Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category

May 6th, 2009 dotted line

City Maps

When you’re a tourist in a large city, you want a pocketable map you can open in one motion, look at, and put away. A map which unfolds like a pop-up, or origami-style, is perfect for this.

  • In New York, I used vanDam‘s NYC Unfolds, which you can get at many Manhattan newsagents. Very, very handy.
  • Another option I used in London was Time Out Shortlist London, which is pocketable, thicker and heavier, but a better and more complete guide to the city. It has more maps and opens like a normal book, which is fine (avoid maps which fold over more than once).

May 6th, 2009 dotted line

Shopping in London

To walk through London in sunshine is to realize you’re in one of the great cities of the world. Here are some favorite stores in a week of living in Covent Garden (thanks for letting me live like a non-tourist, Manny!):

  • Scoop Gelato, a block away on Shorts Gardens. I was there twice and saw different flavors each time; few things beat sucking down gelato in sunshine, while watching half of Europe walk by in Neal’s Yard. Pistachio and coconut one time, and milk and mango sorbet the next – very, very good, and at £2.50 for a small cup, decent value for gelato in London.
  • Many of the world-class restaurants in the West End have fixed price pre-theatre menus (generally under 20 pounds), and there are deals to be had if you’re prepared to eat before 7 pm. Arbutus was excellent, and Joel Robuchon also has a branch here.
  • Abbott and Holder, purveyors of original English drawings, watercolors, oils and other artwork, located opposite the British Museum. They have a large selection over three floors, aren’t exorbitantly priced, and make for a unique gift or souvenir.
  • The Dover Bookshop, on Earlham Street; you don’t see a bookshop devoted to wallpaper patterns everyday.
  • Stanfords on Long Acre Road, travel maps, books and other resources over three spacious floors.
  • Tayyabs (thanks Manny), the best Indian restaurant in London, found near Whitechapel tube and worth our 50 minute standing wait. Ridiculously sophisticated interior for the rock bottom prices, it’s even BYOB, which you can buy at nearby off-license stores.
  • Marks & Spencer Food, the Long Acre Road store. Simply heaven-sent if you live in the city by yourself, with terrific packaging, great variety (Goan prawn curry, anyone?) and prices, and thoroughly modern. The self-checkout machines ensure lines move quickly.
  • Selfridges, now my favorite English department store, and their flagship on Oxford Street. Their Pantone 109 yellow and black carrier bags are iconic, and though you can’t buy souvenir versions of these like you can at Harrods’ (a shortcoming which will probably be rectified at some point), you can get a reusable Selfridges Food Hall-branded shopping bag. Centennial celebrations are taking place throughout 2009, seen in the window displays, the basement Ultra Lounge, and main stage.
  • The flagship store is contemporary and has a sense of fun where Harrods can be somewhat old-fashioned and fusty (not to mention chaotic with tourists), and bright and open where Harvey Nichols can be cramped and a little soulless IMHO. The range may be smaller, but it’s intelligently selected – I purchased this clever wine aerator made by Scandinavian Menu. Artisan du Chocolat are on-site, and excellent.
  • Harrods, Knightsbridge. Okay, the interior could do with some updating, but its product range and sense of luxe is still the one to beat (the food halls are deservedly famous), and the service is terrific. Come to think of it, the service in most of these stores is great, though being called “Sir” all the time can take some getting used to. I got a taste of espresso made by a bean-to-coffee machine from Jura, and played on the best digital piano yet, the Roland LX-10 (the Ivory Feel keys allow you to basically “grip” the keyboard, a tactile experience like no other).
  • The Topman flagship store in Oxford Circus, with almost Asian sizing if you overlook the too-long sleeves and torsos.
  • The Covent Garden Boots pharmacy has a great selection of travel-sized products, including labels such as FCUK, Hugo Boss, and L’Oreal.
  • A nice surprise – the proliferation of Muji and Uniqlo stores throughout the city (why are there none in San Francisco?), including three Mujis on Oxford Street alone (following the pattern of NeXT, Esprit and others, presumably so shoppers can stick to just one side the entire length of the street). Not-so-nice, the markup – the yen price is the pound price. Also not-so-nice, clothing is UK-sizing, not Japanese.
  • Special mention goes to the best staged production I’ve ever seen, the National Theatre’s War Horse playing in the West End. It veers close to but never topples into sentimentality, and the integration of life-size horse puppets into the sets and story is original and incredibly effective.


Selfridges window display

April 11th, 2008 dotted line


September 19th, 2007 dotted line

Favorite Tokyo stores

What’s a blog without lists? Here are some of my favorite stores in Tokyo, grouped by shopping district. Many of the foreign stores represented here also carry Japan-only products you won’t see elsewhere, which tend to push the boundaries of style and fashion a little bit more.

A shop assistant told me that most of these foreign brands will bring the same styles from overseas, but have them recut and shaped in Japan for Japanese sizes (typically one size smaller than the US, and cut slimmer) – a pleasant surprise for visitors who have a slender build.


