Japan is a country of abundant natural beauty and endless scenic vistas. Yet trapped between the towering buildings and noisy train tracks of Tokyo, it’s easy to forget the lush rice fields and verdant forests that make up the majority of the country and instead wonder at just how so much is crammed into such a small space. Capsule hotels, standing-only bars, and corner ramen stands make efficient use of every precious inch of land, and of course, Tokyo’s clothing stores are no different. While Tokyo is home to behemoth multilevel stores, smaller boutiques make do with space no bigger than a small living room.
These micro-boutiques don’t exist solely due to lack of physical space, however. In a society where everyone wears an identical dark suit for the majority of the work week, there’s only so many hours left to express individuality and creativity. Despite what the sea of uniformity on a Monday morning commuter train may suggest, Tokyo is a city made up of dynamic individuals, all with unique tastes and interests. If you have a style, chances are there’s a (tiny) store somewhere, just for you.
Here are four stores a bit bigger than their physical footprint may suggest.
Carrefour is about the size of a walk-in closet, making the amount of personality and character packed into the store even more impressive. Tucked away in the residential neighborhood of Jiyugaoka, Carrefour curates an eclectic mix of foreign and domestic brands. Unencumbered by thoughts of how many thumbs their outfits may garner, many Japanese consumers will simply wear what they like, regardless of context, a mentality reflected in Carrefour’s stock. Label Under Construction and m.a+ sit snugly next to Stephan Schneider and Acne. Set your bags down on the narrow bench dividing the store and work your way through the racks - it won’t take longer than going through your own closet.
Check out: Taichi Murakami, former patternmaker at m.a+, creates what is best described as artisanal sportswear - mountain parkas, zip-up hoodies, and bomber jackets in luxurious fabrics cut with anatomical patterns. Perfect for outdoor expeditions that never leave the city.
Open 11:30 AM - 9:00 PM every day
Closest to Jiyugaoka Station
Carrefour's modest storefront
A three-inch strip of fabric wrapped tightly around the neck is just about the only medium for Japanese businessmen to express themselves during the work-week - and believe me, they take advantage of it. While they may wear the same black suit day-in, day-out, the average Japanese man has a plethora of neckties selected to his individual taste, and there are an equal number of necktie speciality shops located throughout the city. Ginza Taya, established in 1905, is the mother of them all, and produces a range of traditional and modern neckties utilizing fabric woven on traditional jacquard looms in northern Japan and finished by hand in Tokyo. The designs range from tasteful stripes to the horrible tennis racket tie my boss wore when he really wanted to share his interest in Wimbledon.
Check out: There’s a couple of shirts in the store as well, but you’re here for the neckties, right? Nothing says “I went to Japan and bought a necktie” than a tie with 12 unique views of Mt. Fuji.
Open 10:00 AM - 7:30 PM every day
Closest to Ginza Station
One of Ginza's many offerings
Do you like the color black? Or at least dark gray? Gullam might be the place for you. In a bright, vibrant metropolis like Tokyo, muted clothing doesn’t feel like anonymizing camouflage, but rather a contrast to the neon lights of the city. It feels liberating to wear black, the unofficial uniform color of the white-collar worker, in a way that subverts the norm with architectural asymmetry or playful proportions. Gullam’s clothing may be dark, but the store itself is friendly and approachable, staffed almost entirely by its buyer/owner, who simply wanted to share his interest in avant-garde clothing with a wider audience.
Check out: nude:mm, the work of Masahiko Murayama, celebrates the endless diversity of black clothing. The “nude” moniker highlights the comfort and wearability of the brand - cozy yet sharp.
Open 1:30 PM - 8:00 PM (from 1:00 PM on Sundays), closed Wednesdays
Closest to Shibuya and Daikanyama Stations
The cozy interior at Gullam
Denim. Stacks and stacks of denim. Turn around. More denim, and maybe a work shirt. Bears’ somehow manages to fit almost every brand and style of vintage-inspired denim into a space that begins to feel cramped with more than two visitors in the store. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “raw denim is so 2009.” Well, I’m happy to report that denim is still alive and kicking in Japan - even my next door neighbor, a decidedly uncool dad, can be spotted with cuffed selvedge jeans on the weekends. While not completely insulated to trends, Japanese consumers tend to strike their own path through the fashion world. The guys wearing raw denim ten years ago? Still doing so, just with much cooler fades now.
Check out: In addition to, y’know, denim for wearing, Bears’ also has a full range of denim accessories. From denim bookmarks to denim tissue-box covers to a teddy-bear sewn from, you guessed it, denim, nothing escapes indigo stains.
Open 12:00 noon - 9:00 PM every day
Closest to Shimokitazawa Station
Shelves of denim at Bears'
These are just four examples of the myriad of stores catering to every taste and fancy. There are no WAYWT threads on Japanese fashion boards - style is still intensely personal, and a large part of that personal style is driven by the downright coolness present on every street corner. No need to check the internet when you can walk out your door and be exposed to the latest and greatest, made possible by Tokyo’s tiny closets of cool.