I’ve been to Japan annually four times in the last four years and every time I go I spend the majority (or all) of my time in Tokyo. Although I’m there not exclusively for shopping, I do spend quite a bit of time (and money) on “hauls” to bring back to Canada in my luggage. Every year I go tends to be different than the last. This is due to the discovery of new shops, spending more time scouring shops in different areas, or because some of the shops from the previous year are gone entirely. However, if you know what you’re shopping for, you just need to know the general area to get it. The shops may have changed, but the type of goods you can find in each area tends to stay the same.
Where to shop in Tokyo
I suppose I don’t even need to tell any of you that Akihabara is a prime source for finding what you’re looking for. However, it isn’t the cheapest or the only place you’ll find things. Recently, Nakano Broadway (north of Shinjuku) has become a “mini-Akihabara” in itself. I’ll go into more details later. The third place for otaku shopping would certainly be Maiden’s Road in Ikebukuro (south of Sunshine City).
That sums up the big areas. Akihabara, Nakano, Ikebukuro
The biggest tip I can give right now is to *avoid* big-name chain stores unless they have a sale going on. Unless there’s a sale, big stores (Animate, Gamers, Comic Toranoama, Kotobukiya) will always sell at recommended retail price. The *smaller* stores I’ve found things to generally be up to 20% cheaper. This doesn’t apply to character goods, however. You can usually only buy character goods (mugs, pins, keychains, t-shirts, etc…) at these big stores, so spend all you want on those.
The exception to avoiding expensive items would be if you can find a buy-back store or a personal showcase store where someone is actually selling something rare you’ve been trying to get your hands on. Akihabara has a Mandarake (buy-back chain) as well as a few great showcases inside and around Kotobukiya’s building near Akihabara station. Showcase stores are essentially a bunch of glass cubes purchased by sellers to house their merchandise they’re trying to sell – there might be hundreds in one store. They price it at whatever they want but tend to want to compete with one another. I’ve found some really rare items in these places, but they tend to be on the more expensive side. Nakano Broadway as well has a plethora of Mandarake stores (I think about 3 of them are actually labeled “Mandarake” but the whole place kind of has used / older goods). Although what you’re looking for might be expensive, it’s likely the *only* way to get what you want without shopping online. Even then, shopping online will be more expensive after calculating the shipping and exchange rates.
Know what you want
If you’re reading this guide to try and find the best place to get something specific, I’ll try and cut to the chase. It’s important to know beforehand what you actually want to be buying because each district is kind of better for some things than others.
Akihabara is absolutely the best place to get games, cards, DVDs, and electronics. It’s also a pretty good source for second-hand goods, Touhou goods, and private showcases (resellers). Akihabara basically starts at Akihabara Station and extends out towards what I call “the main drag” all the way to the next Tokyo Metro station (Suehirocho). Across the main drag from the station are the “back streets” – 2 streets running parallel to the main drag all the way up. It technically has *everything* you’re likely looking for, but not the best prices. You may resort to buying figures here if you cannot find them anywhere else. It technically has the biggest selection of figures available but in many places you’ll find the same things at relatively the same prices – often not the cheapest.
Ikebukuro, in addition to having a Comic Toranoama in Sunshine City, also has an Animate on Maiden’s Road (otome road). Maiden’s Road is situated a few blocks south of Ikebukuro Station – If you can find Sunshine City, pass through it and cross the big street (under a highway) and you’ll be behind it. It’s called Maiden’s Road for the reason that you’ll *mostly* find girls shopping here after school for BL (boy love) and other “cute guy”-related goods. It’s the best place to find books, manga, and doujinshi (BL or not). A few stores here sell second-hand merchandise as well. There are at least two “upstairs” shops that have quite a few second-hand figures and other hard-to-find goods.
Nakano Broadway has become my favourite place to shop after the huge success I had in finding what I wanted (at good prices) during my last trip. I like to compare it to an otaku flea market. You can find it by taking the Tozai line to Nakano and taking the north exit into a large covered arcade mall. At the end of the mall is the entrance to Nakano Broadway. This is the best place to find figures, random box toys (out of box or in box), console games, foreign rarities (US releases), and *maybe* doujinshi. The layout of the place is 3 floors and a basement with the 2nd and 3rd floors being littered with stores selling second-hand goods or new-release merchandise at extremely decent prices (The first floor I disregard and the basement is the food floor). Above, I mentioned smaller stores often selling things 20% below retail price, Nakano Broadway is exclusively small stores and therefore consistently cheap.
The best of the best
I’ll try my best to give the best location (from memory here) to get exactly the type of goods you’re looking for.
Electronics: For new products I recommend Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara. It has its own exit from Akihabara station and is essentially a really big Best Buy combined with a Sears and has everything those two stores would have plus more. It’s 8F high and even has a book and CD floor and food floor on the top.
New Figures: Hit a big retail store if you want something literally the day and hour it comes out (only if you expect the item to sell out immediately). If you can wait a day to pick something up from a large release, there are a few small figure stores in the back streets of Akihabara. Look for narrow staircases leading up to the 2F that indicate there is a figure store up there. I’ve provided a picture below of one of them. Nakano Broadway, however, is actually the best place to find stuff the next day for 20% less than retail price.
