Thrift shops and flea markets in Japan

I am in love! With a 100¥ pair of culottes I found at a flea market in Osaka. My obsession for seeking sustainable second hand treasures runs deep, here are some of the second hand secrets I discovered in Japan.

There’s a strangely curated and kind of expensive second hand shop around the corner from our place. Everytime we go in there the old lady that runs it asks us “Did you find any treasures?“, awkwardly, we always have to say no. However we’ve taken over her catch phrase and I have to say, I love treasure hunting around the world. First it was the states, then Thailand and now Japan! Our obsessions for thrifting runs so deep we made sure our Tokyo Airbnb was embedded in a neighbourhood where you couldn’t help but trip over thrift stores.

Whether you’re in Newtown, Newcastle or New York, you’ll always be spoiled for choice when it comes to the second hand world and once you get stuck into it you’ll realise there are different degrees of ‘second hand’ from the high level stores that curate incredible period vintage pieces to those special bargains you find in a rack of less than inspiring basics for a buck. Japan is no different, here are the different thrift genres I observed…

Classic American thrift stores

You know the type, more denim that you can ever imagine and beautiful frocks going for often more than something new but you know it’s unique and amazing and you just have to have it. These kind of stores were on every second corner in Shimokitazawa, and if you looked closely, they’re also hiding in the trendy shopping strips in the back streets of Harajuku, even Ameri Mura in Osaka. Many of these stores turned out to be chains, look out for names like Flamingo and Jumble Store.

Op shops

Rummaging through a kappabashi thrift store

Rummaging through a kappabashi thrift store

Obviously ‘op shop’ is an Australian phrase but you get my gist, the kind of store that stocks more current and everyday clothes, often connected with a charity and friendly prices to match. This is my favourite style of thrifting because if you’re prepared to put in the rummage work you can find some real gems before they wind up on the rack of a real ‘vintage’ store for five times the price.

These were dotted around Shimokitazawa also, further out and not as well sign posted but we found one or two in almost every city we visited. Keep an eye out for junky stuff on the footpath and words like ‘re-use’ or ‘live again’, I even found one the Kumeron Ichiban food strip called ‘litter’ – which I think meant lost property. Like the salvos here, there are chains, keep an eye out for Made which has similar quality items to a Red Cross here, you’ll rummage for a while but they have clothes from as low as 300¥.

Flea markets

On the surface it looks like a bunch of old people trying to sell their weird junk, but scratch a little deeper through the dusty clothes dumped on tarps and you’ll find some absolute bargains We stumbled upon one flea market when we visited Shitenoji Shrine by chance and scheduled a visit to another shrine based flea market in Kyoto at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine. Both were absolute gems for finding unique clothes and I picked up a bunch of stuff for no more than 300¥ a piece. For those reading who have an interest in history, there’s a whole range of gorgeous ceramics, art and even”boro” Kimonos which make for a fascinating day of browsing.

Second hand kimonos

These kind of stores were everywhere! including tourist sites and obviously unique to Japan. The prices were very affordable, especially considering the quality and craftsmanship involved with some of the more elaborate embroidered numbers.

I observed many women who still wore the kimono in the traditional style, plus a number of younger Japanese women who wore the shorter versions like a modern cardigan. inspired by this styling approach I bought a beautiful silk green one for just 500¥.

Remnants from Japan’s ‘factory’ economy

Fresh denim from Japan's industrial past.

Fresh denim from Japan’s industrial past.

This final category surprised me at first but after considering Japan’s history and it’s economic boom in the 80s it makes perfect sense. Many stores sold tonnes of chambray shirts, embroidered with company logos, American high school football hoodies and printed promotional canvas bags.

My guess is they were all samples, or leftovers from Japan’s production period for the west. It’s also worth mentioning the 90s summer dresses that have made it over to the Australian market, stock ‘dumped’ twenty years ago is being re-discovered again.

Have you been lucky enough to sample Japan’s lively second hand scene? What treasures did you find?

I chose to stay in Airbnb accommodation for most of this trip. If you haven’t checked Airbnb out yet, I recommend you give it a go as it has unlocked so many adventures for us. Use this link to sign up and get $30 off your next trip!


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