I hope you find it useful in heading off on your own Tokyo adventures!

Loft

This was my first crafty stop as I wandered around Ikebukuro, getting my bearings.  Loft is part of the massive department store Seibu, on the eastern side of Ikebukuro station.  I went straight up to the massive stationery section, which was well-stocked, nicely laid out, and great fun to rummage through.  I didn’t buy anything as it was my first stop in Tokyo, and I wanted to see what else was around.  I regret that now, as they had really nice things that I didn’t see anywhere else.  It’s on my list for next time.

Website (in Japanese): www.loft.co.jp

Tokyu Hands

One of the must-do shopping highlights for anyone in Tokyo has to be Tokyu Hands, and I made my way to the branch in Ikebukuro (I also made a quick visit to the Shinjuku store a few days later).  The by-line for Tokyu Hands is ‘Creative Life Store’ and it really has pretty much anything creative or home-wise you could want, spread across seven floors.  I knew that I had to have a plan of attack for this one.

I started out on the top floor (8F) where you’ll find Nekobukuro – “Cat’s House”.  I’d read about this on various other blogs, but didn’t know anyone who’d actually been in.  It’s set up for apartment-bound city dwellers to have the chance to play with the 20 or so resident cats, and at the entrance I spotted named photographs of all the feline residents inside.  Cute!  I sheepishly paid my 600 Yen and wandered inside.  It’s set up with a large play area, but with sections divided off like rooms in a house – not sure if the cats appreciated the distinction though.

After marvelling at the way in which the cats managed not to claw the streams of visitors all day, I ventured downstairs.  I spent most of my time on 6F stocking up on stationery (my friends will all be getting Japanese birthday cards this year!), although I think I preferred the range at Loft.  I worked my way down the levels, wishing that I had a Tokyo apartment so I could furnish it will all the gorgeous homewares.  I stopped at Kitchenware (3F) with the intention of buying some bento boxes but after 20 minutes or so the selection overwhelmed me and I didn’t buy any at all.  But realistically, I think it would take more than cute packaging to encourage me to make a packed lunch anyway.

How to get there:

There are stores in Ikebukuro, Shibuya and Shinjuku, but only Ikebukuro has the cats!  To get to the Ikebukuro branch, exit Ikebukuro station and just follow the signs for Sunshine City – it’s right next door.  It’s well sign-posted.

Website (in Japanese): http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/index.htm

Avril

This is the home of the wonderful Habu yarns, known as Avril in Japan. Before heading in, I’d recommend checking out the Habu website to make a shortlist of yarns you’d like to check out, as it can all get a bit overwhelming once you’re in the store to figure out what all the yarns are, and what to do with them.  I found the staff to be helpful, and with a few words and a bit of hand waving I was all set.  I was hoping to get some Kusaki Zome, but they only had a small amount left in the colour I wanted, and not enough for the project I had in mind.  As consolation, I picked up some Tsumugi Silk in two colours (projects still to be identified):

How to get there:

I was expecting it to be quite difficult to find, but didn’t have a problem at all.  The nearest station is Kichijoji, and a return ticket from central Tokyo cost ab0ut 580 Yen I think.  Kichijoji station isn’t particularly big, so I don’t think it matters too much which exit you take (I think I took the Park Exit and had no problems).  As you come out of the station, have a look for the big Parco department store, which will be diagonally to your left.  Head in that direction, and across the intersection you will see the entrance to the Nakamichi shopping street:

Follow the street for about five minutes, and on your left you will see the sign for Avril…

and then there is a knitted/felted sign leading you to the door!

The Avril website has a map, but I found the store pretty straight-forward to find.

According to various other bloggers, another amazing craft store, Yuzawaya is right above Kichijoji station, but somehow I managed to not find it.

On the way back from Avril I popped in to the Parco store, and wandered up to the Zakka/Children’s floor, and found a whole heap of cuteness!  Again, I stocked up on some more stationery, as well as these cute fabric buttons:

Ladybirds always make me smile!

Okadaya

I spent quite a ridiculous amount of time in Okadaya, which is a large store covering just about every craft need you can think of.  Again, my plan was to start on the top floor and work my way down from there – it seemed to work for me.  The top floor was dedicated purely to craft books, with knitting well represented.  I didn’t find anything new that I hadn’t seen before, but I came away with a couple that I’d been interested in for a while, so I was happy with that.  It definitely had the best range of craft books I’d seen in Tokyo.

