Five minutes after you arrive in Tokyo, you're struck by it: this is the most stylish city you've ever been in, a place where fashion is taken so seriously that many of its women and men are themselves veritable works of art. Europe may once have been the continent from which serious chic flowed—the Parisian women with their famous scarves, the Romans flaunting burnished bags and shoes, the London Savile Rowers in their strict tailoring— but these burgs have been vanquished, and then some.
The challenge of shopping in Tokyo is to try to see everything. It's impossible, of course, but made easier by taking taxis (plentiful and cheap) and giving up on the idea of chasing down addresses without help. Most street addresses in Tokyo are maddeningly vague, though this problem is somewhat ameliorated by the willingness of the general population to point—or even take—you in the right direction. Lost, I once stopped in a store and asked the clerk for assistance. She disappeared into the back for so long, I thought she had forgotten all about me, but when she finally emerged she was brandishing a color Yahoo! map.
To help you plan your attack, T+L has done the legwork for you. We hit the ground running to uncover 38 only-in-Tokyo shopping experiences. Our comprehensive guide is organized by neighborhood, with a complete address book. Although each shop has its own distinct personality, all are united in having pristine displays and exquisite customer service. No matter which places on our list you visit, nearly everything you see—pricey or bargain-basement, traditional or groundbreaking—will be on the cutting edge of style.
Sit at an outdoor table at Anniversaire Café and watch the multitudes stroll down the main drag: Lolitas in their baby smocks and towering shoes, matrons head-to-toe in this season's Prada except for one unique Japanese accessory, the surgical face mask. In Tokyo, individuality reigns supreme, but that doesn't mean fads and trends don't exert a powerful pull. Six months ago it was high-heeled boots paired with hot pants—and although this combination would make the wearer resemble a streetwalker anywhere else in the world, on a young Japanese girl it manages to look innocent and playful.
Aoyama is the city's central shopping neighborhood for high fashion, bisected by Omotesando, a broad boulevard surrounded by a warren of little streets, themselves crammed with excellent shops. Here are all the homegrown stars—Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto—along with the other heavy hitters you're accustomed to seeing everywhere in the world, but there's a twist: the buildings themselves, from Chanel's Peter Marino-designed black and white cube to Jun Aoki's stacked-box design for Louis Vuitton, seem to be competing in some extraordinary modern-design contest.
Herzog & de Meuron's wildly ambitious edifice, a sharp-angled six-story crystal accented by convex and concave glass bubbles, offers the full range of the house's famous goods, some of which actually look more at home in Tokyo than they do in their native Italy: a small black nylon purse decorated with a beaded bear, for example, plays into the Japanese love of comic characters.