I've just wrapped up two weeks in Japan, which, to be honest, exceeded my wildest expectations. After a mini-vacation in the hot spring town of Hakone, I ate and shopped my way through Tokyo. The last time I came to Tokyo for work was four years ago, when I'd just opened the shop and was new to all of this. Now, things are different. I know more about Japanese stationery and I have more contacts in Japan, so I got to see a little bit of the magical stationery underground and meet many influential industry people.
As you might expect, shopping for stationery in Japan is unlike anything else. Culturally, there's a profound respect for stationery and it's taken very seriously. It's an old industry in Japan, but also an industry rooted in passion in a way that I've seen nowhere else in the world. From the larger concept stores to the more local, office-y shops, there is an endless amount of treasures to be found. Here's list of all of the places I visited:
The big stores:
2 Chome-7-15 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061
This is the one that most people know in Tokyo, and for good reason. It's a whopping 12-story shop, with departments for everything. A lot of what is sold there is imported, but it's also a great place to find Ito-ya exclusives and little pop-up shops and exhibitions. When I was there, there was an MT Tape pop-up on the ground floor and an exhibition of paperclips by Present & Correct. A lot of the fun stuff is on the ground floor, but the fine paper department and the craft floor are my other favorites for special and uniquely Japanese finds. There's also wonderful cafe upstairs, which is handy when you're exhausted and high on stationery, especially because there's a second shop to visit across the alley. The annex is a smaller multi-level building that focuses more on writing instruments and office supplies. This is where you'll find all of the pencils and fancy pens.
(Locations all over Tokyo--I recommend the one in Shibuya)
It's hard to describe what Tokyu Hands is. The Shibuya location is the best one, and is a confusing maze of small departments split over 7 floors. You'll find everything from woodworking supplies to cosmetics and everything in between, including a LOT of stationery. It's a great place to go for decorative envelopes, a large selection of markers and pens and all of the Japanese classics. Look for Yamato sticking paste, a glue in a container that is a little yellow man with a hat, funny little icon ink stamps and special edition writing things (I found some great Zebra highlighters with Snoopy on them). You'll get lost and probably leave with more random things than you planned on, but it's a magnificently fun place for a shopping blackout. Look for the vending machine in the stationery department, which is a collaboration with Bunbougu (more on that later) and contains mini magnet versions of classic Japanese stationery items.
(Locations all over Tokyo--I recommend the ones in Ginza and Shibuya)
There are several locations of Loft stores, which are slightly concept-y lifestyle store that sell mostly homeware, cosmetics and stationery. The Shibuya and Ginza locations are the best ones and feature temporary displays and collaborative products. Look for NJK pencil sharpeners, which are amazing and made in Osaka, and a lot of the younger, cooler Japanese stationery brands. There's also an impressive selection of various Japanese coffee making tools and devices, as well as lots of house slippers to choose from.
The small stores:
1-6-2, Misuji, Taito, Tokyo, 1110 055
If I were to pick one stationery store for you to visit in Tokyo, this is it. It's a little off the beaten path, but totally worth the trip. To be honest, I was struck with a little bit of shop envy because this place is so perfect. Inside you'll find an well-edited selection of stationery, a lot of proprietary paper things and so many fountain pens to try (which are set up at a station with several types of papers to try them on). The main attraction, though, is the custom notebook feature. You get to pick your cover, paper, binding, and closure and it's made on the spot! There's even a paper testing area complete with a guide ranking each paper for which writing tools it's best for, so you can really make your perfect notebook. I've never seen a shop that is so well designed for user experience--everything can be tested extensively, in an environment that is equally friendly and luxurious. Kakimori also has another store nearby called Ink Stand, which is dedicated to fountain pen inks and features a custom ink blending service.
8, 神宮前 ４ 丁目 ８−6, Shibuya City, 150-0001
In the fountain pen world, this place is BIG TIME. Bungubox specializes in unique, Japanese-made fountain pens, many of which are limited editions that they've designed. The detailing on these pens is mind-blowing and it's the perfect place for a special pen splurge if you're looking for something amazing to take home. Most of the Bungubox pens are about $200 but are true works of art. I didn't actually get to visit the shop while I was in town because it was closed for the Tokyo Pen Show and otherwise has kind of weird hours, but I did get to have dinner with Kaoru, the owner, who is a true delight and showed me many of her incredible pens. (Note: you might have a hard time finding this place--there's a tiled courtyard that looks residential, walk up the stairs and you'll find the shop in the right).
〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 8 Chome−7−2 １F・B１F
A good stop if you're in Ginza for the other shops, Gekkoso is an old and storied art supply store that sells mostly proprietary goods (including the jumbo 8B pencil we sell). There a charming little cafe downstairs and so many beautiful paints and papers to buy. I especially love their pink letter writing sets.
Japan, 〒111-0033 Tokyo, Taito City, Hanakawado, 1 Chome−4−1
This is a shop that I just happened upon. It's in a the Ekmise mall near Askasaka station (which you'll travel to or near if you're going to the Senso-ji Temple). It's just a little local shop, but I found a delightful selection of slightly niche pencils, a lot of Showa (classic Japanese school notebooks with plant and animal pictures on them) things and a cute selection of Tokyo 2020 Olympics pencils and stationery. On the same floor in the same mall is also Seria, a wonderful 100 yen shop that is also worth visiting for an impressive cheap stationery selection and novelties like tiny ziploc bags with Sanrio character designs on them.