ISBN 9784579109258

ISBN 9784579109258

I worked my way down each of the levels in turn, buying something on almost every floor!  They had a good range of buttons, so I snapped up a couple of different styles (no photos though, as they’re black).  I somehow missed the yarn floor, but discovered that some of the floors have a separate section off to the left, so I had to revisit each floor to see what I’d missed out on!  (The yarn is on 5F).  There was an OK section of yarn, lots of Annie Blatt and Japanese Brands.  There wasn’t anything I particularly wanted, although was surprised to see Daiketo yarn made from Tasmanian Merino.  Having grown up in Tassie  I would have been thrilled to buy Tassie merino locally, but Tasmania is well-renowned for exporting all its best produce to Japan.

Okadaya really does have stock to pretty much cover whatever craft you’re in to, whether that’s knitting, sewing, needle felting, beading, or anything else really.  I’d highly recommend a trip, but be prepared to while away a lot of time!

Website (in Japanese): www.okadaya.co.jp

How to get there:

It took me a while to find, but needn’t be a mission at all.  Take the East exit from Shinjuku station.  From the station exit, take the street that’s furthest to your left; it will run alongside the train tracks.  Keep your eyes out along the right hand side, as Okadaya is only a few buildings along.  You’ll spot a small sign in an alcove; take the lift up to the top and away you go!  What I didn’t realise though is that Okadaya actually has two buildings, and the second building has all the fabrics.  I did actually spot it on the way out (it’s along a little side street) but I thought it was just a small section at ground level, so didn’t stay long.  Ooops.  Turns out there are several floors!  Again, another one on the list for next time.

more cute Japanese stationery...

Tomato/Fabric Town

I made the trip to Nippori to hit the famed fabric store Tomato, on what is known as Fabric Street in Fabric Town (yes, it is named such for the benefit of tourists, I’m sure).  Despite all my online research, I didn’t realise that pretty much all the shops in the street are closed on Sunday!  I found Tomato easily enough, but upon discovering it was closed, was too disheartened to take any photos.  What a waste on my last day in Tokyo!

How to get there:

Luckily, fabric street (Nippori Chuo Dori) is easy to find, and I’ll definitely be heading back on my next trip.  Catch the JR Yamanote Line to Nippori.

Upon leaving the station (take the North exit and then the East exit) you’ll find yourself in front of a taxi rank.  There will be two streets to your right; one directly to the right and one heading diagonally.  Take the street on the diagonal.  You will see lots of signs and banners on the way, with various proclamations such as ‘Nippori fabric street’ and so on, so you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Daiso


Daiso is the pick of Tokyo’s 100 Yen stores (Japan’s much better version of UK pound stores, or Australian Two Dollar shops). I went to another 100 Yen store in Tokyo, but it didn’t have anything too interesting, whereas Daiso has so many wonderful things, all at a bargain price.  Initially I wasn’t sure if everything really is priced at 100 Yen, but it turns out they are, so some items are a bigger bargain than others.  Normally I avoid buying cheap made-in-China tat, but somehow it seems OK to do it in Japan!  I was conscious of not getting too carried away, but ended up coming away with a dozen items, ranging from a coffee mug to sewing supplies, stationery, and strange Japanese sweets.

I arrived before opening time on Sunday (10am) and actually joined a queue for it to open!  I think everyone else was just after an umbrella though, as it had started raining.  I also managed to leave my wallet on the front bench of the store, and had a mad panic half an hour later when I discovered it missing.  On the verge of tears, I did a mad dash back to the store. I can’t believe that someone had handed it in – credit cards and my last few Yen all intact.  I nearly hugged the staff member who retrieved it for me. I love Japan.

How to get there:

This one’s easy.  Go to Harajuku station, and just follow the crowds!  This will be especially the case on a Sunday, when Tokyo’s young people like to dress up and parade their cutting-edge fashions in Harajuku.  Exit the station and directly across the road follow the throngs of people down Harajuku St.  Daiso is a few doors along on the left hand side.

More shopping guides:

If you’re planning a crafty shopping trip to Tokyo yourself, here are two of my favourite Tokyo guides to check out:

  • Asking for Trouble’s lovely Tokyo Shopping Guide.  This has an emphasis on fabrics, stationery, and lots of kawaii loveliness.  I bought a copy of her pocket-sized guide to take with me, and it was a great source of information.
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tokyo travel tips

postcard bought in Tokyo

from a postcard bought in Tokyo

Before I put together my giant post on Tokyo craft shopping (and yes, there are photos!) I decided to post just a few general tips from my experience as a Tokyo first-timer.

