In the late 90’s Japan began its love affair with quality kicks from around the world.
With incredible shops that bring in sneakerheads from around the world and limited editions abound, there are plenty of deals to be found. Here’s what you need to know.
How to Shop
If you have big feet, your main issue is much less finding the sneakers than finding ones that fit you. The average Japanese male shoe size is around 27cm, which is a 9 US size. Kind of on the smaller end for American/European sizes. If you’re far above this range you’ll have some trouble, but within a few centimeters you’ll have a bit more luck. The best thing to do is ask the staff, but it’s helpful to know what your shoe size is in centimeters first!
Where to go
The Harajuku area is ground zero for selection if you’re in Tokyo. You’ll find shops like KICKS LAB. which has tons of new releases from global brands, but even if you aren’t buying you’ll be impressed with their collection of rare and vintage shoes along the walls.
There are plenty of other smaller shops around the area, but a lot of that just means doing some exploring and seeing what’s out there, so be sure to keep an eye open for both basement level and second floor shops that may escape your attention at first. Don’t miss atmos if you’re on a walking tour between Harajuku and Shibuya (a perfect stroll for window shopping).
For commercial sneaker chains, it’s hard to beat ABC-MART, though they carry much more than just sneakers. You won’t find a ton of limited editions or rarities, but you’ll probably have more luck finding your size. ABC Mart stores can be found all over Japan, and can have some pretty decent short-lived deals as they wind down their stock for different models.
Every major brand has its flagship stores, and those are incredible visits not just for the sneakers and apparel but the incredible interior design and experience. Ruling the roost is the Nike flagship store in Harajuku, with multiple floors of shoes and apparel, top-notch visual displays, and the NIKEiD custom studio on the top floor. It’s probably not possible to do customization on a short-term stay, but if you’re here a bit longer and have a mailing address it would be good to inquire at the shop.
Not so far from Nike you’ll also find the flagship store for domestic brand Onitsuka Tiger, which has its own global following for its high-quality shoes and apparel. Much of this is difficult or expensive to get outside of Japan, so it’s a perfect opportunity to get something truly unique, and the second floor only sells items that are made in Japan.
If you happen to fit into the general Japanese sizes you’ll also be able to find unique kicks throughout fashion retailers as well, from the BEAMS retails chains to individual shops within department stores. Many shops will carry a limited number of exclusive models that fit their own apparel lines, and can be a great source for finding unique items that may sell-out quickly in the larger chains.