09 Apr Tokyo, Japan: Art, Books, Culture, & Coffee
True story: I was initially planning to write an “Art and Stationery Shopping in Tokyo” roundup for the blog, but instead, as I browsed for photos to include in this post, I found myself having more on my list that I wanted to share. I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve been to Tokyo, but every time I visit, I always discover new places to check out.
If you’ve been following my blog for a long time, you might have encountered my Art Hoarding in Tokyo post a few years back. Now that I’ve explored more places in the same city, thought I’d share some of my recent discoveries in case you’re planning to visit this place soon.
ART MATERIALS & BOOKS
Nearest station: Shinjuku
My go-to art store in Tokyo. If you’re looking for the full selection of art materials in Japan, this is the place to be. A full floor dedicated to paper and another dedicated to paint? Yes please! Not to mention the very tempting GF full of washi tapes, postcards, and stationery.
(My haul this 2018: a few brushes and this Acryla Gouache Mixing Colors set for only 1500JPY. Good buy!)
Nearest station: Ginza
For all things paper, Itoya is your best bet. I always drop by here after shopping at GU and Uniqlo nearby (same street) and it’s amazing to see the different display of tools and stationery available (in twelve floors!).
The best floor for me is the “Fine Paper” floor where your OC self will probably be satisfied—rows of paper samples organized by color scheme! You take a sample and purchase it based on what you need (or want? lol). Different sizes are available for purchase at the Fine Paper floor, so choose wisely.
Pro tip: the back of Itoya is an art store called G.Itoya which houses six floors of art materials, pens, and paint. So if you want to do art & stationery shopping in just one area, I recommended going to Ginza. Plus, the whole stretch is filled with designer brands—in case you’re looking into doing some shopping as well.
Daikanyama T-Site (Tsutaya Books)
Nearest station: Daikanyama
Two words: book heaven! Most bookstores in Japan don’t carry a lot of English titles, so T-site is like Disneyland to me—I spend hours browsing through books and magazines (love the selection here!) before deciding which new book to take home. This is also where I get rare titles that don’t make its way to Manila or Singapore.
Plus points for the beautiful architecture and very IG-worthy restroom at the second floor. You’re welcome.
Also, if you feel like introverting before or after book shopping, there’s a FamilyMart inside T-site for your snacking fix.
Nearest station: Shinjuku (English books on 7F)
Shinjuku is relatively a big ward, and you’ll find this Kinokuniya branch situated in front of Uniqlo & BIC camera. The books here are a lot, but you’ll only find English titles on the 7F (aka where I shop mostly). There is a good selection of art & design books (but there’s more at T-site), as well as instructional drawing books (of course, I got one) and stationery.
Nearest station: Jimbocho
Not really a bookstore per se, but I got to explore this pretty quiet neighborhood with my cousin and fellow artist Val, who’s heard good things about the place. When you get out of Jimbocho station, you’ll find bookstores selling old and used Japanese/Chinese books, as well as a selection of small-scale school supplies stores. This area is where most businessmen reside so it wasn’t as touristy—something you can check out on your next visit to Tokyo.
Also: there’s a paper shop nearby (forgot the name!) and a coffee shop called Glitch (they have the best drip coffee!). Don’t forget to check out those too.
STATIONERY & LIFESTYLE GOODS
Nearest station: Shinjuku or Shibuya (both big branches)
This place—I always keep coming back! Containing a hodge podge of stationery, beauty and lifestyle goods, you’ll never get out empty-handed here (unless your self-control levels are strong). I’ve been to both Shinjuku and Shibuya branches and they have a complete selection of things you might need: travel goods, bags, kitchenware, homeware, stationery, makeup and skincare, art materials, etc. Oh also, I visited the Shinjuku branch recently and they had a science section. So cool!
*To add: I also regularly go to Daiso and Seria (both 100YEN stores) for cheaper but equally cute stationery and Don Quijote (THIS!) for snacks, gifts, skincare, and makeup.
