After living in Tokyo for the last 4 years or so, and dissatisfied with currently available guides, I decided to create a new, hopefully comprehensive guide to Fabric Shopping in Tokyo.
Tokyo, the Eastern Capital, is one of the biggest cities in the world. Vibrant, orderly, and densely populated, it has everything known to men and more. Of course, fabric shopping options ar endless (tho I never seem to find Rayon poplin!).
I plan to divide the guide into several section, the first about the famed Fabric Town in Nippori, in the Arakawa ward of Tokyo.
Nippori Sen-I-Gai (日暮里繊維街)
Nippori is a quiet neighborhood not so far from Ueno park. It is on the Yamanote Line, among others, and it is easy to reach. Once at the station, take the South exit and follow the directions for Fabric Town. If you intend to drive, please beware that parking on the street is not permitted in Japan. You will have to resort to one of the paying parking lots around town.
Once you are there, I suggest you take a map (most shops offer them for free). In case you could not find one, you can also print the pictures below.
As you can see, there are MANY shops. Here I will recommend sone of my favorite stores, but if you feel like visiting others, by all means do! The bigger and more famous stores, such as Tomato, may have English speaking staff, whereas the smaller once do not, but do not let this limit you: courtesy and signs will help you in this adventure.
Most shops in Nippori are open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm., and are closed during national holidays.
No. 7: MOMO
This one-room store is a little gem! MOMO sells both domestic and imported premium fabrics, from beautiful linen to lust-worthy cashmere. Mostly, they sell dressmaking fabrics, suitable for everything to underwear to a coat, but occasionally they may carry upholstery fabric. I do recommend checking the scrap bin (both outside the store and inside, in various nooks and corners), as they often offer cuts of 2 or more meters of their gorgeous fabrics. There seems to be no particular order of display, but since the shop is tiny browsing is not an issue.
Closed on Sundays and Holidays
no.9, 19, 22, 39: PAKIRA and ELEGANCE
These stores are part of the same group of shops carrying high quality fabrics. No. 9, Pakira (パキラ) is famous for the selection of Liberty prints (indeed an amazing selection, given that the store is 20 sqm or less). No. 22 sells mostly Liberty prints in knit form, and no. 19 general knits (anything from merino knits to ponte to poly, both solids and prints). This is my go-to shop for basic knits. Of course, you could always find cheaper prices at Tomato Main Store (no. 61), but I find the average quality to be higher here.
Elegance, at no. 39, features mostly imported fabrics for dressmaking, typically for gowns, but also suits and shirts. I love their scrap bins (actually scrap racks more than bins), since they tend to sell good yardage with a significant discount. If gorgeous shirtings or Italian suitings are what you are after, look no further than Elegance. You can find a nice selection of those in the first floor, whereas suitings of various kinds are sold on the second floor
No. 21 YOTO SHŌTEN
This unassuming store, on 2 levels, is my go-to for interfacings and lining, especially cupro. As a person who mostly uses sew-in, woven interfacing, I can find all kinds, weight, and colors in this shop. Beware that if you buy lining and interfacing from the bold (instead of the pre-cut bundles) the minimum purchase is 3 meters. Yoto Shoten is also one of the very few stores open on Sunday.
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00～18:30
No. 30 L-musée
If you are on the market for unique vintage buttons, this is the shop for you. Everything is very well organized in this tiny store, with the buttons orderly arranged in jars marking the price, size, provenance and material. The store also sells buckles, braids, and pre-made bias tape in interesting prints. Part of the same group is another store in Nippori, called Maru, which sells beads.
Closed on Sundays and holidays
No. 31, 58-61 TOMATO
I have a love.hate relationship with Tomato. I do like the Select house (no. 31), wth its calm atmosphere and selected fabrics, both imported and domestic. I also like the cheap prices of the main store (61). What I do not like is the perennial chaos which reigns there. Tomato is very famous, so everybody goes there. I must say the selection of silks is not bad at all, provided that you manage to get there! In addition, I am often frustrated with the shopkeepers, since most of them do not sew and can never answer my questions. I do recommend checking it out mostly for the massive selection of Japanese prints and Japan-only fabrics. One big advantage is the in all their multiple stores the fabrics are organized by kind (for example, all the knits, regardless of fiber, are on the same floor, so are all the silks, and all the wool). Do not be afraid by the first floor of the main store: once you move up the chaos will subdue and you will actually be able to touch the fabrics.
Open Mon-Sat 10:00～18:00
No. 81 YASUDA SHŌTEN
This shop is specialized in linen and cotton. You will mostly find locally produced solids here, as well as the occasional stripe. I like this store a lot, especially for domestically produced linen, so much so that it is my go-to store for quality solids. In particular, they have linen in every weight and apparently every color. Prices are higher than at Tomato and the selection smaller, but it is generally very quiet and the owners are lovely, so I chat with them every time I drop by.
Closed on Mondays, Sunday, and Holidays
NO. 84 IWASE SHŌTEN
The description of this store is “tasteful fabrics”, though the definition of tasteful seems to be very subjective. This store is very small and packed full of fabrics. In particular, I recommend this store for shirting fabrics, especially if Made in Italy is what you are after. Recently I have been able to spot several bolts of raw selvedge denim.
Closed on Sundays and holidays
This concludes the first installment of the Tokyo Fabric shopping guide. I do have more recommendations in Nippori, then I will move to different neighborhoods.
Hope you enjoyed it! Have fun.