Tokyo is the Mecca for toy collectors. I created a spreadsheet of all known toy stores in Tokyo as of Feb 2017. Many have closed and I have moved those to a separate tab.
Below are tips for toy hunting in Tokyo.
Did I miss any new stores? Have any closed or moved? Please post in the comments.
I’d like to thank the following who preceded me in collecting toy store data. I recommend checking out their book/blogs for more detailed info on individual stores as well as future updates. I will keep the spreadsheet updated as people give me new info, but I don’t blog about individual store visits or new toy releases like they do and I only go to Japan every five years or so.
When to go
- For Kaiju sofubi you must go during SuperFest. WonderFest is bigger but full of half-naked girl dolls that dominate popular culture in Japan. I spent $500 at Superfest and $50 at Wonderfest. There were a few more things I would have bought at WonderFest but they sold out too fast. The crowd at WonderFest is insanely large.
- Right now the value of the dollar to yen is great. With the store list recently updated by some crazy otaku (me) it’s a great time to go.
- Another reason to go sooner rather than later will be revealed by checking the “closed” tab in the spreadsheet. A LOT of stores have closed and it’s only going to get worse – and that list doesn’t include closures of individual stores in Nakano. The difference from 2013 (my last trip) to 2017 was staggering.
Check if your airline allows two suitcases for your flight without extra charge – most do for international flights. Either pack a duffel in your suitcase or bring two suitcases. You might also consider a packable backpack that stores in a pouch. Move your clothes to the backpack for the return trip and use it as carry-on. You want to maximize your available space for sofubi so you don’t have to ship anything back separately. I ended up with two full-sized hard-sided suitcases and two backpacks – one for the overhead and a smaller one for under the seat. If you only take one suitcase and end up overspending, you can buy a cheap suitcase on Ameyoko-dori, starting at 6500 yen. In 2013 it cost me 7600 yen to send a 14x14x18 inch box to Portland, OR in the US via EMS. In 2017 I bought a second suitcase for only 7500 yen – and I still have the suitcase. Some toys you’ll want to remove from their packaging to save space. Save all your shopping bags for wrapping/protection when packing for the return trip.
- Search for larger or more expensive items on Amazon and eBay apps. You might find it cheaper online and be able to save that space in your suitcase for harder to find items. You might also find a different colorway you like better – or confirm that the colorway in the store is your fav. In most cases Japanese sofubi will be more expensive on English web sites, but I did find one common packaged item that was cheaper online (even with shipping) and it would have taken up half my suitcase.
- Mandarake has many stores spread out all over Japan. You will only be near a couple of them on your trip (plus several smaller ones in Nakano). However, they have an awesome English web site you can order from with cheap shipping via “SAL small packet registered”. The only drawback is you can’t consolidate orders – each store ships separately. Not a big deal when shipping is only about $5 per figure, though. It takes a couple weeks longer than shipping via EMS, but EMS costs 3 to 4 times as much.
- Wear good walking shoes that breathe.
- Do not wear overpriced “Marino wool” anti-blister socks. It’s marketing crap that sets your feet on fire. You will get blisters and that’s OK. No pain no gain.
- Try walking two miles per day for two weeks before your trip to get your feet and body in gear for all the walking you’ll be doing in Tokyo and to test out your shoes and socks.
Other Things To Do
- Go to the Ghibli Museum. It’s awesome. Book your tickets THREE MONTHS in advance. If you are down to two months and the English site is sold out, ask a friend in Japan to get you tickets from Lawson (1000 yen plus 600 yen ticketing fee). Note that they like the name on your ticket to match your ID. If it doesn’t, they will make you prove you know the person on the ticket. Visit the French cafe across the street from Ghibli (near the Totoro gate) for possibly the most amazing chocolate I have ever had.
- Go to antique flea markets. They occur every weekend day and sometimes on special weekdays at some shrines. Avoid the “general” flea markets as these are full of used clothes that won’t fit you. Google for antique ones like Ark Hills. There is a toy-centric flea market in Akihabara in front of the UDX building every Saturday. You can find good deals on loose figures there.
- You might consider a trip to Osaka for more stores. See Kaiju Korner’s Osaka blog if you plan to do that. I decided to save that for my next trip.
- There is a nice toy and automata museum in Arima near Kobe if you are planning to be near there anyway. Arima is also famous for its onsen.
- For Kitaro lovers – in addition to Kitaro Chaya and Tenjin Street near Jindaiji, there is a gegege no Kitaro store at Fuji Q Highlands amusement park and also at the Shigeru Mizuki museum in Sakaiminato (unfortunately 8 hours from Tokyo by train, but covered by the JR pass if you take a slightly longer route).
- Look for outdoor festivals occurring during your stay. The Ume (plum blossom) festival I went to was fun and cultural.
Food and Entertainment
I recommend Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku and Kawaii Monster Cafe in Shibuya for over-the-top experiences. For more subtle entertainment with your dinner I also recommend Namahage and Kagaya in Shimbashi and Little BSD in Akihabara (devil themed maid cafe). I have marked these and more on a separate layer of the google map.
