Tokyo has refined shopping into an urban art form and essential cultural experience. The result is quite possibly the most futuristic shopping environment in the world, in which you can purchase everything from underwear to watermelons from vending machines while never interacting with a human. The city is at the cutting edge of fashion and design, as a wide-eyed stroll through the Ginza and Shibuya districts will confirm.
Tokyo is also famous for its electronics stores, the biggest concentration of which can be found in Akihabara, Tokyo's 'Electric Town'. Despite the wide range, you will struggle to find genuine bargains and don't expect to negotiate too much on price. Nevertheless, Akihabara is a colourful and exciting shopping district and the manga and anime stores will delight many.
Shopping malls have also been taken to another level in Tokyo. Shinjuku Station is surrounded by multi-level shopping stores selling everything under the sun. Big name chains such as Keio and Isetan can be accessed directly from the station. They both offer tax-free shopping and European language assistance. For a more upmarket department store experience, visit Mitsukoshi, which has several branches throughout the city.
Tokyo isn't known for flea markets, but two that are worth a visit for artisan-style gifts are Togo Shrine in Harajuku, on the first and fourth Sundays of each month, and Nogi Shrine, on the second Sunday of each month. There are many small markets around the various temples and shrines.
Essential purchases in Tokyo include traditional items like Daruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and chop-sticks. Kimonos are another good purchase although those made from pure silk, as true kimonos are, will be expensive. On a more modern note, the very latest gadgetry and electronics are on offer. A good place to browse for souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar and Omotesando, both of which offer good value and plenty of interesting human scenery.
One of the surprising aspects of shopping in Tokyo is that despite the vast buildings and slick modernity surrounding everyone, there are still traditional neighbourhoods and quiet districts to be found. Here you can find specialist stores selling unique and frequently handmade items such as micro-brewed sake or beautiful lacquerware.