Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Fabric Shopping in Tokyo

My Visit to Japan - Part 3

There is a whole area of Tokyo devoted to the sale of fabric and related items.  I did some research before my trip to Japan and knew the route to Fabric Town thanks to Marceline and Suzy but when I arrived in Japan on 2nd May I was more than a little worried when a lady in the tourist information office at Narita Airport told me it was Golden Week and all the shops would be closed.  She even took the time to look up Tomato (online shop in Japanese at ), one of the main fabric stores in Nippori, Fabric Town, on the internet for me, and confirmed that it would be closed.

Golden Week is a series of National holidays including Otoko No Hi - Boys' Day - when the carp, a symbol of masculine attributes including strength, features in banners and kites - koino-bori.  We found that a lot of the shops near our ryokan were open on that first day in Tokyo and a Japanese lady we spoke to suggested that, far from shutting down, shops, galleries and cafes stayed open during holidays to cater for visitors and to show the area at its best.  I was mildly hopeful and Alan suggested we head for Nippori the following day and see if anything was happening.  Bless him.

To my delight we found that a good proportion of shops in Fabric Town were open.  There were shops selling clothes, leather, furnishing fabrics, dressmaking fabrics and notions.  There was the most gorgeous button and bead shop off the main street
and there were shops selling kimonos and accessories
and to my relief, shops selling quilting fabrics.  In retrospect it is maybe as well that Tomato, which is several floors high and has various satellite stores, was shut as I think it might have be overwhelming.  As it was I was able to buy everything I wanted.

Getting to Fabric Town

I picked up a copy of the very useful guide to Fabric Town in Ryokan Sawanoya (I had been surprised that the airport tourist information office didn't have a copy) and found the correct exit from Nippori metro station from the directions Nat gave me after her recent visit to Japan.  The station is shown on the map but it was good to have it confirmed, getting the correct exit from a station is the key to finding your way around in Tokyo!
We travelled to Nippori station (see my post on travelling in Tokyo) which is on the Japanese Railways JR Yamanote line (light green colour).  We took the North exit from the platform and then the West exit from the main station.  From there we picked up the large signs indicating Fabric Town and followed them.  There are signs on the railings at waist height and banners along the street above head height.  It was basically across the road and then bearing to the right. Nat told me she followed some older Japanese ladies who she thought would be heading to Fabric Street and was right!  The shops don't open until 10 am so you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast before a day of shopping.

I wandered from one end of the street to the other and back again, marking on my map the shops that I intended to return to with my hot little hand full of yen (no credit cards in Nippori, take cash).

We stopped for a drink in Cafe Bird where we were presented with a menu completely written in Japanese but managed to ask for a cup of Japanese tea.  The proprietor told us that tea wasn't any good and we should have coffee!  So we had coffee, and very good it was too!

What I Bought

The shop where I had most success was called Tsukiyasu.  I bought a lot of Japanese fabrics and two lovely panels.  The fabrics were 200 yen for 0.5m which I thought was a very good price (as you can tell from the amount I bought).  A lovely Japanese gentleman quietly handed me a basket to put my goodies in while I continued to choose!
The panels were 1 050 yen each and after a lot of smiling and gesticulating I found that I got an extra half panel free because of the way the fabric had been cut.  Al kindly carried my haul for me - I think that's a real smile on his face as he stands outside Tsukiyasu!  They could do with putting a few seating areas along Fabric Street for patient non-fabric lovers.
I hoped to buy a kimono and there were two shops open just past Tsukiyasu that had a good selection of pre-loved ones.  Yamasei Shouten Y 2nd is marked on the map (number 53) and there was a second kimono shop right on the corner, just a couple of shops along.  I bought a length of kimono fabric in Yamasei Shouten, about 8 feet, 13" wide and it was 500 yen.
In the shop on the corner there was a huge selection of secondhand kimono on three sides at the back of the shop, all priced at 1 050 yen which made life both easy and very difficult - how many could I get into my hand luggage, my hold luggage being full already?  I was pleasantly surprised at the price and Al was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked!  For the rest of our holiday he viewed everything in terms of kimono.  Two coffees, 1 000 yen?  You could have got a kimono for that!!
After a lot of trying on and indecision I eventually chose this gorgeous golden kimono which I am delighted with.
A Few Tips

1.  The language barrier doesn't seem to be a barrier, in each shop the staff were very patient and happy to help.

2.  You will need cash for shopping in Fabric Town (and in Japan generally).  The assistant will usually show the amount you need to pay on a calculator display.  You put your money in a small tray by the till and your receipt and change is put in the tray for you to take.

3.  There were small pieces of vintage kimono for sale which seemed to be very expensive.

4.  You are welcome to go into all the shops just to browse.  Some of them looked a little exclusive from the outside but I was made welcome in them all.

5.  It is well worth exploring the side streets off Fabric Street, there are some hidden delights to be found.

6.  Prices varied more than I expected so I would suggest looking first and then returning to the shops that have what you want at a competitive price - remember to make notes on your map!

7.  Allow yourself plenty of time to do your shopping and remember to keep up your fluids and sugar levels!  It helps to have somebody who will carry your bags, thanks Al!


  1. What a fantastic haul! I really miss Nippori, shopping there was always such a great experience.

  2. You lucky girl! Love the blue fabrics the best.

  3. Aaahhhh! I missed Fabric Town when I was in Tokyo. I guess now I'll just have to go back! Thanks for visiting my blog - I just sat down in the middle of making breakfast to check my email, found your comment and came to visit you. Completely forgot about breakfast!
    It is lovely to meet another lover of Japanese art and culture. I'll visit again soon.


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