Tokyo Design Guide
illustration by julia rothman
(This guide was originally published on Design*Sponge on 10/21/2008. It was updated in 2010. Read it HERE)
My parents moved to Tokyo when I was 1 and I spent almost 18 years there before traveling to the States for college. Tokyo is my home and it’s a vibrant city where ancient and modern, liberal and conservative, and east and west collide. That’s right, east and west. Japanese culture has often been likened to a salad bar, in which, over the course of history, has had the luxury of picking and choosing aspects that they like from other cultures, effectively converting and incorporating them into their own. The Japanese aesthetic is a great example of this. And to understand it, all you have to do is look at the art and design that has come out of the country.
The following is a selection of shops, museums and architectural sites that have influenced me as an artist. It’s my pleasure to share them with you in this guide to design in Tokyo.
Google Map Link (Sorry, the map’s in Japanese but I’ve done my best to label shops and train stations in English )
Area: Kagurazaka (Iidabashi Station)
This is a paper factory turned flower shop. But don`t think it`s any old flower shop. The fashion-influenced owner creates stylistic flower arrangements that blend aesthetics from the east and the west.
3-4 Akagimotomachi, Shinjuku-ku
The building was built in the 1950s but the store showcases the work of Japan`s younger generation of ceramic artists. The odd mix of traditional Japanese ceramics and French antiques create a unique atmosphere.
3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
This is a great little shop that specializes in small accessories, tote bags, and leather goods. The modern-Japanese pieces are almost all the work of the owner.
6-58 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Architect: Makoto Watanabe Architects
2-1 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku
Come here for Kaiseki Ryori, the ultimate in traditional Japanese cuisine. 8-9 courses are prepared by the head chef, who changes the menu on a daily basis. But be prepared to pay between $100~$150.
3-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Originally a watering hole for the locals, this cafe was recently redesigned by artist Nagato Iwasaki, who substituted shelving with drift wood and stuck bamboo into concrete. Enjoy some homemade manju (Japanese bun filled with sweet bean) and tea as you take some weight of those legs.
5-20 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
This hotel is geared towards long-stay guests. Rooms are equipped with a refrigerator, kitchen, and washing machine. The location is ideally situated in a quiet part of the area but still within walking distance of all the shops and entertainment.
2-20-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Location: Shinjuku (Shinjuku Station)
This is possibly the equivalent of Crate & Barrel in Japan. And their flagship store right in the middle of Shinjuku is sure to satisfy all your design cravings.
3-1-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Nippon form has an extensive collection of furniture and home furnishings that I would characterize as “modern-traditional” Japanese.
Located in Park Tower between the 3rd and 8th floors.
3-7-1 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Beddings and home furnishings with a Scandinavian influence
3-20-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
This is a great little gallery that has operated in the same location for 15 years. They have an impressive roster of both overseas and domestic artists from Wolfgang Tillmans to Yuji Takeoka. “from/to,” a side project with up-and-coming Japaneses writers is also very interesting.
Sunview Heights Shinjuku 101-103
3-18-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
One of the first art galleries to emerge in this area, Mizuma Art Gallery boasts a fairly impressive roster of artists.
2F Kagura Bldg., 3-13 Ichigayatamachi Shinjuku-ku
An urban oasis “retail village” with a organic Italian restaurant to die for.
Yoyogi 1-28-9, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Location: Ebisu (Ebisu Station/ Hiro Station)
This is the first overseas shop of the France-based boutique shop of original art pieces. Prices are very reasonable, making this a great way to give your room an artsy touch!
1F Shiroganedaikowa-Bld, 2-9-6 Shiroganedai,
Minato-ku, Tokyo, 108-0071, Japan
Assemblage has lamp shades from Denmark, photo frames from France, hand soap from Sweden…I think you get my drift.
Moncheri Daikanyama 2nd floor
20-20 Daikanyama Cho, Shibuya-ku
Cocca is a great place to find original textiles, as well as lamp shades and other items that utilize their fantastic fabrics!
