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When you’re shopping in Harajuku for the first time, and look at a price tag of a dirty Adidas sweater in the hippest vintage shop you’ve ever seen, you might get a little heart attack. What?! 35 euros for this piece of garbage? But it would be a shame to forget about thrifting in Tokyo altogether. Because if you know where to look, you can find cheap treasures. I’ll tell you everything.
The world famous Takeshita Street is in every Lonely Planet. But where you hope to find youth culture, you’ll mainly find fellow tourists, a gazillion crêpe stands, cat café’s, owl café’s… So you might start to understand why Tokio’s vintage loving youth likes to shop elsewhere. Later more about that, first let’s take a look at what can be found in Harajuku.
Don’t forget to look below street level in Harajuku. Two of my favourite, aka the cheapest, second hand shops can be found in basements. Kinji, the biggest “used” shop in Tokyo, is right beneath the famous Kawaii Monster Café.
Kinji sells a lot. They mainly have American items, with every now and then an amazingly hilarious gem. They also have a goth- and a lolita corner, a small designer fashion department, a small rack of large sizes and a collection of “remake” items, but unfortunately, most of them look like your little niece had a school project.
At Kinji, please watch out for holes and stains. I’ve seen a little too many of them. Skip the expensive Adidas stuff, you will find them cheaper elsewhere.
Somewhere in a basement in the middle of Takeshita Street, you’ll find Chicago. Not everything is cheap here, but outside the store there’s a couple of racks with cheap items to lure customers in. These are only 500 or 1000 yen, plus 8% tax. Most items are hideous, but that also has it’s charm, right? Please watch out for stains and holes here, too.
Right, let’s leave Harajuku for Shimo-Kitazawa. (That’s easy, just take the Chiyoda line from Meiji-Jingumae to Yoyogi-Uehara. Most trains will continue on the Odakyu line to Shimo-Kitazawa.)
In Shimo-Kitazawa, also called Shimokita, the hipsters shop. So we see dozens of hip coffee shops, tons of bikes and oh, all the neon and theater lights…
The shop on the photo above, I’d suggest you skip. This Wrangler blouse with stains was on sale for, yaaas, 4500¥. Yes, that’s 34 euro’s. Get lost on your fixie, Mr. Beard.
Cheapo or no?
After all this time in Japan, I still don’t always know which shops are cheap, and which are expensive. There’s a couple of guidelines though:
- Does the store look like a cowboy barn, a music venue from the 70’s, a dollhouse or a café? Runnn.
- Is the store spacious, is everything nicely sorted and is there only one customer inside? Runnn!
- Is the first dirty Adidas-vest you pick up 6000¥…? Well, I don’t know. You might want to browse trough another rack, where you might find a rare Disney tee for 900¥. Sometimes it’s just incredibly random.
Alright. On with the shoppings.
Two of my favourite stores in Shimokita are Micmo and New York Joe Exchange. Micmo, because I once found a lovely Levi’s jeans for cheap, and New York Joe Exchange because, you know, the exchange-part. I’ll explain.
The first couple of times I shopped at New York Joe’s, I wondered what all these Ikea bags were. New items for the store, of course, but how…? Thanks to Google Translate I now know how it works.
So last week I went there, with my passport, my Nike rollerskates and my old salopette. I didn’t expect much of the salopette, but I decided to take it anyway, just in case they would refuse my skates. They’re not really shoes, you know. But they kinda are.
So I brought my stuff in and filled out a form. My name in kana, my address, my phone number… Oh-oh. The shop wasn’t too happy to call a Dutch number after appraisal would be finished. So we agreed that I would just come back at 5.
When I came back, I found out that they appraised my skates at 2800¥, and my Carhartt salopette at 3400¥. Whoop! I got two options: 30% of that value in cash, or 60% of that value in trade, to be used on the same day. I chose cash.
Please be careful: Items that won’t be put in the store, will not be returned to you. Instead, you get 10¥ per kilo. Also, you can’t decide to back out of the deal when you think the appraisal is too low – the items might be already in the shop, or even sold! (That day at 3, I saw that they posted my skates on Instagram. I was pleased to see that they at least wanted them, haha!)
The Shimokita Garage Department is über hip. This hall with a lot of tiny stalls (some cheap, some hella expensive!) you don’t want to miss. In the front, on the left side, is a cute shop that has a few racks of items for 648¥. Super cheap!
Please check out the tiny, wooden displays on the right side of the building as well. Every cube is a little shop where creatives sell their handmade jewelry, postcards, coasters and buttons in consignment. Yes, I noticed the “no pictures” sign. But I guess that’s for Zara’s “designers”, ready to steal these original designs.
Quite close to the station there’s this little stall, that looks like it’s the only one they forgot to tear down. They sell antiques. Or well. Old crap. For too much money.
When you’re done laughing about this silly name (Hard-Off is a spin-off of Book-Off, and nobody in Japan knew Urban Dictionary…), I’d recommend you check it out. Hard-Off is a used electronics shop that does make you excited.
But wait, there's more!
Yes, Mike! Because you can find Polaroids cheaper than that, and did you know you could actually make money with New York Joe’s buying concept? I’ll tell you more about it in part 2 of this series, when I take you to Koenji and Oi Keibajo.
Because this story was getting waaaay too long.