Sunday, April 14, 2013

Marin County Antique Market

    I spent a delightful day yesterday at the Marin County Indoor Antique Market, held twice a year at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California. For many years, this show was, uh, BORING.. but new management and new dealers have really added quality and BLING to this event.  

    There are more than eighty booths to visit where you can shop for unique decorative items for your home, including one-of-a-kind treasures from the 20's thru 60's. There's furniture, tableware, linens, and more knick-knacks than you'll find at Grandma's house. Several dealers specialize in Asian art and accessories, most very fairly priced. I spotted a fab blue and white porcelain buddah for $45. Of course, it was a repro, but at that price, who cares?

     Antique, vintage and estate jewelry occupy a big percentage of floor space. There are a couple of dealers who specialize in silver and one who exhibits and sells Bakelite exclusively. Also check out the watches and clocks, Native American art and artifacts, books, photographs, postcards, posters and prints. Ancient coins, vintage toys, kitchen collectibles and vintage clothing ...
     The next show will be held December 7 - 8. Hours are Saturday 10 - 6, and Sunday 10 - 5.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mug Shot

     I got an email this morning from a reader who wanted to know if my blog is sponsored by Starbucks. She noticed that I always post a 'mug shot' for each destination I write about. Well, the answer is no.
     I began collecting Starbucks city mugs about nine years ago, shortly after I started writing the Born to Shop travel guides with Suzy Gershman . The first mug was purchased on Oxford Street in London. It was pissing rain and I was cold, wet and miserable yet had more research to do and another neighborhood to two to visit. There was a Starbucks on the corner and a free seat next to the window so I bought a latte and plopped down for a few minutes of R & R. The London city mugs were displayed on a nearby shelf and I thought "what a great pencil holder for my home office".
     Fast forward nine years, twenty-some countries on five continents and more articles and stories than I can remember writing, and I'm still buying those mugs wherever I go. They now hold everything from pencils to nail files to dog biscuits and yeah, a few dead bugs.. Most importantly, they hold memories of the best travels and the best job in the world.
     I read in the NY Times recently that Starbucks was moving into Vietnam, a country I've visited and written about several times. Guess it's time to go back; I need some more mugs.

Shopping Kyoto

     Like most ancient cities, Kyoto is built on the sides of a river. You’ll find yourself referring to destinations as ‘this side of the river’ and ‘that side of the river’. The older portions of the city are to the east of the river, whereas the train station, many hotels and the downtown shopping area are west of the river. By shopping neighborhood, here’s what you’ll find….

ARTS & CRAFTS CENTER: Sakyo-ku is the name of this district, although it is sort of out in right field to the east of the central shopping district. There’s a nice shrine and a few antiques stores around here, and the Handicraft Center is as large as a department store with classes and a rent-a-kimono-for-a-photo department. Great for gifts; we bought original woodblocks. Take the elevator to the top then walk and shop your way down.

GION/ GEISHA LAND: Taxis can drop you at Gion Corner, which is near the shopping and the area shrines; this is an address you can tell a driver in English and he will understand. This is the oldest part of Kyoto and home to wonderful shops a street of antiques dealers and many geisha homes.

KAWARAMACHI: This is my favorite shopping street in town; the destination that we all aspire to. This main drag bisects Shinjo and leads to City Hall and the Okura Hotel. Along the way, there are covered sidewalks on both sides of the street with boutiques, pachinko parlors, cafes, department stores and even a 100 Yen shop.

NISHIJIN: Slightly to the north of the main action, this district was once the textile area of town. The touted Nishijin Textile Center is a glorified TT, although the kimono fashion show was fun.  There are no tiny little ateliers making or dying fabrics. For vintage kimonos, go to the antiques district. The location is not in a strolling around part of town but you are a short walk from the Imperial Palace.

KYOTO STATION: The modern station home of the bullet train has box lunches for sale and scads of souvenir shops. Buy your green tea KitKat bars here. Station shopping is so good that you may enjoy this more than Tokyo.

NISHIKI MARKET : Central ‘downtown’ location for this marketplace  which is like an enclosed mall with a colored glass ceiling. There are raw foodstuffs and ingredients, mostly are in artistic poses…such as piles of rice that look like a magazine spread. Many stalls and cafes for eating; no yucky smells.

SHINMONZEN : Street on edge of Gion  devoted to older houses turned into art galleries and antiques shops. Very picturesque. Stores closed on Mondays.

SHINKYOGOKU: Arcade running behind Shijo’s main shopping street— something like a mall, filled with boutiques, eats, multiples, a few 100 Yen Shops and lotsa fun. Don’t miss it.

SHIJO / SHIN-OHASHI: You could call this the high street or the main shopping street, on both sides of the river. Shin-Ohashi is the bridge leading to Gion. There are stores on the eastern side (Gion side)—this is incredible shopping in terms of tiny shops with gourmet foodstuffs and boutiques of local designer fashions. Shijo dead-ends at the Yasaka Temple (a must-do) and is possibly the most important shopping thoroughfare in Kyoto.  On the western edge, you find your basic ‘downtown’ shopping with all the big department stores and banks.