Nearest station: Nakameguro (main) / Tokyo (inside the station) / Narita Express (Terminal 1)
This is basically me in store form. I’ve concluded that the minute I stepped in the Narita branch in Terminal 1, but I’ve justified it more when I finally got to check out the flagship store in Nakameguro. It’s tucked in a residential neighborhood but you cannot miss that tiny journal icon and “Traveler’s Factory” sign if you’re a stationery fan like me. Two floors of journals, notebooks, travel goods and ephemera—it’s the best kind of retail therapy! There are also limited edition journals that you’ll only find in Japan, such as their colored journal refills (which I got in all colors: teal, red, and yellow) and Japan-themed covers.
Plus: If you’re short on time and looking to just visit one branch, I recommend the Tokyo station branch (at least while commuting) or Narita airport branch (just come to the airport earlier than your flight). Each location houses limited edition merchandise though, so it’s best to go to all if you want to check them out. I got myself lots of baggage stickers which were only available at the Narita branch. So, my tip? Go to all. LOL.
Nearest station: Shibuya
I always say LoFT reminds me very much of Tokyu Hands, but who am I kidding? If you’re looking into getting a Hobonichi, LoFT has a complete selection of diaries and covers for you to choose from. Apart from the coveted B1F (where I spend at least two hours browsing), the remaining floors have a variety of things that you can check out too. There’s a secret (not so secret, but kinda hidden if you don’t walk past that area) door leading to a huge MUJI branch in the same building, so don’t miss that! I’m going to go ahead and say the food selection is huge (I love their brewed corn tea)!
Story time: I dropped by a LAMY exhibit (more on that below) and went straight to LoFT to get myself a LAMY fountain pen that same day. Had it tax refunded (lol) and wrapped beautifully in a gift box (for free!). The Japanese take their gifting seriously, you guys. It’s so pretty, I haven’t opened it yet as of this writing.
Nearest station: Shibuya
I first saw niko and… inside Parco mall. Getting to visit the flagship store in Shibuya was another story; I was ooooh-ing and aaah-ing the whole time. Specializing in lifestyle goods (aka nice things you can add to your workspace or room!) and clothing (very Uniqlo-style), niko and… is pretty famous for its branding, as well as its coffee (there’s a cafe inside the store). And yes, there’s really an ellipsis (…) on its brand name. Talk about #branding.
COFFEE & TEA
Nearest station: Shibuya
In the middle of busy Shibuya is a tiny coffee shop called About Life. There are no seats, just a bench beside the order counter, and they serve some of the best drip coffees I’ve had in my life. Simple as that. Something you can order to-go or to enjoy for a good few minutes before going back to the hustle and bustle of this neighborhood.
Nearest station: Nakameguro
A few meters away from Traveler’s Factory is Onibus Coffee, a quaint cafe with its second floor overlooking the train station. There are some magazines for reading, and it’s a relatively quiet place if you want to camp out in the morning before starting your day. I would have stayed longer but that day, we went to three (or four?) coffee shops, so we stopped by to order and drink before doing our shopping at Traveler’s Factory.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Nearest station: Roppongi / Shinjuku (several branches around Japan)
Fun fact: Blue Bottle is actually from USA! But their coffee brewing style is very Japanese, not Italian—a bit on the lighter side. Went to the Minato branch before museum hopping, and it was very quiet and peaceful in the midst of an urban setting (at this point, you probably understand that I am an introvert and I like my me-time). Also, love their branding forever. There’s a busier branch in Shinjuku (inside the station—NeWoman mall) if you’re looking to buy merch as well.
Also: There are lots of room for seats in Japan vs in NY! In NY, Blue Bottle branches are small (well, at least the one I visited near Chelsea Market) and mostly meant for takeaway orders.
Nana’s Green Tea
Nearest station: Ueno / Urawa
Kaila introduced me to this place on my visit to Tokyo in 2015. It’s such an introvert-friendly spot: think solo booths, outlets, quiet ambiance, and good food. Apart from their famous matcha parfaits, they serve hearty meals in sets, so you can have your matcha fix too. So good. I always go here after a long day of exploring, and do some writing. The more commercialized one is in Ueno inside a mall, near the shopping area.
