Contemporary Art and Design
Galleries and showrooms come and go in Tokyo; check local sources of Information for the latest shows. The Spiral Garden in Minami-Aoyama’s Spiral Building usually has something interesting by Japanese artists. The shop on the second floor has a selection of contemporary housewares.
In Ginza you can find works by Japanese artists at Galleria Grafica, Gallery Seizan, and Yoseido Gallery Ginza Graphic Gallery exhibits both Japanese and foreign works. The Watari-um (Watari Museum of Contemporary Art) near Harajuku has displays of architecture, video, and film media. In Shinjuku the NTT Intercommunication Center in Tokyo Opera City features exhibits and installations using the latest technology. In the same building is the Tokyo Opera City Gallery, which displays Japanese painting, watercolors, and examples of graphic art of all types.
Excellent contemporary prints can be found at the Tolman Collection near Tokyo Tower. For contemporary ceramics, try Koransha in Ginza. Good sources of modern housewares and kitchen gadgets are the department stores Tokyu Hands and Matsuya, which is also in Ginza.
Traditional Arts and Crafts
Crafts are thriving in Japan. Ceramics is by far the most active craft, and the average Japanese person has a working knowledge of the distinct styles and techniques used in different areas of the country. The larger ceramic bowls used for matcha (powdered green tea) are striking in their simple, natural forms; good pieces will be firmly packed in a wooden box.
Lacquerware plates, trays, chopsticks, and bowls make excellent souvenirs that are light and easy to transport. The various forms of Japan’s beautiful paper, washi, also make lightweight gifts; it can be bought as writing paper or In packs of square sheets for origami.
Maruzen in Nihonbashi is an excellent source of many of these craft items, including ceramics, woodcraft, and lacquerware, as is Takumi in Ginza. Itoya, also in Ginza, is packed with crafts, especially washi, it also has brushes, ink, and inkstones for calligraphy.
Kurodaya, at Senso-ji Temple, has been selling washi for around 180 years and stocks everything from modern stationery to traditional kites, plus a wide selection of chiyogami style wrapping paper, and traditional masks and clay figurines.The Japan Folk Crafts Museum has a small, high-quality selection.
There is a whole tradition of dolls made for viewing in glass cases; these run into hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to buy. A good supplier is Yoshitoku in Asakusa. Mataro Ningyo in Ueno specializes in Edo kimekomi dolls. The figurines in Sukeroku, at the end of Senso-ji’s Nakamise-dori, are easy to carry home.
Norers, the cloth curtains that hang over the entrances to many small shops, are unique mementos. Bengara specializes in noren, with beautiful cotton and silk designs.
Wood-block prints are rarely bargains, but are available at reasonable prices. In Jinbocho two famous shops are almost next to each other: Ohya Shobo and Hara Shobo. For new prints from old wood-blocks on washi isetatsu is excellent; it also sells beautiful sheets of chiyogami from old designs.
There are all kinds of niche shops filled with uniquely Japanese items. The following are all in Nakamise-dori at Senso-ji: Sanbido sells religious statues and beautiful dolls; Nishijima Umbrellas has traditional umbrellas; Tokiwado has been selling kaminariokoshi crackers – famous for crackling like a clap of thunder when bitten – for 200 years; Nakatsuka sells candles and sweet crackers.
Kappabashi-dori is Tokyo’s center for kitchenware and plastic food.