5 craziest hidden Tokyo fashion boutiques
Even the most seasoned shopper can't possibly know about all of the pockets of treasures in the tangle of Tokyo's myriad fashion districts. But if you do get to sneak a peek at the unique worlds that lie beyond these shops' doors, you'll never question Tokyo's position as the holy grail of shopping adventures ever again.
But to get there, asking passersby won't do any good. So grab your GPS (or print out this article and some Google maps) and hit the streets.
1. CANDY/Sister: Shibuya's surreal back-alley boutique
CANDY greets customers with overwhelming, sartorially artistic pieces by uber-underground designers like Junya Suzuki and Balmung that would ping Lady Gaga's radar. Upstairs is its off-shoot store Sister that goes a little bit more girly, if you consider surrealist banana and mesh headpieces girly.
They used to be tucked below ground in Shinjuku's 2-chome district until April 1 when they joined the ranks in the heart of Shibuya in one location. That doesn't mean they're not off the beaten track, as they sit in an alleyway behind Loft that even I hadn't known to exist until I was forced to search for it.
CANDY PR rep Shogo Yanagi said, "We moved to Shibuya but we purposely chose this secluded atmosphere. There's a lot of scary stuff that goes on on this little street, and I wouldn't recommend hanging out further on down," he added, only half-jokingly.
How to know you're there: Once you're 50 meters down the alley, the neon "CANDY" sign in the window will mark the spot.
CANDY/Sister: Udagawa-cho 18-4, Shibuya-ku, tel: 03 5456 9891, candy-nippon.com, 12-10pm
2. DOG: Harajuku's center of bad-taste-as-great-taste
DOG owner Satake was at a loss when asked why his shop, in the basement of a completely nondescript building on Harajuku-dori, has succeeded for so long. "Well, I don't think it's just the merchandise," he finally admitted. Not that there is anything wrong with the wares at this long-standing favorite outpost of Harajuku kids and their ilk, with a hodgepodge of hipster vintage picked up in the United States and pieces reworked with industrial twists like breastplates and screws.
Satake makes the pieces himself, and now he is on a kick with a Metallica logo printed on photo-paper and attached to sleek dresses or stiletto pumps in geometric shapes. Any Western designer would love to stick a 6-figure ¥ sign on these one-offs, but here they're one-tenth of that. Perhaps that's where Satake finds his success, keeping it close to the street and accessible. "I want even the young kids to be able to afford my things," he says.
When you are there, don't forget to look up: There's more on the scaffolding above. Just seriously watch your step there as it's more harrowing than the narrow staircase you survived on the way in.
How to know you're there: Look for the mannequin set outside dressed up in something incredible next to the AM/PM convenience store and head straight down.
DOG: Jingumae 3-23-3 B1, shibuya-ku, tel: 03 3746 8110, no website
3. Kita-Kore Building: Shopping mall of the damned
DOG is a veritable palace compared to this place in Koenji, which is best described as a dilapidated, post-apocalyptic mall of tiny shrines to a lost-boys subculture of fashion pandemonium. Each little store is a closet-sized space with selections of vintage (the mostly Y-generation owners have an affinity for the 1990s) and re-worked pieces decorated with odds and ends that might be considered weapons in some jurisdictions.
The stores are stealth goodie vaults though. Most entrances are hidden, and the crude map outside does little for guidance. What's more, head there before 3pm on a weekday or 1pm on the weekend and the stores will be shuttered. "There isn't a lot of rhyme or reason for this place, and sometimes the stores only open on weekends," said the young girl working the counter at Nincompoop up the squeaky stairs. The building has become a legend in its own right now with a "Kita-Kore Night" event held sporadically at local clubs. Recommended shops are Hayachitori, Nincompoop, ilil, Sat/Sun DOG, and Garter.
How to know you're there: You'll see the giant puffy suits strung up in front of a droopy, patched-up building.
Kita-Kore Building: Koenji-kita 3-4-11, Suginami-ku, tel. 03 3337 9401 (for Nincompoop Capacity), ameblo.jp/kitakore-blg
4. Bedrock: Hidden under a café
Nine times out of 10, the Forbidden Fruit Café at Omotesando Hills has nary a soul in it. That's because it is in fact a clever (but fully functional) façade, as most customers grace past the counter and disappear down a spiral staircase into a dark, cavern-like boutique that even some in the fashion industry are still unaware of.
Bedrock is a beautifully furnished space where spoiled punks and sparkly vampires might possibly hobnob. In it, you can find things such as vintage Givenchy, pumps with iron-work heels, chrome jewelry and a sizable greenhouse growing fauna and cacti in the back.
Much to the fashion press' chagrin, the Maniac Company owners never put official photos of the stores or its brands LGB or IF SIX WAS NINE in the magazines. "We don't allow photos here, and we don't lend anything to magazines," said a woman working at the store, adding, "I'm always surprised when people find their way here anyway."
Bedrock is their third outpost. See if you can't stumble upon the equally hidden and perplexing CIRCUS in a dome on a rooftop in Daikanyama (take the hidden elevator behind the building) and Le Grand Bleu (through the terrace café) in the off-beat Azabu-dai neighborhood.
How to know you're there: Just cross the threshold of the café (ignore the barista if you wish) and go all the way into the underground bunker.
Bedrock: Jingumae 4-12-10, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3423 6969, maniac-co.jp
5. Harcoza: Cultural explosion
This shop behind Daikanyama station may be easier to find than a wayward press-on nail, but the green hedges and modern façade is a total misnomer for the city's most eclectic selection of art, fashion and goods that lies inside. Think fossilized candy necklaces, injection-molded forks made of sprinkles, brain-shaped headbands and a watch with a Bonsai tree growing out of a ceramic pot (you tell the time by how much it grows). "I want it to be like a Don Quixote store, but with more fashionable taste," said owner Haruko Okano.
Before leaving, venture further down the rabbit hole to the basement gallery that displays a selection of Okano's favorite off-the-wall artists (Cheesy's, the group responsible for the brain headband, are on exhibit now).
How to know you're there: If you feel like the Cheshire cat might be smirking somewhere in the corner, you're probably in the right place.
Harcoza: Ebisu-nishi 2-15-9, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 6416 0725, harcoza.com