  • Tokyo residents are extremely friendly and helpful – even if you don’t speak Japanese, lots of smiles and nodding will get you far.
  • Tokyo train stations are enormous labyrinths, but generally well sign-posted.  Plan in advance which exit you need to take from the station, and don’t detour from the yellow signs pointing you there.  Even if you have to walk for miles through a shopping centre first, make sure you take the right exit.  It will save much confusion in the long run.
  • I was very worried about catching the JR at morning peak time with my heavy backpack, as I made my way back to Narita airport.  I needn’t have worried – although the crowds are massive, it’s nothing like the London Underground!  Even at rush hour I found that people are still respectful, and the platforms even have markings on them so you know where to neatly form a queue.
  • If you’re in Tokyo for more than a few days, it’s worthwhile getting a good map of the city, especially one that includes the Chome and block numbers.  For the uninitiated, Tokyo addresses don’t use street names, but rather numbers that relate to the district, area of the district (Chome) and specific building.  I used the Streetwise Tokyo Map which was OK, but only covers are few key tourist areas (and didn’t include Ikebukuro, where I was staying).
  • Despite this, it’s a surprisingly easy city to navigate.  I have no sense of direction at all, and managed to never get lost (although I did sometimes stumble across things by surprise).

Tokyo subway map. Try to get a good English map from your hotel.

Tokyo subway map. Try to get a good English map from your hotel, and stick with the JR as much as possible.

  • Make sure you have enough cash on you, as Japanese bank ATMs don’t accept foreign cards.  If you need cash, you’ll need to find an ATM run by the Post Office or 7-11.  Luckily there was a Japan Post Office ATM near my hotel, but I never would have found it from the street, as it was hidden up a concrete stairwell and behind a closed door.  They’re also not open 24 hours, and I discovered that the nearest was open from 9am to 7pm on weekends.
  • Wear comfy shoes.  The sheer scale of the city means that you will be doing lots of walking, and there seem to be very few places to sit down, unless you go in to a cafe.
  • There are doughnut stores everywhere.  It’s pointless even trying to resist.
  • I can highly recommend department store foodhalls.  Pick a department store (any one, all the ones that I tried were great), head down to the basement, and fill your belly.  You’ll be able to watch chefs at work preparing delicious dumplings, okonomiyaki, and pastries.  The only difficulty is finding somewhere to sit to eat your goodies.
  • The first time you unwittingly sit down on a heated toilet seat will in fact come as quite a shock.  I giggled for quite some time.

Next post: my guide to craft shopping in Tokyo.

we’ll weather the weather

I was incredibly lucky with the weather for my time in Australia.  Two weeks, various different cities, and lots of sunshine and temperatures regularly hovering around 30 degrees.  Perfect.

Melbourne is still suffering from smoke haze due to the surrounding bushfires, and I’m sure that you’re aware of some of the various fundraising projects happening in the yarny world to raise money for the survivors of the Victorian fires.  I won’t say too much about the issue, as that’s a whole post in itself.  It was however quite amazing to be back in Melbourne to see the phenomenal public response, both locally and internationally.

I have now left the Australian summer, and at 6am this morning (that’s when Narita airport opens, folks, and we were the first plane to land) I arrived in Tokyo.  After a long journey in to Tokyo itself,  I got out of the train station to pouring rain, which of course I’m not prepared for, having packed for that two weeks of glorious Aussie sunshine.  I had figured it would be a bit cold in Tokyo, but somehow hoped that it would magically warm up when I got here.  So there I was, backpacker gaijin extraordinaire, cold, wet, and hungry, trudging along towards my hotel.  A woman on the street spotted me and started walking along beside me, sheltering me with her umbrella.   Of course I was highly skeptical, but it turns out she was just doing her good deed for the day, and she happily bid me farewell when I reached the hotel.  Crazy! I can’t believe she walked three blocks with a wet traveller just like that!  Is there anywhere else in the world where that would happen?  That’s definitely the sort of thing that makes me smile for a long time.

Just to add to my first morning of Tokyo craziness, it has now started snowing.  The staff at the cafe where I am currently trying to warm up advised me that it’s the first snow all winter.  Excellent.

I can’t check in to my room until 3pm, but am too cold and tired to go anywhere or do anything much, despite my massive to-do list.  If the weather doesn’t improve there might be more blogging than expected!