Expect to spend serious money in Japan - prices can be extortionate, depending on the strength of the Yen, and as one of the shopping capitals of the world, you will want to shop till you drop. Take lots of cash, as many stores do not accept credit cards, especially cards issued abroad. Look out for discount stores, flea markets - usually held at shrines and temples - and depato, Japanese department stores.
The Japanese take the expression "the customer is always right" to new extremes; their equivalent is: o-kyaku-sama wa kami-sama, "the customer is a god", so service is usually excellent. In smaller stores, prices may be listed in kanji (Japanese ideographs), but "How much?" is usually understood, as it is the name of a popular TV game show.
Japanese department stores - depato - are a cultural education in two ways: firstly, many employees are trained in postures of deferential welcome and secondly, the gourmet speciality departments, located in the basements, reveal the delicacies proffered on ceremonies and special occasions. Japan 's most prestigious department stores are Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya, while the Matsuya, Matsuzakaya, Seibu and Tobu are less expensive. Most major depato close one or two days a month - different stores on different days of the week, but normally on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. These schedules vary considerably, so call ahead to confirm opening times. Major depato accept credit cards and provide shipping services.
Arts and Crafts
Japan has a rich artistic heritage, and the wealth of what is on offer is matched only by the wealth needed to buy it. However, souvenirs are available at manageable prices in both specialist shops and department stores. Specialist shops offer greater variety, though they are slightly more expensive than the pieces available in depato.
Ceramics are Japan 's most famous craft and different regions have their own distinct styles. Lacquerware rivals the artistic hegemony of ceramics, having evolved from a method of making utensils more durable. Be careful when you buy the wooden variety: it can crack if it is not stored in a humid atmosphere.
Dolls are beautiful examples of mingei(Japanese folk craft), with a history dating from the Edo period(1603-1868). Kokeshi are made of wood, cylindrical and painted; Hakata dolls, made in Kyushu's Hakata City, are ceramic figurines in traditional costume, and Daruma are papier-mâché dolls with rounded bottoms and faces that are often painted with amusing expressions.
From the country that brought us the MP3 player and the DVD, Japan is almost unrivalled for gizmos and gadgets. Unsurprisingly, Japanese cameras are amongst the best in the world and, for the 'techies', the latest gadget is usually available on the Japanese market first.
Clothing manufacturers know their market, so you may be hard pressed to find clothing, especially shoes that fit. Even if you do not find what your looking for, Japanese boutiques are meticulous in their use of interior design and lighting, so window-shopping itself can be a pleasure.
Kimonos, the traditional Japanese dress, are very expensive to buy new, so look for second-hand versions in flea markets, tourist shops and depato sales. Yakata are cotton kimonos, which are much cheaper; they also make great dressing gowns.
In general, shops are open from 10am to 7pm or 8pm. Most shops close for one day a week, although not always on a Sunday. For after-hours shopping, try shops such as Lawson, AM/PM, Seven-Eleven or the notorious vending machines where you can buy anything from CDs to used schoolgirls' underwear. Roboshops are Japan 's latest technological offering - they are staffed entirely by robots.