Uguisu: The Little Shoppe

I visited Hiki’s new-ish store, Uguisu, after putting it off for ages. Why put it off? Who knows – turns out it was an easy walk from where I used to do some part time work. But I happened to be in Roppongi on Sunday to have lunch with a friend, so I said, hey, there’s this adorable shop I’ve been meaning to go to, let’s go.

I tried to take some pictures, but in the end Hiki’s are a million times better than any I could take.

uguisu1

Image Credit: Hiki

As with most zakka (home goods) and select shops, I pretty much wanted to buy one of everything. Hiki even has handmade bowties. Bowties! As every Who fan knows, bowties are cool.

For now though I resigned myself to just buying a card. It’ll join my wall gallery.

I had to admire Hiki’s attention to detail – not only are the products beautifully selected, her shop card, her packaging, and even her receipt are adorable and immaculate.

If you’re in the neighborhood Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, Uguisu is a hidden gem well worth the visit.

Ura-Harajuku

One of my favorite places in Tokyo is “Ura-Harajuku,” or “the back of Harajuku.” Harajuku is the famed fashion district, composed of a small number of streets crammed with a large number of shops – and even larger numbers of people – selling cool, cheap fashion. Harajuku’s all well and good, I like it okay, and if I can go on a weekday when the crowds won’t sweep me off against my will, I’ll swing through. But I’m a much bigger fan of Ura-Harajuku, the winding back streets that hold all sorts of treasures without half the people.

Dragging my friend Eric along, our first stop was the converted apartment building that now serves as a three-story short-term-rental art space. I can never remember it’s name, but if you stumble on it you can’t miss the big yellow brick of a thing. Since neither of us remember exactly where it was (“Over… that way… ish.”) our meandering walk took us past the little cafe you see above.

It’s a treehouse.

Eric: I thought this was a unicorn!

Me: …what?

Eric: You know, something people say they saw but that doesn’t actually exist.

But no, it’s true, there is a cafe with a tree going through it. We didn’t go in, but next time!

In late February, the gallery space was at about 2/3 capacity, and the only people around seemed to be the handful who’d rented out the space. Even then a few gallery/shop spaces were totally empty, and I had to just leave my money behind when I wanted to buy a postcard.

After poking through the gallery – where Eric was pounced by some photographers to fill out a survey, and I was not (“It’s because you’re Asian, they think you speak Japanese.” “That’s racist!”) – we spent the next hour or two just meandering through the back streets. Ura-Harajuku is a weird little part of town, compared to the rest of Tokyo. Most of the buildings are pretty squat and short, and the architecture isn’t what you typically see in Japan. There were a lot of more Western-style buildings, as well as some just sort of quirky looking ones. Presumably the sky high property values mean that anyone building in Harajuku is willing to drop money on building precisely what they want, and what they want tends to be outside the norm.

As you can see in the top center photo, there’s also a mysterious place in Ura-Harajuku called “The Spiritualism Sanctuary.” There were all sorts of signs outside the locked, camera-monitored gates admonishing people not to take photos or stroll on in. So of course I snapped a photo, and immediately a voice came over the intercomm shouting “No photos please!” I jumped, Eric laughed, and we scurried off before men in white coats came out to tell us all about their cult, if only we’d come this way and sip this funny smelling drink… But seriously, what is this place? Even the internet doesn’t know, which in this day and age is just damn strange.

But aside from that little hiccup, Ura-Harajuku is a sanctuary of quirky (and/or fabulously large and luxurious) housing, cute cafes, and artsy little clothing, stationary, and life goods shops. There’s a lot of thought and care put into the presentation of all the spaces, and though our poor student selves wouldn’t necessarily venture into Ura-Harajuku for shopping any more than we would its luxury brand neighbor Omotesando, it is always a treat to just look. I find something new every time I go.

Shimokitazawa with Joy Li

Shimokitazawa is a cute little neighborhood west of Tokyo known for fashionable secondhand shops, restaurants, and cafes. I’d heard good things, but I’d never made it out there because insert excuse here. But when my friend Joy Li, the awesomely creative mind behind Studio Joy Li, made a surprise visit to Tokyo and wanted to go, well, it was time!