     I am hindered here by not being able to read some of the addresses I have on cards—this is especially true for the little bitty shops in Gion and the marvelous food stores on Shinjo Street on the way to Yasaka Temple.

LOFT, KAWARAMACHI: A department store devoted to young looks and hot merchandise, this is a good source for gifts, gadgets, unique items, designer masking tape; there’s a branch of Uniqlo in the store also. Loft has stores all over Japan; it is a division of Seibu.

TAKASHIMAYA, SHIJO-KAWARAMACHI: At the crossroads of the major shopping district, this department store has everything you need and want but isn’t so large as to make you nuts. In the ground floor accessories department you’ll find various brands you don’t know as well as small scarves and wonderful accessories. The makeup department is large and complete.

MEIDI-YA:  An international supermarket something like Whole Foods; also in Tokyo.

YODOBASHI:  Branch of the electronics department store that sells everything; also in Tokyo.

Incense Prayer Store: It has a name, but who can read it? Not me! This chic, stunning store sells only incense. What makes it so special is the small shrine built into the rear of the store. On Shinjo Street in the Gion section.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


     As difficult as Tokyo can be to cope with, Kyoto is easy. Shopping is breezy, the city is simple to navigate and the visuals really make you feel like you are in Japan. All the big department stores and multiples have a branch here, but there are scads of little shops featuring foodstuffs, crafts, accessories and hair doo-dahs, antiques and all the other goodies you came to buy.
     Kyoto is a city where part of the experience of your visit is to visit the shrines. Even if your favorite shrine is the 100 Yen Shop, pull on your obi and get out your wallet… it’s time for a feast. As the capital of Japan for ten centuries, and as a city that was not heavily bombed during World War II, Kyoto is the fairyland where you step back into time.


     Thanks to the bullet train from Tokyo Station, you can be in Kyoto in two and a half hours. While technically you can do this as a day trip, don’t go that route. There’s so much to do and see and shop in Kyoto that you need to spend at least one night and preferably seven. You may just want to move here.
       The price of your train ticket from Tokyo is based on the speed of the train—the fastest of the fast trains is called the Nozomi and fare is approximately $150 per person each way. Since there are about ten trains from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in an hour, you shouldn’t have much trouble booking one. We asked the concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo to get our tickets, but it would have been easy to buy them at Tokyo Station.
     Enroute to Kyoto, we passed through beautiful countryside and mountains and paddies and even saw the sea once past Yokohama. We got out at Kyoto Station and immediately fell into one of the retail stores in the station -- it was so cute and so crammed with attractive merchandise that we needed and gained a quick fix.


     After a drive through beautiful downtown Kyoto , we arrived at the Okura Hotel Kyoto.  I’ve stayed at this hotel on all of my visits to Kyoto because of its perfect location—walking distance to just about everything, just down the street from the main shopping districts and right above a metro station. I’d say there is not a more perfect place.  Rooms are large and there’s free Wi-Fi. The hotel has a grand lobby and many restaurants.  If you don’t have breakfast included in your room rate, note that there is a café, The Cascade Café, in the sub-basement that makes the best croissants outside of France. Next to the Cascade there’s a mini-mart so you can get bottled water and snacks for your room.

     More hotel options:

     While several of the big name chains have hotels in town, most of the choices are perhaps names you don’t recognize. I’ve heard from others that the Regency Kyoto Hyatt is considered a glam choice, with a famous Japanese restaurant on premises.  . The Japanese upmarket hotel chain Nikko does have a hotel here; this is the Hotel Nikko Princess, right in the heart of town.  The ANA Hotel Kyoto is a large modern hotel right near the Castle—some rooms have castle views—with lovely touches that make this a good choice. There’s a free shuttle bus to and from the train station and there are several restaurants on premises. I compare this hotel to an InterConti although they are not really related. This is not a brilliant location for strolling and shopping, but is central enough for getting around easily. Note that Peninsula, Four Seasons and InterConti do not have hotels in Kyoto

    There are also assorted Japanese style inns, which many people find is part of the charm of a visit back in time. Kyoto is one giant tourist destination and hotels do sell out, especially at peak vacation times. Book as far ahead as possible.


       You can walk to most places in Kyoto and most hotels will hand out free walking maps. Sensible shoes are to be encouraged.   Note that if you are wearing geta (Japanese platform flip-flop sandals) you will not be able to walk very far.
      Taxis are slightly less expensive than in Tokyo. Once you get to the old parts of town, there is a one-way system that may make you feel that your driver is cheating you.
    The subway system is easy to use and efficient, although it may not get you everywhere you want to go or you may have to walk a good deal to get to a station and to your destination from a station. Look for a hotel that is convenient to a subway stop, just to cover the bases. 


     Like all of Japan, Kyoto is expensive. It’s also touristy.  All hotels have restaurants; there is also a large district of bars and cafes near the bridges on the western side of town. Note how popular Indian food is. 