  • Uniqlo: The so-called Gap of Japan – but sized perfectly for the Asian body, good for every clothing need you could possibly think of, at prices which are the epitome of reason. Spread over five floors in the center of the main Ginza shopping area, space to browse with ample fitting rooms, and one hour clothing alterations (just 300yen for original trouser hems).
  • Ginza Hands: Four floors in the newly opened Marrioner Gate building near Yurakucho station – the same Tokyu Hands we’re familiar with, but more high-end and Ginza-style. Not as a large range as the Shinjuku or Shibuya stores (where you’ll be able to get furniture as well), but a great setting to browse in.
  • BEAMS: A well-known boutique name that has a great selection (including the more stylish slim-fits) of business shirts on the second floor. On a side street off Chuo Dori.
  • Itoya: Stationery and accessories for every budget – I really like the leather goods (folios, notebooks, etc.) on the higher floors.
  • BIC Camera Yurakucho: Might be the biggest BIC Camera store in Tokyo, opposite the Yurakucho station.
  • Muji Yurakucho: I guess you’d have to call this the Ikea of Japan, this is the Tokyo flagship store – check out the display house on the first floor. There are branches at most major stations, and they’ve recently become more serious with their clothing range, including some nice pants and denim – the Yurakucho store will perform alterations for free or minimal cost, even on clothing purchased at other branches.
  • Marui Yurakucho: Opened recently, one of my favorite department stores – excellent selection of men’s clothing, both business and casual, though prepare to open your wallet. Great for just browsing as well – other big branches in Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro.
  • Maruzen: Bookstore with a nice foreign section at the top – Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station.


  • Odakyu: This department store at the west exit has an outdoor and sports clothes section next to and beneath Bic Camera, including Lacoste and Aigle – more importantly, its sales are more frequent than you might expect for a department store.
  • L-Breath: At the south exit, this outdoor store regularly has discounted items outside its entrance. Seven floors covering your every outdoor need, with a point card too. It has a great selection of Columbia (among other brands) clothing in Asian sizes. I got my Eagle Creek carry-on roller backpack here. Currently, they’re the only place I know of that carries the Montbell coin pouch I use (I can’t even find them at Montbell stores).
  • Eddie Bauer: On the southern terrace – the American outdoor clothing company in Asian sizes, functional, solid and stylish. Has a points card.
  • Kinokuniya: Nice foreign books section at the top.


  • United Arrows Blue Label: Stylish shirts on the Beauty and Youth label at this well-known Tokyo boutique, occasionally discounted. There are two Blue Label stores on either end of Meiji Dori.
  • Oshmans: an alternative to L-Breath (though with fewer sizing options) just across the road from the Omotesando exit. Carries a points card too.
  • AssistOn: design store at the west end of Meiji Dori, with an intriguing selection of items from all over.
  • Omotesando Hills: Not a store, but a complex containing several high-end stores which opened last year – the interesting feature about the building is that it’s designed in a helical shape; if you walk in a straight line, you will eventually hit every shop in the building, and finish at the top. I’ve eaten at two restaurants there, an organic and an Italian restaurant – both were excellent.
  • Uniqlo UT: Designer T-shirts, but being Uniqlo, on the cheap at 1500 yen each (compare that with Design T-shirts Graniph). They’ve also recently started branching into tracksuit jackets.


  • The Suit Company: There are a number of inexpensive suit store franchises in Tokyo (think 20,000 and 30,000 yen price ranges) with branches (and different stock) across the major stations – think Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro. This is my favorite, found in the basement of the 109 Part 2 building, just across the road from the station. They stock suits down to 160 cm (height – the others typically go down to 165), and have a great range of Japanese-sized casual and business shirts at 5,000 yen each. The points card is a barscan code you download onto your keitai, which is scanned at each purchase; if you don’t read Japanese, you may need the help of a store assistant to set this up.
  • Suit Select 21: Has the slimmest cuts of the suit stores I’ve been to, and I preferred their styling and range over the others – and so ended up getting my suits here. Also has a nice range of odd jackets and outerwear, and like the others, a points card.
  • Perfect Suit Factory: Another suit franchise, with some interesting pieces in their Collection range (less than 30,000 yen). I bought a shawl lapel one-button business suit – it seems to me the Shibuya store (in the Tokyu Plaza building, which is next to Mark City and opposite the south exit) stocks more of these types of pieces than other locations. A nice selection of inexpensive skinny ties.
  • Franc Franc: Furniture store, a little cheaper when compared to Bo-Concept – they carry some Mogu (or Mogu-styled) sofa cushions.
  • Gap: There’s also another big branch in Harajuku – Asian-friendly sizing, though designs tend to be more adventurous than the US store.
  • fcuk: Flagship store in the Cocoti building (the other one is in Omotesando). There are some nice jackets here, though clothes are styled to a more European sizing. Has a points card.
  • Tower Records: Very good classical selection, and a number of listening stations.
  • Book First: Another bookstore with a good foreign section.
  • Yamaha: The music store has a good selection of scores (the flagship store is in Ginza), the music school has a few soundproofed rooms with grand pianos you can rent for a very reasonable 750 yen per 30 minutes.

Factory Outlets

There are three factory outlets around Tokyo that are easily reachable via train. They tend to have roughly the same stores (with some notable exceptions), are styled after the factory outlet malls found in the US and elsewhere, and are perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday. Discounts vary, though be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

  • Yokohama Bayside Marina: My favorite – large number of stores, including Marui, Birkenstock, JCrew, Lacoste and Osh Kosh B’Gosh. Probably the most complicated to get to though, involving three train changes and a 5-10 minute walk.
  • Garden Walk: At Keihin Makuhari station from the JR Keiyo line. The smallest of the three.
  • Grandberry Mall: Also quite convenient, at Minami Machida on the Denentoshi line.