1-31-13 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku
A bookstore slightly off the beaten path. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Japanese. Cow Books has a great selection of art/picture books from the U.S. and abroad.
1-14-11 Aobadai, Meguro-ku
A great resource for natural furniture and small accessories, even plants. Perfect for adding a warm “organic” feel to your home. They also host a variety of artists and artisans so if you’re planning a trip be sure to check that out as well.
1-31-16 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku
Franc Franc has been a leader in providing good design at an affordable price. The flagship store just opened July 18, 2008. Dispersed across 4 large floors are everything from sofas and beds to lighting, bath goods, and stationary. Also keep your eye opened for numerous collaborative products between various companies.
JouLe SHIBUYA B1-3F
12-9 Utagawa Cho, Shibuya-ku
This is a must-see for anyone who loves good old traditional Japanese style; from Noguchi-esque lighting to custom designed ceramics and interiors. But be careful because they are only open from 1-6pm.
Mansion New Ebisu # 408
4-9-5 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
Pure and simple. That’s what this store is all about. With an emphasis on handmade designs, you’ll find everything from furniture to wooden and ceramic tableware.
4-19-21 Shirokanedai 2F, Minato-ku
I Find Everything is a carefully curated shop that walks a thin line between boutique and museum. Although the prices – also museum level – are not for the faint of heart (think $200 one-of-a-kind hats), the gorgeous interior and layout is worth it in itself.
#303 1-14-12 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya-ku
MANAS is your one-stop-shop for everything wallpaper. I enjoy coming here for inspiration, even if I’m not in the market to redecorate my walls.
Nakameguro Oak Bldg 4th Floor
1-26-9 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
A great collection of imported antique and new furniture and accessories. They also make awesome custom-made furniture.
1-9-7 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku
The furniture design company of influential furniture designer Eiri Iwakura.
4-7-2 Komaba, Meguro-ku
SHOP innovator&CASABLANCA focuses on simple Scandinavian style.
3-50-11 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku
WAAZWIZ has a really great line-up of acrylic-based products ranging from functional furniture to esoteric art pieces. I love their sculptural quality.
3-17-8 Aobadai, Meguro-ku
Come here for all your modern bedding and fabric product needs from tote bags to felt cushions.
SK Bldg. 1F
2-36-13 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
I love this store! They really have a knack for bringing to together original, as well as imported, furniture and home furnishings. I especially love their cushions!
Kosugi Bldg. 1st Floor
2-3-1 Aobadai, Meguro-ku
Aoyama Technical College
Architect: Makoto Watanabe
7-9 Uguisudani Cho, Shibuya-ku
The gallery space of artist Takashi Murakami and his many proteges.
2-3-30 Motoazabu, Minato-ku
A healthy representation of contemporary Japanese artists including painters, sculpters and photographers.
3-1-15 Shirogane, Minato-ku
An excellent little gallery with a roster of Japanese and international contemporary artists.
3-3-8 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
After closing it’s doors in mid-2007, the bookstore/cafe/art space reopened in July of 2008. It is now equipped with 5-floors of creative fun!
1-18-4 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
Spiral is a multi-purpose cultural center that hosts a variety of events from contemporary art and design exhibitions, to dance and theater performances, concerts, fashion shows, and eve parties. Something is guaranteed to be happening whenever you go!
5-6-23 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Cha no Ma
A very stylish cafe adorned with mid-century furniture and chandeliers. Their menu is quite tasty as well!
Kangyo Bldg 6th Fl
1-22-4 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
A new-concept retail village. Books, food, coffee, great design. Need I say more? Well, I did. Read the blog post HERE.
17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku
A restaurant specializing in “Genghis Kahn cuisine,” a Mongolian inspired Japanese lamb dish. With an interior designed by Ichiro Katami, your stomach and your eyes are guaranteed satisfaction.
1-11-6 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
Location: Omotesando (Omotesando Sta./ Gaien-Mae Sta.)
From tableware to stationary and small accessories, this store has everything that is fabulous. Be careful. I always spend too much money here.