After a minor train accident–we missed our stop, and were of course on an express train, so ten minutes later when we finally got to the next stop…– we arrived and had lunch at the Rainbow Kitchen, a veg-friendly cafe that Joy had read about in the Sunday NYT. She’d clipped out the article, which had reviews of a few restaurants in the area. We were looking at it at our table when the server came by, and she recognized her restaurant and the staff person in the photo! Asking to borrow it, she went back and showed everyone in the kitchen, the returned, refusing to take the original when we offered it because she’d already made a copy. We had fun telling her she was famous in America now that they’d made the NYT. They had no idea a reporter had even been in there, let alone written an article about them.

Afterwards we walked around and shopped, naturally, and caught up. It’s been years since I’ve seen Joy, and she’s always a blast to talk to. At the end of the evening we went on a grand quest for another of the restaurants in the article (which, of course, had no addresses, just walking directions that were sometimes easy, sometimes not so easy to follow), an Indian place. We never did find it, after multiple loops through the darkening streets of Shimokitazawa, but finally we came across a different Indian place and decided it’d to. It was small, quiet, and delicious, though I was a little over-optimistic about how much spicy I could handle in my curry. I spent the rest of the evening eating very, very slowly.

On our way out, Joy paid for dinner with a 2000 yen bill– and was surprised when both the restaurant proprietor and I were amazed and started taking pictures of it! I had no idea 2000 yen bills existed. Well, now an Indian restaurant in Shimokitazawa is the proud owner of one.

Shimokitazawa is definitely worth a visit for foodlovers and fashionistas. It felt less picked over than Harajuku, and on a Saturday afternoon it wasn’t nearly as crowded as other hot spots inside the Tokyo circle. I’ll be back again for sure. It’s a nice way to spend a day.

Uniqlo Ginza Flagship Store

Uniqlo, one of my favorite clothing brands, opened a new “Global Flagship Store” in Ginza a week or two ago. I went opening hour, opening day… but clearly I underestimated the kind of crowd that could form at 10am on a weekday in Tokyo. The line was around the block, being kept in order by police officers and very unruffled store staff with megaphones and signs. I snapped some photos and left.

A week later I came back, and though the store itself was still packed, and there were still impressively unruffled store staff guiding traffic up and down the escalators, there was no wait outside and my friend and I actually got some shopping done.

The Ginza store is twelve stories tall, which is epically large for any single store in Tokyo (or, at least in my experience, anywhere). It’s really well designed and laid out and includes a “UT” floor (Uniqlo’s brand of graphic t-shirts) that’s similar to the UT floor in the Harajuku store, though the shirts are just folded normally rather than being in little pneumatic tube cases. There was also a “Uniqlo Undercover” floor, which I imagine will rotate and change names depending on what Uniqlo’s special line of the season is. The very top floor is dedicated to whatever’s on special at the moment. The items on special are also scattered throughout their appropriate sections of the store (for example, if women’s t-shirts are on special, they’ll be on the top floor and in the women’s casual floor), but given the size of the place it’s a nice, efficient way to find that thing you heard was on sale.

Overall though I wasn’t blown away by the flagship store. It’s nice, it’s got a lot of stuff, but in a way the size and popularity of it is to the store’s detriment. I have a Uniqlo store near where I live and where I do an internship, and both stores had more stock of popular sizes, colors, and styles than the flagship store. I mean, duh – any store that attracts lots of attention is going to have lots of stock outs – but it means the flagship store probably isn’t the best place to go if you want a specific item, versus you just want to browse.

What the store did have going for it were the copious displays of “looks” – mannequins wearing full outfits of all Uniqlo products, stationed near where you could pick those products up for yourself. Uniqlo has a long history as a basics store, so the full displays of fashionable outfits may help it boost its image a bit as both a place to shop for both functional and fashion-forward things. Not to mention help people like me who like that t-shirt but have nooo idea what it would go with, etc…

I think it’s pretty cool overall, and Uniqlo has clearly invested a lot of time and effort in making it well laid out, designed, and organized.

Sunshine

*These are all ID wallets/coin purses. The bears and chocolate bars had a clear card slot on the back so you could put in your school ID, train pass, etc. They’ll clip to your bag so you can have them hang on the outside for easy access.

I took a walk to Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City (essentially, a mall) on Saturday. It was a beautiful, crisp autumn day, and Sunshine City was the right ratio of busy-but-not-packed that I had a pleasant time wandering and looking at cute things. Some of the cute things included the following:

Also:

Soy smoothie! My prayers have been answered! I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t get one, but damn if I won’t be back.