After a recent work visit to Tokyo, I thought it would be fun to write about the city from the Duchess of Cambridge’s perspective – or least, from someone who might like to shop like her while visiting! Japan is a ripe place for Kate to visit (William has already been by himself during their marriage, when Kate was pregnant), thanks to their long history of an established and well-respected monarchy.
Tokyo is absolutely huge and full of countless shopping areas. My favourites are Harajuku, Shibuya, Roppongi and Omotesando. In fact, the hotel I stayed at, the Grand Hyatt, is within walking distance (35-45 minutes) of all of these areas (situated in Roppongi itself), so if you’d like a recommendation, that’s my absolute favourite place to stay. Harajuku is a trendy, vibrant and youth-orientated shopping area where Kate might like to pick up some cute stuffed toys for the kids, but other than that I can’t see her purchasing cat-themed hoodies and Naruto boxer shorts for William, so I’ll leave that one out of my guide!
Omotesando is probably my favourite pick for Kate, because it’s stylish and beautiful, and jam-packed with her go-to brands. That’s right – we live in a global culture now, and even in somewhere as far away as Tokyo, you can find all the Starbucks, McDonalds and Zaras you will ever need. I even found a branch of Next, complete with the same products as the one literally half a mile up the road from me. Is it charming in a sense that we live in a global village, and have a shared culture, or is it sinister ala Big Brother as international brands slowly erode individuality and cultural differences in pursuit of making a quick buck? I’ll leave that to you to decide…
Anyway, Omotesando is my new favourite shopping street (which incidentally will lead you down to Harajuku if you follow it all the way). It’s often called the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo, and is full of some absolutely incredible architectural showcases, which house some huge luxury brands like Prada and Burberry.
In fact, many luxury brands have their flagship stores here, and you could blow your budget in mere minutes. Don’t forget to check out the side streets, too, which are full of smaller stores. And you HAVE to go to Kiddy Land, which is the place for cute toys and character goods – everything from Sanrio to Star Wars. It’s home also to a couple of developments – Laforet, and Omotesando Hills, both of which are shopping complexes.
Before I talk about Shibuya, I wanted to share some tips with you. There are a few customs you need to know about when shopping in Japan. First of all, most items are subject to consumption tax, which is currently at 8%. As a foreigner, you can get this back by showing your passport, but you will need to present this information to the customs agent when leaving the country. Make sure you check out your allowances and be very careful not to exceed them!
Secondly, in many high end stores, the sales assistants will all say goodbye to you when you leave, and the person serving you will walk you to the door and bow. Don’t be scared, they’re not trying to check you haven’t stolen anything or ensuring you definitely leave – here the customer is god and this is one way of showing respect.
Thirdly, many many SAs will know English, but their knowledge is fairly shallow and they can’t really converse beyond the general queries you might have about an item. Hey – I’m not complaining. But don’t, for example, try to talk to them about Kate, because even ‘Princess Kate’ doesn’t ring any bells. In fact, in Kate Spade I tried to explain about the floral dress they had two left of, which was worn by Kate, and the SA had no idea what I meant… But she did tell me it was very popular and nearly sold out!
When paying, you are usually expected to place your money in the tray for the cashier to pick up. They will then pass you the change directly to your hand.
Also, when you purchase clothes, very often the item you select will not be the item you walk out with. The SA will scurry off and find a pristine version bagged up, and place it in a carrier bag for you, which is usually sealed with a piece of tape.
When shopping, know that the usual opening and closing times do not apply. Unlike in the west where Sunday shopping is usually a much briefer affair, in Japan there are no religious connotations to the day, and it’s the busiest shopping day of the week. Likewise, shops open much much later than they do in many other places.
Sizing is a tricky issue because many Japanese women fit into a much smaller range of sizes than western women do. In fact, in Shibuya 109, which is probably the trendiest store there is, has many brands who only offer one size fits all items – because there really aren’t than many different shapes for the clothes to fit! Sometimes you may also have difficulty being allowed to try items on, particularly if there may be a problem with the fitting, because Japanese SAs would rather chop their arms off than embarrass you or themselves by an item that doesn’t fit. They will, however, happily sell you items far too small for you, and it can be difficult to translate sizes to western ones, because some brands have their own unique sizing style.
Also, as you can imagine, small, medium, and large have different meanings in Japan than they do elsewhere… In fact, I would highly recommend you note your vital statistics somewhere in centimetres, so you can refer to it if you need. This means feet too!
When shopping I recommend you wear slip on shoes, because in some changing rooms you’ll be asked to remove your shoes no matter what you’re trying on. A little hint – you’ll know if it’s shoes-off time in the changing room because the surface will change from wood to carpet, for example. Don’t step on the carpet with your shoes! There may also be a height difference too.
Another fitting tip – you may be given a face shield – brides-to-be will know this well, as whenever you try on wedding dresses you’ll be required to pop this fabric bag over your head to stop makeup going on the clothes.
Don’t worry about any of this, though – go with the flow and have fun. Japanese people in general don’t expect foreigners to behave perfectly, and as long as you don’t make a fuss and can roll with whatever comes your way, you’re sure to have great fun!
Let’s get back to Tokyo – and Shibuya, which is one of the most iconic shopping areas in Japan, home to Shibuya crossing and Hachiko, the cute Shiba dog statue. You can watch people cross from the Starbucks in Tsutaya – or, better as far as I’m concerned, from the L’Occitane cafe nearby!
Shibuya is home to a plethora of department stores – the most famous of which is Shibuya 109. I doubt Kate would visit, as it’s geared to the very young and trendy, but it’s a good place to get a feel for what Tokyo’s teens aspire to. You’ll definitely get a sense for the fashion tribe feel of dressing in Tokyo, as each brand has a very distinctive look.
I actually think Kate would prefer my favourite department store, Tokyu Hands. I’ve spent many a happy hour here on various trips browsing through its incredible number of floors. There’s everything from washi tape and New Year stamps to pet clothes and bicycle equipment. You’ll be able to pick up some nifty homeware, chopsticks, bento boxes, and more – and it’s a fun and absorbing way to get to know more about the culture too.
So, if Kate ever visited Japan, this is where she might like to go. Have you been? What did you like the best?