3-7-10 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku
A treasure trove of imported and original small and enchanting things.
2-28-3 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku
I love this store. Just think of it as the equivalent of anthropologie. But they also have a great little cafe where you can rest in between your shopping.
CI Plaza 2nd Floor
2-3-1 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku
Offers a great line-up of prefab houses and designer kitchens. They recently completed a home in my neighborhood and I love walking by it! The furniture in their showroom is stunning.
2-3-23 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
If you are looking for high-quality wooden furniture, you’ll want to check out Kagura first!
5-9-5 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
If you favor modern designs in any way, SEMPRE will have something for you. They have original collections of furniture and home accessories, as well as some imports.
5-13-3 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
An interior design/coordination shop. I’ve often dropped in just for inspiration. They have the most amazing sample rooms!
5-12-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
An adorable little shop with antique-style lamps, coffee tables, mirrors, and anything else your antique heart desires.
2-3-11 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku
Beautifully crafted wood furniture and small home furnishings with a distinctly Japanese feel.
3-38-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
A fantastic stationary store stocked full of awesomely designed business cards, letters, and wedding invitations. And prices are surprisingly reasonable!
4-5-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
This is a great little shop that specializes in natural wood furniture. But I especially like their small goodies like wooden cube lamps, bookends and plates.
5-48-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Architect: Tadao Ando
6-1-3 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Architect: SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima / Ryue Nishizawa)
5-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Louis Vuitton Omotesando
Architect: Jun Aoki
5-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Prada Boutique Aoyama
Architect : Herzog&de Meuron
5-2-6 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Watari-Um Art Museum
Architect: Mario Botta
3-7-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Established in 2000, Lotus was responsible for igniting a wave of cafes (later know as the ‘cafe boom’) that popped up in Tokyo in the years to come. Designed by Ichiro Katami.
4-6-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Opening in 2002, montauk was born as an antithesis to the branding of the famous Omotesando street. It was designed by Ichiro Katami.
6-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
In the city with kids? Head here for a chance to relax, take in some good design, and not worry about the little ones acting up. Designed by Nendo, the space features oversized, distorted furniture and furnishings.
4-5-12 B1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Location: Meguro (Gakugeidaigaku Station)
One of my all-time favs, Baden Baden features work by undiscovered Japanese designers…and there is some really beautiful stuff in their shop!
2-31-7 Chuocho, Meguro-ku
Used furniture and accessories shop.
5-18-20 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
Encompassing an entire building, GEOGRAPHICA is a treasure trove of used antiques from the late 1800s and early 1900s. They also have a media library and restaurant, which means you could spend hours there!
1-25-20 Nakamachi, Meguro-ku
I really admire this shop for their diverse collection of items, from furniture to tea cups and face wipes, that you just don’t find in other stores. They also host artist exhibitions!
4-11-4 Meguro, Meguro-ku
Retailer of classic modernist furniture.
1-1-3 Takaban, Meguro-ku
This shop gets its name from their eclectic selection of furniture, fabrics, and lighting.
1-17-9 Chuocho, Meguro-ku
Custom and ready-made warm wooden furniture with a modern, minimal twist.
4-10-30 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
A boutique hotel that went under the knife and emerged with a brand new look, which is fantastic if I might add, earlier this year. Rates range from about $120 to $900/night. They also have good deals for weekly residences.
1-3-18 Chuocho, Meguro-ku
Location: Roppongi (Roppongi Station)
Gallery Yume no Katachi
A gallery devoted strictly to the life and works of Shiro Kuramata, one of the most important and influential Japanese industrial designers.
1-8-4 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku
Situated at the top of the 54-story Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum, with no permanent collection of its own, hosts exhibitions devoted to contemporary Asian art and international exhibitions. The view alone is worth it!
6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Designed by Japan’s star-architect Kisho Kurokawa, this is the largest museum in the country. Make sure you eat at Salon de The Rond, which sits atop a gigantic rotunda.
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku