Shopping on a budget in Japan: where to go

Yen doesn’t grow on trees, ya know.

People assume that Tokyo is an expensive city.

But, when it comes to shopping for clothes, this reputation is pretty unjustified. Thanks in a big part to stores like UNIQLO, Muji and the vast array of vintage stores, searching for new threads in Tokyo has never been cheaper.

Sure, there are the high end districts of Ginza and Omotesando, where shoppers drop more cash than you could ever imagine making in your entire working life. Obviously, this is not the norm. With a little pre-trip research, it’s easy to fill your suitcase and not empty your bank account while you explore Japan. Here’s where to stop by.

Don Don Down on Wednesday
Locations: All across Japan 
Recommended store: 1 Chome-8-9 Kichijōji Honchō Musashino-shi, Tōkyō-to 180-0004 Japan B1F

Japan loves onomatopoeias. ‘Doki doki’ – the sound of your heart beating – means nervous, but in a good way, like butterflies. In a similar vein, ‘waku waku’  is the pounding of your heart from excitement. 

Vintage store, Don Don Down on Wednesday, gets its name from a similar origin. ‘Don don’ is the sound of something steadily dropping, which is what the prices do at all Don Don stores each Wednesday. 

How the store works is that each clothing item is allocated a fruit tag, which represents the price of the item for that week. If the item remains unsold, on the following Wednesday, it drops in price. 

The whole business model of the store is kind of like a reverse auction; anything in the store can go from 7,000+ yen (about $80AUD) down to 105 yen (about $1.20). For those who aren’t really the gambling type, there’s also a standard pricing area for limited, hard-to-find, vintage designer stock.

Locations: Harajuku, Shimokitazawa, Kichijoji, Kyoto
Recommended store: B1F Olympia Annex Bldg, 6-31-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo

If you’re wandering down the main drag of Harajuku, no doubt you’ll stumble across Chicago. The store’s delightfully beachy-kitsch, multi-coloured neon sign has become a little Harajuku landmark. 

Given the combination of Japan’s passion for vintage shopping and Chicago’s freakish ability to source pre-loved clothing, the success of Chicago has spawned six stores. Three of these are in Harajuku, two others are in Tokyo’s vintage meccas Shimokitazawa and Kichijoji, and the last is down in Kyoto. 

Leaning towards what could be described as Americana-themed taste, the stores boast a meticulously organised collection of vintage denim of every shade and cut. However, if you’re looking for something more traditionally ‘Japanese’ to take home, like a kimono or yukata, Chicago houses a huge selection of rare vintage and reasonably-priced garments.

Stickout (Shimokita) 
Location: Shimokitazawa. 2F, 2-Chome−14-16 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō-to

If you’re seriously sticking to a budget and you don’t mind a hunt for that perfect piece, make your way to the bustling Stickout store in Shimokitazawa. 

Everything at Stickout is priced at 700 yen (about $8) which means that quantity rules over quality. But if you’re prepared to pick through mountains of clothing, you’re bound so find something to take home. Jackets, T-shirts, shoes, accessories – there’s no real method to the store’s madness, so be prepared. 

If you’re all about the thrill of the hunt, Stickout is the dedicated thrifter’s heaven. Located on the second floor of a small shopping mall, just look out for the windows jammed full of secondhand trash and treasure. 

Locations: All across Japan 
Recommended store: 2-29-5 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0043 (Shibuya store)

These days, of course, UNIQLO is a name ubiquitous with everyday fashion, globally. But to really take full advantage of what the retailer does, you’ve got to be in its hometown. 

What makes UNIQLO a must-visit in Japan is its incredibly cheap price point and sheer variety. Want to pick up a new Heattech pullover for less than $10? Easy. Why not get a few in different colours, because if you’re onto a good thing, why stray? 

With stores scattered on every street corner and tucked down in underground stations, you’ll never have to go out of your way to find an outlet.

ABC Mart
Locations: All over Japan
Recommended store: Shibuya, 1 Chome-11-5 Jinnan, Tokyo 150-0041

It’s undeniable that Tokyo is the sneaker capital of the world. A fresh pair of sneakers (no matter your taste) is as much a clothing staple as a well-fitting pair of jeans.

At ABC Mart, streetwear-style sneakers (think New Balance and Air Max) dominate over the rare hard-to-find Jordans. That said, there’s something for everyone. If you know where to look.

It’s a lot more scattergun in layout compared to its minimalist and carefully-curated sneaker store contemporaries (like ATMOS and Kicks Lab). Instead, ABC Mart packs its stores to the brim with everything from classic Dad staples like Nike Monarchs to Kylie Jenner’s latest Puma collabs.

If it’s variety you’re after – both in terms of price and style – you won’t find a shoe store that does it better than ABC Mart.

Locations: All over Japan
Recommended store: Udagawa-cho 21-1 Shibuya, Tokyo 150 – 0042

Simple, clean, no frills and convenient. Muji is the epitome of the ideal Japanese lifestyle aesthetic and potentially one of the most loveable stores in the Japan. Though there are stores internationally, the best place to shop at Muji is in the capital city of the store’s origin.

Muji isn’t just clothing, either. The ubiquitous lifestyle store stocks everything from accessories, homewares, cosmetics, food and even bikes.

If you’re after thoughtfully-designed but clean basics (think crispy organic cotton shirts and merino wool sweaters under $40), then Muji is a must-visit. 

A word of caution: Don’t step in thinking you’ll stumble across that bold ‘statement’ piece you’ll tell your friends you ‘just picked up’ on your travels to Japan. But if tastefully understated is more your vibe, Muji is where you want to be. 

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