I’ve often mentioned in my reviews of Japanese toys little stories or observations from my trips to Japan. What I want to share in this post are some of the places I go to, to toy hunt and also some hints and tips to getting the most out of a trip to Tokyo and Osaka at least.
Firstly, this guide will not cover every single store you can visit, if you want to do that there are some great websites, like Kaiju Korner which has an excellent guide that covers I would have to say almost all the stores in Tokyo. Also, a great book you can buy for Tokyo, it’s this one:
Super 7/Collection DX’s Tokyo Underground 2 – Toy and design culture in Tokyo (the edition I have was published in 2010) for my first trip, this book was one of my greatest assets. I was told about it by a friend of mine who had just returned from a trip to Japan. I was going to go myself and I wanted to know the best toy places to visit. This book handled about 95% of my questions.
It has straight forward and easy to read maps of each area as well as points of interest and things like locations of ATMs and best part about the maps was that you could add a new store and cross out ones that didn’t exist anymore, which can tend to happen. I will be referencing back to this book a few times in my guide, so if you can get a copy, it will make the hunting a lot easier.
I’m going to break this guide down into a few sections, these are the main areas that are great to go shopping for toys, but as stated before, this is not everything.
TOKYO- NAKANO, AKIHABARA, SHIBUA, UENO
OSAKA- UMEDA, SHINSABASHI, NANBA
This is a collection of helpful tips I’ve put together over many years of traveling to Japan.
HOTELS – AKA Where you will be staying!
One thing you need to make sure before you even buy your plane ticket is that you MUST have a place to stay booked before hand; no place to stay, no entry into country. If you are after a fairly cheap and convenient hotel to stay at, I recommend the Super Hotel chain of hotels, the staff’s English isn’t too bad overall and they have plenty of hotels in Tokyo and Osaka, in some cases very close to the stores you want to go to.
Just make sure you have your Passport (duh) and print off your booking confirmation that is sent to your email address (it always helps, as you can just show it to them, if they don’t understand what you are saying). They take cash and credit card, so nothing to worry about.
TAX – Important to keep in mind
As of April 2014 everyone including tourists have to pay 8% Consumption Tax on purchases, of goods and services – not a really big problem, but something to be aware of.
ATMs – Your source of money.
I’m not 100% sure about cards not issued in Australia, but here, all our cards have this “plus” symbol on the back of them. Good news with that is that every 7-11 as of 2014 will accept these cards, unlike in the past where it was a bit random. This means there is no need to worry about pulling out cash at all! Choose “English”, enter your pin, choose your desired amount and done. It couldn’t be any easier than that. (When pulling out money make sure to always cover your pin number with your hand and it’s better to choose a large amount each time to avoid unnecessary fees)
You may still be able to use your credit cards in some of the toy stores, but in most cases cash is king.
Also, it’s good to have at least some Japanese Yen in your wallet before you leave, in most cases your bank will have a pretty good exchange rate, so use them. Otherwise the airport exchange business will rob you blind.
JR PASS – Save money on train travel (you will need this, trust me)
A great way to travel around Japan is on a train. It’s fairly cheap, very efficient and almost everywhere covered in this guide is very close to a train station. So, it makes sense you would want to save some money because you will be using trains a lot (especially if you are going to travel to other cities). A JR Pass must be purchased before you go to Japan and you can choose the length of time: 7 days, 14 days or 21 days and unless you want to feel all important and such, you will only want the “Ordinary” version of the pass not the “Green 1st Class” version.
Other things to keep in mind are, once in Japan you still need to activate your pass at a JR ticket office, a good one is located in Tokyo Central Station. You will also still need to purchase tickets after activating the pass; they will be free once you have a valid pass. Also you can only ride on certain trains too, but the staff will let you know which you can ride.
You will not be able to use any Metro lines for free, but that’s not a big deal as most of these places you can use JR lines to get there. Also another great thing to do is pick up an English version of the JR train line map too, but, if you buy Tokyo Underground, it will have one in there for you already!
