If you believe yourself to be a truly devoted thrift shopper, take this rule into consideration whilst visiting Tokyo: Whatever looks you pre-planned for Instagrammable moments at the infamous Shibuya crossing or a sushi dinner at Umi, take them out of your suitcase. Right now. Take them out.
As a matter of fact, actually, consider only bringing the clothes on your back and your passport. Why? Tokyo's thrift-shopping culture is so unbelievably amazing, you'll have little room left in your suitcase for all the vintage designer and rare finds for which you'll end up trading your rent money.
I spent a week and a half in a hostel in Shibuya searching for the most amazing, hole-in-the-wall thrift spots to make this essential guide for all the Tokyo-visiting Fashionista readers forever on a budget.
Thrift-shopping is different from ordinary shopping. It takes planning, and how you prepare can influence the rarity of the clothes you find and the amount of money you save.
Tokyo is a huge city, with very many districts each known for something unique. Each district has its own style – pay attention to that while searching for stores. Traveling by train is the easiest and most cost-effective way to get around. Looking for a more conservative look? Try the University area by Gakugei University Station. Want to be on top of the latest trends? Stay central, around Shibuya Station. Looking for a throwback look? Hit up Harajuku Station.
Let's start off with central Shibuya, where my hostel, a sweet and cheap dormitory-like spot, Turntable, was located.
Just around the corner is a shop located on a back-street alley, right in front of a long strip of vending machines. You'll miss it if you walk too fast. Blueworkerz is a low-key find. The quaint shop is super-small, but filled with quirky items and sarcastically printed T-shirts. If you look hard enough, you might find a broken-in Dickies vest or a vintage, '90s-era Snoop Dogg hoodie. The shop has a rugged skater appeal and is great if you're looking for something to dress down a fancier item for a city-chic look, or if you want to grab some traditionally "all-American" gear.
Rare find: A pair of blue, army-print cargo pants with a bottle of Tabasco sauce attached to the buckle.
Price range: $30-$50 U.S. dollars per item.
Kinji Used Clothing
Kinji Used Clothing is the homebase of used items in Shibuya. Located in Harajuku and just a three-minute walk from the station, the warehouse is filled to the brim with amazing vintage items and categorized by both brand and style for optimal convenience. You might find a rare pair of Issey Miyake trousers or even a Christian Dior dress with tags still attached. The only downside is the sizing: A Japanese medium doesn't necessarily translate to the same fit as a U.S. medium.
The location has a huge selection of women's sneakers and a decently-sized men's section, which is something on which most thrift stores slack. For all the tomboys out there, you'll love this shop for all the vintage starter jackets and baggy crewnecks; a cozy, vintage crewneck with a long, flowy skirt or a funky-printed palazzo pant is a great look for winter weather.
I was lucky enough to snag a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier top from his iconic Maille Femme "Faces" collection for $15 U.S. dollars. (Items from the collection typically range from $650 to $495 online). I also copped a Puma Faas Wind Jacket for under $20 U.S. dollars, which actually retailed at $85.
Rare find: A wall of pink baby-doll dresses and creepy, vintage teddy bears.
Price range: $10-$50 U.S. dollars per item.
Outside of the Harajuku train stop is an outdoor flea market that sells vintage kimonos, ran by a thrift store called Harajuku Chicago. The elaborate kimonos were a bit pricey, but didn't deter Japanese locals searching for a piece of their historic identity. If you're searching for something authentically Japanese, this might be the spot for you.
Rare find: A Samsung-sponsored traditional men's garment.
Price range: $60-$100 U.S. dollars per item.
WeGo is the Japanese equivalent of Urban Outfitters, but with a twist. The huge store has multiple locations, some even right across the street from each other. At one particular location on the famous Harajuku main strip, used items can be found tucked away in a back corner on the stories lower level. The items are mostly '90s crewneck hoodies and T-shirts with cute cartoon characters from Looney Tunes or Disney. You'll find a lot of shops selling vintage items like this all throughout Tokyo. The selection is slim, but it's exciting nonetheless that the opinion to buy vintage gear exists at a retailer of this nature.
Rare find: A sea of large, colorful hair clips.
Price range: $20-$40 U.S. dollars per item.
Next to WeGo is a cute shop called Sevens. Everything in the store is priced with a 7 at the end and is the ultimate haven for cutesy girls looking for a pop of color, or an animal-printed item, to channel their inner Lisa Frank, Bratz or Cheetah Girl alter-ego.
I scored a very cute custom cut-and-sew vintage tee-meets-denim button-down hybrid for under $20 U.S. dollars, plus a ton of colorful shoelaces and loud red tights.
Rare find: An adorable "The Powerpuff Girls" tote bag.
Price range: $7-$37 U.S. dollars per item.
A few blocks down in the "cool" section of the Harajuku strip is a shop called Ripple. The store owner is a middle-aged man who is both very kind and knowledgeable about vintage items; he schooled me on a vintage Japanese brand called Hysteric that's been around since the late '70s. I found it to be quite hard to find local Japanese brands at thrift stores, so this place is a treasure.
Ripple has a large collection of vintage outerwear, from fleece jackets to huge puffers, and is a great shop to find one-of-one vintage gear, like a Lee shearling-lined denim jacket, as well as a very rare chocolate-brown, multi-colored Levi's jacket.
Rare find: Roasted peanuts.
Price range: $7-$37 U.S. dollars per item.
One W Oh
If you're into super-vintage, cartoon-themed gear, this shop is for you. They sell everything from "The Powerpuff Girls," "Sailor Moon" and Pokémon to Marvel, Disney and "The Simpsons." It's very pricey, but you'll walk away with a stellar vintage score for your buck.
Rare find: A "Winnie the Pooh" Tigger letterman jacket.
Price range: $70-100 U.S. dollars per item.
I found the very best thrift stores to be in the district of Koenji, where there's an entire strip — a strip! — dedicated to just used clothing. Through the sea of vintage shops, you'll find a massive, two-floored store called 2nd Street. There are multiple locations, including one in central Shibuya, but this specific shop location is a thrifter's dream.
I copped a pair of all-black, fur-lined Converse for under $20 U.S. dollars, plus a pair of gently-used Comme de Garçons Converse for $30 U.S. dollars that traditionally retail for $135. The coat selection is amazing, and there was even an Ungaro cropped cardigan for $5 U.S. dollars.
The men's sneaker collection is ridiculously exclusive, but the pricing for men's items is significant, almost drastically higher than the women's: Supreme items for $300 U.S. dollars; army cargos for $200 U.S. dollars; vintage Biggie T-shirts for $170 U.S. dollars — something you can get in Brooklyn for cheap. If you're looking for designer-name goods specifically, this is a good location at which to splurge if you have $500 to blow.
There's another 2nd Street location in central Shibuya that's a lot smaller, but worth checking out.
Rare find: A pair of wildly popular Nike Kendrick Lamar x Cortez "House Shoes."
Price range: $5-$200 U.S. dollars per item.
Homepage photo: Gyasi Williams Kirtley