Old Figures (3 months old or more): Did you miss out on a Nendoroid or a PVC you really liked because it was sold out or you couldn’t afford it at the time? There are places you can find that stuff (if you’re willing to pay above retail). I would hit up the buy-back store at the end of the main drag of Akihabara. It’s on the same side of the street as Animate and right outside of Suehirocho station. Another option is Mandarake 8F in Akihabara. There’s another Mandarake in Nakano Broadway which has a great figure selection (Nendoroids, figmas, One Piece POPs, PVC, crane prize, and random box toys) hidden at the end of a hallway on the 2nd floor. If you can’t find what you’re looking for yet, check out the Mandarake in Shibuya. It’s a single floor situated in a dungeon (B4). I can’t exactly give you directions to it but if you know where Shibuya 109 is, just head up the street more and look for a “Book Off” off to the right in a small street – it’s very close to that. I've included a picture of the epic cave-like descent into it:
Small Toys: If you like crane prizes or random box toys (Nendoroid-petit), there’s a lot of stores which will sell opened boxes so you can get exactly the character / toy you’re looking for. There’s no single location which is best, but I’d say if you take your time to look around Nakano Broadway you’ll find what you want. A few stores there sell ONLY this kind of thing. If you’re in Akihabara, the floors above Kotobukiya have a few shops which sell these.
Character Goods: My girlfriend likes to call this kind of stuff “useless” and for the most part it is. If you want keychains, pens, bags, towels, t-shirts, or mugs (etc…) with your favourite characters on it, hit up Gamers, Animate, and Comic Toranoama. This is the only place you can get this stuff. They have it all sectioned off by series (and only the popular series get goods) for easy browsing.
Books and Manga: The absolute best place for these is the line of K-Books shops in Ikebukuro, Maiden’s Road. There are 4 of them in total and there’s a nice handy map in the middle of the street telling you which store has what. It’s not all BL.
Doujinshi: There’s quite a bit in Ikebukuro, but that’s not the best place. Akihabara has a few well-known shops for doujinshi including Melon Books and Comic Toranoama. If you’ve ever seen a picture on a website of a big stack of new-release doujinshi on a green platform, it’s almost certainly Melon Books. It’s a little hard to find, even if you know where it is. Look for the “Hey” arcade (orange sign), somewhere across the main drag from Akihabara station, then go inside the arcade and take the basement stairs in the back. Sketchy, I know.
DVD and CD: If you want to do both of these at once, check out Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara. There’s a CD + DVD store on the 5F as well as one on the 7F. You may stumble upon an HMV in some districts as well.
PC Games: Akihabara again! If you roam the back-streets you’ll see signs almost every block directing you to a “PC Games” store. This is generally everything from ero-games to RPGs.
Console Games: You don’t need to go very far at all to find these. Hit Akihabara and walk around for a bit, you’ll find everything you’re looking for. If you want a specific name, try Mandarake in Akihabara – it’s a good place for used games.
Cards: I don’t have a whole lot of interest in cards but you’ll find the odd shop around Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. I can say that the 7F building near Akihabara (Kotobukiya being the bottom floor) has a few card shops in it – most of them seem to have quite a selection.
Net Goods: What I mean by this is “goods related to 2chan, Japanese internet memes, and Nico Nico Douga” – The best place (and maybe only place) would be back-street Akihabara. There’s an Animation Studio Maid Café on a 2F building – it’s really easy to spot because there’s a maid mannequin on the balcony and usually lots of maids standing on the corner advertising their café. If you can find that, look for a small staircase leading into a basement – you’ll spot Pedobear on the way down. There’s a lot of Touhou stuff here as well. You’ll find a *few* shops like this in the back streets as well: Touhou and/or net goods.
Foreign Goods: Just like how we (North America) import Japanese goods, Japan tends to import from us as well. You’ll find a few shops carrying goods that you’d have to hunt hard at flea markets to find. I’m talking about Hollywood movie and TV show merchandise…from the 90’s! There’s a few places in Akihabara and one *really good* one in Nakano Broadway. There’s a buy-back store (I mentioned it in the figures section) at the end of the main drag in Akihabara near Suehirocho station which has US Toys (Look for stores with this designation) on one of the higher floors. Next to this shop is a place called “Toys Golden Age” which has quite a bit as well. My friend got a DBZ scouter in there. If you head over to Nakano Broadway, on the 3rd floor there is a really good store selling used and rare US Toys (large scale items too).
Cosplay: Don't buy cosplay in Japan, period. The exception to this might be accessories or wigs. The cosplay shops I've seen in Akihabara, Nakano, and Ikebukuro all sell the same outfits for 3 times the price that I've seen them go for on eBay. Trust me, there's no difference in quality. The best selection of wigs I have seen is at Nakano Broadway - you'll pay about what you'll pay on eBay.
That about sums it up I would think. I hope it's been informative to anyone planning to visit Tokyo soon! Please contact me or leave a comment (don't forget to subscribe to comments) if you have any questions.