TRAVEL INSURANCE – You need this.
The last thing you are going to have to organise before going is travel insurance. I know people who don’t buy any, but at the end of the day, if something happens, you are covered and that is very important. It’s also pretty cheap so I don’t see any reason why you would not buy any.
Ok. Now that the formalities are out of the way, onto the purpose of this guide – toy stores!!!
Even though a lot of these store locations are very well known, I stress it is not that everyone knows about them, it depends on when you go there, because these places always get new stock and they don’t always list it on their websites! Sometimes you can get pretty lucky with what you can find. I am proof that this is the case as for the last four years I have always found a good number of rare items in these ‘high traffic’ areas. Another thing I have noticed is a steady rise in some toys matching prices on eBay. This is just going to be a fact of life, but deals are still to be had!
TOKYO TOY STORES
It’s worth noting most of these stores are open 12pm to 8pm, 7 days a week. However, places like Nakano Broadway or Akihabara, each shop’s opening hours and days can vary.
Firstly I’ll start with the biggest, oldest and probably most well known store – Nakano Broadway.
Nakano station is on the JR Sobu Local (yellow) line or the Tozai Metro (light blue) line. Once you get off the train you need to head down either the stairs or escalator to the ground floor, then head toward the north exit. After walking through the ticket gates you should be facing the Sun Mall entrance, you have to walk all the way up to the Nakano Broadway entrance. (On the walk up, if you are short on cash or think you will need more, they’ll be a 7-11 down one of the last left side little alley ways/streets.) Inside there will be an escalator and stairs, take the stairs up to the 2nd Floor and you have reached Tokyo toy heaven. Floors 2-4 will have store after store selling almost anything you could want. If this is your first time, you could be here for a few hours/days/months making sure you don’t miss anything. I always check out Nakano at least 2-3 times per trip, firstly in case they get new stock and secondly, in case I missed anything on the first visit.
The building is covered in great detail in Tokyo Underground 2 (also referenced to as ‘TU2’) and if you can only go to a few places on your trip, this has to be one of them. The sheer amount of toys is breath-taking and any first timer will be blown away by the many, many stores located here. Bring money and lots of it.
Akihabara station can be reached by either the JR Yamanote (green) line, the Sobu Local (yellow) or the Hibiya Metro (grey) line. The most central station will be the JR line. Once again the Tokyo Underground 2 book is very helpful at mapping out where everything is. Highlights in this area include Mandarake Akihabara branch, Akiba zone, Supoji, Liberty 7, Liberty 9 and Yodbashi-Akiba.
This is the second “Must Go” destination for any toy hunter in Tokyo! There are literally too many stores to list! My TU2 map of Akihabara has soo many additional stores added that it’s not even funny! There are at least two stores not included in the edition of TU2 I have and they are the Akiba zone and Supoji, both are really close to Mandrake Akihabara, Supoji being right next to Mandarake’s entrance, beside a Lawson and Akiba zone can be seen if you are standing at the bottom of the stairs that climb the side of Mandarake and look down the side-street, you will see it quite easily.
Near Yodobashi-Akiba is a large bus stop area and next to that is a McDonalds’ and a 7-11 in case you need money – just like in Nakano, bring money and lots of it!)
You will find a great collection here of many different toys: vintage, retro, robot, monster, high-end, designer. Every type of toy is represented here in Akihabara, along with anything else you would file under ‘Otaku’.
Mandarake Akihabara – a giant black building at least 8 levels high, it is very hard to miss this flagship Mandarake store in Akihabara. Head up to Floor 7 and 8 for toys, it’s up to you whether you use the stairs (great exercise) or wait for a lift (there are only two and they get packed really quickly). Level 7 has a lot of vintage Sofubi and Chogokin and toy cars, whereas level 8 is where the big guns are: Hot Toys, Transformers, Real X Head and all other manner of toy goodness can be found on this level. I only managed to take a couple of photos, as the staff don’t like pictures being taken. (Thanks to the Ipad mini photo taking isn’t too hard to do it secretly)
Akiba Zone – A short distance away from Mandarake is the Akiba zone, head up to levels 3 and 4 for a number of case shops and toy stores: RobotRobot (3F), One up (3F), Trio (3F) and GanKing (4F), are all great stores worth having a look in.
