Tokyo Vintage Treasure Trove: Shimokitazawa
From the streets of Tokyo, you can see Japanese have a great eye for mixing and matching improbable old and new items of clothing.
Take, for example, the shop assistant above, whom I photographed at the vintage shop Haight & Ashbury. Oyo mixes an ornate 1950s hat, Charleston pearls and a modern marinière-style t-shirt.
The quality of vintage clothing shops depends on local shoppers, so it is no wonder that Tokyo is such a great place for vintage.
To keep pace with demand, Tokyo’s vintage shop owners regularly scour Europe and America for well cut period pieces. The owner of one store along the Aobaidai canal told me he travels to Normandy every two months. While vintage clothes are normally bought in bales by the kilo, the shop owner said he buys each item one at a time.
While the most well-known areas for vintage in Tokyo are Nakameguro, Ebisu, Dakaiyama and Harajuku, you must go to Shimokitazawa, just 15 minutes by train from Shibuya.
In contrast to Tokyo’s neon electric energy, Shimokitazawa has a more laid back and counter-culture feel, like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg.
Having escaped American wartime time bombs, Shimokitazawa is a maze of small alleys now lined with vintage shops, live music venues and coffee shops. The area’s roots in vintage may go back to Japan’s defeat in World War II, when it became a bustling market for surplus US military food and clothing. A few shops still sell military uniforms, now vintage.
Among he many shops, my favorite was Haight & Ashbury. Founded 25 years ago, the shop has a back room with period clothing and accessories going back to the 1800. Prices range from 13,000 yen (US$150) for a 1950s dress or linen from the 1800s for 40,000 yen (US$474). The owner, Inui, travels regularly to San Francisco to buy clothes, but also France and Germany. He recently opened a shop in New York.
For more addresses on Tokyo vintage shopping, check out my friend Alexandra Harney’s vintage secrets gathered during her many years of living in Tokyo.
An excellent piece by Kaori Shoji in the NYT on the history of vintage in Tokyo.
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