3 Chome-14-5 Kotobuki, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0042, Japan
For those of you who are into washi tapes, MT has their own store/concept space here. I didn't get the chance to visit (but I've also banned myself from buying more tapes. I have a problem.) but it isn't far from Kakimori and is a minimalist decorative tape wonderland.
4 Chome-25-14 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062
Not far from Shibuya and Harajuku (and about a 10 minute walk from Bunbougu Cafe) is a shop dedicated to the legendary Hobonichi journal. Inside is every type of Hobonichi, including limited editions, every type of cover you could ever want and Hobonichi-specific accessories. A must-see for a Hobonichi obsessive.
Ozu Washi Shop
OzuHonkan Bldg., 3-6-2 Nihombashihoncho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
This place isn't in an area you'd otherwise go to, but it's worth visiting an educational experience and some hardcore paper porn. It's a shop that sells the ridiculous selection of handmade, traditional washi papers and calligraphy supplies, but they also have a museum dedicated to the art of washi and have daily hour-long demonstrations where you get to make your own washi paper! Be sure to check the schedule ahead of time--it's only 500 yen to take the class and is super fun and informative.
Gojoun, the Ginza Pencil Museum
4 Chome-3-5 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061
In the stationery underground, this place is legendary. It's basically in an alley off an alley in Ginza (use Google Maps to find it) and isn't open often, so you'll either have to get lucky or email in advance to ask about hours or make an appointment (have a Japanese friend help you call or send an email in advance). Inside, you'll find the tiniest, most magical shop of rare, vintage and hard-to-find writing tools. There's a tiny counter where you can order (very good) coffee and homemade cookies, as well as another tiny secret room that functions as little exhibition/display space. It's impossible to describe the charm of Gojuon, you really just have to see it for yourself. I bought their shop pencil, an NJK long-point sharpener, a vintage pencil cap and a rare type of short, black kohitsu shosha pencil.
Bunbougu Stationery Cafe
4 Chome-8-1 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
This is a place that totally blew my mind. It's in the downstairs of a building in a trendy shopping area of Shibuya and I'd never heard about before. Thankfully, Bruce is a regular there and took me there for lunch with a couple of wonderful stationery journalists. Inside is a sprawling space full of supplies--except most of these supplies aren't for purchase, they're for use. The coffee and the food is expensive, but purchasing something grants you use of EVERYTHING in the cafe, which includes an entire wall of washi tapes, every pen and pencil and marker your heart desires (including the full range of Copic markers), ink stamps, glues, stickers....literally everything. And because it's in Tokyo, everything is well-organized and the customers are mindful. There's even a little bag at each place setting to use to walk around and collect the things you want to try. There are a few things for purchase--like surprise stationery bags and ceramic pencil and eraser chopstick rests. You'll also find more of the Tokyu Hands collaborative stationery vending machines which are SO addictive! Make sure you come with lots of 100 yen coins.
The wonderful thing about Tokyo is that you can find stationery EVERYWHERE. 7-Eleven even sells Tombow pencils and Yamato glue. Be sure to check out a few 100 yen shops and if you're going to be near Senso-ji Temple, there's a giant, crazy shop called Don Quijote that is basically a multi-level discount store amusement park. This is where I found the best selection of novelty pencils (I bought Toy Story and Calbee Snack themed ones) and really, just novelty stuff in general. If you're in the market for rare Japanese KitKat flavors, this is also the place to find them. Another notable shop for novelty stationery/general novelty things (specifically Japanese character things) is a shop called Village Vanguard (which has several locations). I found Pokemon hand cream and lots of cool Studio Ghibli things here.
One of the days I was in Tokyo, my friend Bruce, who is a Japanese stationery expert, took me on a full day tour of stationery spots (I have him to thank for introducing me to the stationery cafe). Our first stop was for a meeting at the Mitsu-bishi HQ, which is located on the grounds of their old factory (everything is now made at newer factories in the countryside) and has a thoughtfully designed lobby that essentially functions as a museum of their products and history.
I've only just scratched the surface of all this wild city has to offer, but there is stationery to be found everywhere! I was completely baffled by the amount of respect given to analog tools in Japan. This time of year, the shops even have massive sections for planners--hundred of types, with every possible type of accessory you could want. When I planned this trip, I hadn't taken into consideration what time of year I'd be here but I was also lucky to be able to catch the Tokyo International Pen Show, which happens every autumn. It's open to the public, so anyone can go and a buy a ticket for 500 yen (about 5 dollars) and drool over all of the beautiful Japanese fountain pens.
Early next year my book, The Pencil Perfect is being published in Japanese by Gakken, a Japanese education publisher. I got to see a mock up of it on this trip and can't wait to see what doors it opens for me in the Japanese stationery world. For now, I'll look forward to returning to Tokyo for its publication in January and will report back with more finds!
You can access a map with all of these spots, in one place here
A few tips: getting around Tokyo can be difficult and lots of shops aren't easily visible from the street level. Take advantage of Google Maps--the directions are accurate and when taking the metro it gives you very specific instructions that are super helpful when navigating the GIANT stations. Be sure to check the hours of the shops you're going to ahead of time, as many of them are often closed on unexpected days.