Plus: Vendo machines and konbini stores (convenience stores) in Japan all have bottled coffee available, so you’ll always be able to get your coffee fix whenever, wherever. The brewed coffee at FamiMa, 7-eleven and Lawson are all good.
MUSEUMS & PARKS
The National Art Center
Nearest station: Roppongi
On my visit to Tokyo in 2017, my friend (and fellow Yayoi Kusama fan—she is the bigger fan, tbh) Koko and I went to the Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul exhibit in The National Art Center. It was my first time there and of course, I loved the architecture! The place was packed (also, 40 minutes waiting time at the souvenir shop…go figure) and the exhibit was so crowded, but it was worth it. All for Yayoi! Do check out the ongoing exhibitions and shows here in case you visit Tokyo. Who knows…your favorite artist might have one.
Plus: This is near Snoopy Museum and Shake Shack! Make your way there if you’ve got a lot of time to explore this neighborhood.
21_21 Design Sight
Nearest station: Roppongi
Dropped by an exhibit here featuring LAMY’s brand history and a special collection of works by one of my favorite illustrators, Christoph Niemann (no photos allowed though). The location is not far from the Roppongi station—it’s beside Oakwood hotel, and there were a lot of directional signages leading to the place.
But what impressed me more was the small park in front of 21_21 Design Sight. Rows of sakura trees in full bloom, as well as benches where you can sit and write, and maybe have lunch? I spent a good few hours introverting before heading back to the Snoopy museum to fetch my mom and siblings. It was the best!
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Nearest station: Ueno
On my fall visit to Tokyo (for work), I was lucky enough to catch the Van Gogh x Japan exhibit at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. I LOVE Van Gogh and I had goosebumps the minute I entered the exhibit hall and saw his self-portrait painting staring at me. No photos allowed inside but I’m going to go ahead and say that it was the best experience seeing his work in real life.
The museum is located inside Ueno Park, so if you’re an animal-lover, you can check out Ueno Zoo on the same area. A short walk from Ueno station, too.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Nearest station: Shinjuku
I’ve been here twice, and I enjoyed my first visit more because it wasn’t as crowded, and I had time to sit and draw and basically just spend quality time alone. Every year, sakura blossoms here are what people flock for, and you can definitely understand why when you enter the park premises—rows or sakura trees lined up on all areas, ample space for hanami (picnic) under the trees, and strategically situated in the middle of Shinjuku.
Pro tip: Maybe go here a little early to get a good spot. Or take a sidetrip first to Sekaido or Tokyu Hands (both in the same area!) before or after staying at the park.
Other parks to check out in Tokyo: Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park (both free entrance; Shinjukugyoen requires a park ticket)
Nearest station: Tachikawa
Going here during autumn was lovely—rows of gingko trees and a couple of Japanese maple trees in yellow and orange hues make it such a sight to see. As someone whose favorite season is fall, I was all heart eyes while inside the park. This isn’t as popular as Shinjukugyoen, but again, if you want to explore more offbeat places, go here. You won’t regret it. On a good day, you can bike around the park (it’s that big) and have a picnic as well. (It was raining when we went and let’s be real, I can’t ride a bike. Haha!)
Always fun going to parks with my fellow “tita” friend, Kaila <3
Disclaimer: I didn’t visit all of these places in one go. LOL. These are from three trips and I decided to compile them together so you can choose how to plan your “art, books, and coffee” adventure when you go to Japan. I’ll be in Osaka / Kyoto in a few weeks after writing this, so I hope to check out places there, too, and share them on my blog.
Hope you enjoyed reading through this post—had so much fun recalling my personal experiences from these places I’ve visited on my trips.
Have you visited Tokyo? Any of these places you plan on going to soon?
PS: Special thanks to two of my favorite people (and fellow Japan lovers) Koko and Kaila for recommending some of these places!