– literally opposite Mandarake, Supoji is a fairly new store and has been open for at least two years; like Mandarake it deals in mainly second-hand toys and is only one level. You will find a small number of Hot Toys, Transformers and other collectibles – I say small number, only because the shop is so small. It can get very crowded very quickly! Always worth checking out as it is not very hard to get to.
*EDIT* Apparently Supoji has moved locations in Akihabara, I’ll update when I’m next in Tokyo!
*UPDATE* Supoji’s new location in Akihabara is not open to the public, so that means they aren’t doing any business in Tokyo atm. That’s a shame as the store was in a great location and the prices and items for sale weren’t that bad. So long Supoji for now, it’s been fun. I’ll fondly remember them for being able to acquire a Hot Toy’s 1/4 scale Endoskeleton for about $350 AUD, used, but in great shape. It was a small store, but like those small stores, jam packed and the occasional deal to be had.
Liberty 7, Liberty 9 – both stores are located quite close to each other near the Suehirocho Metro station on the main road through Akihabara. (Chuo Dori Street) There are numerous levels in each building loaded with different types of toys. Like Mandarake they can be a bit of a hit and miss depending on when you are there. These two stores are definitely well walked with high foot traffic, best left to later in your visit as you may be disappointed by the lack of toys now in these stores.
Yodobashi-Akiba – If you are looking for newly released toys head to Yodobashi-Akiba, located right near the JR station, opposite the “electric town” exits. Floor 6 will have a lot of toys, but only newly released ones. There is also a special hobby section on this floor for anything not considered a “kids toy” – best to check this store out last as it’s huge and crowded all the time.
Shibuya station is on the Yamanote (green) line, Ginza (orange), Fukutoshin (brown) and Hanzomon (purple) Metro lines. If using the JR Line you want to exit via the Hachiko Gate exit and look for the giant cross walk as seen in Lost in translation once again TU2 is your friend here. There are only two toy stores worth visiting here: Mandarake Shibuya and Medicom’s Project 1/6. You’ll see a lot of tourists around here, but not many of them going toy hunting. Shibuya Mandarake gets a bit of a bad rap from some collectors as not having a lot of good stock, but I beg to differ. Shibuya has a lot of hidden gems and it is worth the visit and to carefully check each isle. You never know what you might find if you keep your eyes peeled.
Medicom’s Project 1/6 is a bit out of the way but once you get there it is worth checking out; there is also a 7-11 very close by to it too. I went there for the first time with my brother, on my most recent trip. We must have been the first people to come through the door, the first time that day, let alone the week! There were two guys working there and we could feel them staring at us as we browsed, sending us psychic messages to buy something. We did end up picking up a couple of small things and then the atmosphere felt a little more friendly. The store is worth checking out, but only after you have been to Mandarake or while you are waiting for it to open.
Just two stops from Akiharbara on the Yamanote (green) line or the Hibiya (grey) and Ginza (orange) Metro line. For some strange reason Yamashiroya isn’t listed in Tokyo Underground 2 I find this a little weird as it’s at least 5 levels of toys in one place, mostly new toys, sure, but it also features indy toys on the top level and special events from time to time as well. It’s a one stop shop for all currently released toys. I always check them out for more widely released RealXhead figures like Fortune Cats or Tanuki as gifts. But you can find plenty of Bandai, NECA, Hot Toys, Transformers, Pokemon etc, just to name a few.
To get to Yamashiroya, it isn’t too hard. Once you get to Ueno station. Just use the Hirokouji exit and walk towards the road in front of you and it is just across the road to your right.
This concludes the Tokyo part of my guide the next post will cover Osaka and a few choice toy stores that are worth visiting.
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