There are lots of bars all over Tokyo, but I recommend the magical area known as “The Golden Gai” in Shinjuku. It’s a series of alleys housing over 200 tiny bars. Avoid the ones that charge a cover so you can bar hop. My favs were Cambiare (themed after the movie “Suspiria”), Death Match from Hell (horror themed), Bar Plastic Model, and Bar 60s.
- Think of yen as pennies. Just move the decimal point 2 places to get dollars and adjust for the exchange rate as needed.
- Keep an iron grip on your phone when using it. You will get bumped into by people making a mad dash to catch a train.
- Don’t make a mad dash to catch a train. They come every few minutes and you might jump onto the wrong one in your haste.
- Station bathrooms rarely have soap, towels, air dryers, or toilet paper. Find a McDonalds if needed. Sadly, they are everywhere.
- Thank heaven for 7-Eleven – your go-to for US-compatible ATMs and easy to find on Google Maps.
- Do not exchange dollars for yen before your trip. You always get a MUCH better rate at the airport in Japan. Like 10%-15% better!
- Get a wifi rental unit. Those things work almost anywhere and with any and all of your devices. I did find better deals on wifi rental if reserved in advance (7000 yen for two weeks rather than the 11000 I paid), but I can’t vouch for that since I did not reserve in advance. Note that with wifi rental you are responsible for another tech device where there is no additional risk when purchasing a data sim card or extending your domestic service to international. However there is no guarantee a Japanese data sim card will work with your phone. I would not reserve a data sim card in advance – if you get that at the airport they can make sure it works with your phone first whereas there is no refund if they mailed it to you in advance and it doesn’t work. Note also that most wifi hotspots you encounter will require extra steps of signing in or accepting usage agreements via a browser – another pain that goes away if you rent a wifi unit. I really can’t recommend renting a wifi unit enough – just be sure to protect it from breakage.
- Get the Japan rail pass (must be purchased before your trip) if you plan on traveling way outside Tokyo, like to Sapporo or Kyoto. Otherwise stick with a Suica or Pasmo card for trains (the rail pass only works on JR-branded trains). To give you an idea, in two weeks I spent about $140 through the Suica card whereas a two-week rail pass would cost about $400. You can also get a rail pass for only one week for about $250 for the part of your trip where you are traveling outside Tokyo and use a Suica card the other week. Note that Suica/Pasmo cards also work on buses.
- Don’t skimp too much on your hotel. A crappy hotel in Tokyo can be very crappy. My hotel had very iffy hot water. Try Airbnb to save money.
- You might want to visit cosplay shops to get a costume of your favorite anime character. Don’t. A men’s size large has a 31 inch waist in Japan. Nothing will fit you unless you’re short and skinny. Order your cosplay stuff on eBay direct from China. They will even use your measurements for a small extra fee. But if you must, check out Mitsubado in Akiba. They have a good selection of used costumes.
- If anyone gives you the option to pay in dollars instead of yen when paying by credit card, select NO as they charge you a hidden fee (unless your credit card would charge you the hidden fee anyway).
- If your credit card charges you a fee for foreign currency transactions, get one that doesn’t, such as Capitol One.
- Bring multiple backup batteries/cables with you at all times. You will depend on Google Maps and the train app. I brought three external batteries and had all three in use one night! I lent one to someone in a bar and they bought me a drink! I used the other two for my phone and wifi unit.
- The little bottles of booze are often free on international flights and your Godzilla sofubi will look great holding one!
- There is no need to get a Suica or Pasmo card mailed to you. There are machines in every station. Press the English button first. 🙂
- Try the chocolate pudding drink from the acure-branded vending machines – it’s delish!
Trains and Subways
Use the app Japan Trains. To help figure out which side of the track you are supposed to be on, compare the time it tells you to the electronic signs above both sides of the track. On my two-week trip only once did trains have the same departure time on both sides. You can also look for the route maps that show direction and upcoming stations, but you will not always see those. Lastly there is usually a sign showing direction and next station, which might be enough. Don’t depend on the arrival times listed in the app. It often doesn’t give you time to catch a transfer, thus you might arrive later than expected when transferring trains. Be aware of how late your train home runs as if you miss it, you’re stuck! Trains do not run 24/7.
There is also an app called JapanTravel by Navitime that includes bus routes but they charge $7 PER WEEK for bus route info and I refuse to pay weekly for an app. It does tell you which buses to take for free, it just won’t tell you where the bus stops are. 🙂
Where To Stay
You will be taking trains A LOT so stay near a station. The best stations to stay near (IMHO) are Shinjuku, Akihabara, and Tokyo. Reasons to stay near each:
It’s the busiest train station in the world and has access to the most other routes. It can be confusing to navigate but is a great jumping off point for travel in any direction. It also has lots of nightlife, such as The Golden Gai. Nakano is only one stop away.
- Akihabara (Akiba for short)
Akiba has the most toy shops outside of Nakano. It will take you more than one day to cover. It’s also on both the Yamanote loop and the chuo-sobu (East-West) line.
It’s the entry point into Tokyo from the Narita Airport Express train. It’s also on the Yamanote loop and the chuo-sobu express line. It also has “character street” inside the station, which includes Ultraman and Ghibli shops.
- Dori = street
- Sofubi = soft vinyl toy
- Kaiju = monster
- Otaku = obsessed geek