Pizza Salvatore - We had an unexpectedly great meal at Pizza Salvatore on the day when we couldn’t stand to eat Japanese food any more. It’s right near the Kamo River, one block from the Okura Hotel. This pizza place is famous and has another branch called Kitchen Salvatore above the train station.

Teppanyaki Restaurant Tokiwa - We had one of the best meals of the trip in this steakhouse in the Okura Hotel. If you’re craving teppanyaki, look no more... We ordered a combo dinner and total tab per person (including a glass of wine) was about $100. 

Loft Noodle - The real name of this fabulous noodle cafeteria is in Japanese; I call it Loft Noodle because it is quite close to the Loft department store on the main shopping street. When you enter, you get in line—you can watch noodles being made as you move forward. Then you point to the way you want the noodles, the soup and what you want in it or on top of it—there’s veggies or tempura choices and seasonings. You carry your own tray to the rear to sit down to eat and bus your tray when you are done. Lunch per person is less than $10. This is a must do place in a great shopping shopping location right on Kawaramachi Street.   

Tomorrow: Shopping Kyoto 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Shopping Tokyo

 Shopping in Tokyo
     Tokyo offers the most amazing shopping in possibly the world, because many cultures are represented. You’ll find Western and Asian merchandise and brands, as well as ancient crafts forms and items rarely found elsewhere. The wealth of visual stimulation is amazing, as are the prices. But never mind, we came here to stare at everything. And to learn a little.
     Cultural values are often hidden in the merchandise. For example, in post-WWII Japan, new and shiny is better, so old or used merchandise has little value. You can buy such items at temple sales all over the country. Novelty is important, as is brand name and gift wrap per presentation. Even a birthday card will be presented with a bow and much fanfare.
     Wacky inventions and gadgets are much appreciated. In fact, you can buy a book about absurd Japanese inventions. They may not be absurd to a Japanese person, but to western sensibilities, they may be hilarious.
     Local style may be trend setting or kitschy—who could guess that this is the home of Hello, Kitty?  I’ve been intrigued by those animated hamsters for years—anime and illustrated novels influence shopping style and merchandise all over Asia.
     Architecture is also an important part of the Tokyo shopping experience. Many of the stores in Tokyo are mini-museums, built by the biggest names in international style. Tokyo boutiques tend to be showcases for both the brand and the architect. (See Omotesando below).
     Department stores are very complete; most have grocery stores as well as many restaurants on premises. They have crafts departments, souvenir departments and various designer and local brands.
      Certainly local culture insists that designer goods be the real deal, not faux. No one here wants or ever buys a copy bag. All hail the Vuitton tote… and the Chanel double C’s.
     Prices are a little less when you get outside of Tokyo; condsider shopping at Dollar Stores and temple sales if you are looking for affordable thrills.

Japanese Brands

    We’re all familiar with the biggest names in Japanese style and ready to wear since most of them show in Paris and have stores all over the world—Kenzo, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, etc.
     Much of the merchandise I have found attractive in Tokyo is from brands that do not have distribution outside the country or are local phenoms. The department stores are a good place to prowl for new favorites.
     Please note that Harajuku Lovers is a U.S. brand.

Tokyo Shopping Neighborhoods
(in alphabetical order)

Akihabara: This is the electronics district of Tokyo, it is also the home of many manga shops and even the infamous ‘maid cafes’. There are plenty of places to eat; you may want to spend a whole day exploring this district, testing gadgets. This is one of the most crowded parts of Tokyo on weekends.
Asakusa: Not to be confused with Akasaka, this district is near Ueno and Akhiabara, has a famous shrine and is included on most official tours of the city. The pathway to the shrine
(Sensoji Temple) is lined with very cute shops - Nakamise Shopping Street. There are some museums here as well as a chance to get the feel of old Edo.
Ginza: If Tokyo had a ‘downtown’, this would be it for shoppers. Ginza is an internationally known street address and is home to many department stores and brand name boutiques. I find the crossroads of the 4-Chome to be the center of the shopping world; this is sometimes referred to as Yonchome Crossing. It’s also a five minute walk to the Peninsula Hotel.
Harajuku: This popular teen-tween shopping destination has become an icon through brands such as Harajuku Lovers (a U.S. brand) and exposure to a specific style of over-dressing that is popularized in the stores here. Like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it. On week-ends, you’ll see the girls out en masse; ask if you can take their pictures—they are usually thrilled. The best street in Tokyo for shopping or browsing or absorbing the culture is Takeshita Dori, right near Harajuku Station.
Kanda: District known for second -hand books, most of which are in Japanese. A portion of this district is devoted to second-hand musical instruments.
Kappabashi: The district that sells cooking utensils as well as wax models of foodstuffs used in displays in local restaurants.
Omotesando: Adjacent to Harajuku, this upmarket shopping street has branches of many of the big name designer boutiques and is often known for the architectural styles of the stores.
Roppongi: Big designer shopping district near Akasaka and the diplomatic center of town as well as a district used by most expats… and known for several museums. There is a shopping development here called Tokyo Midtown that abuts the subway station—this is just a clever name, do not think of Roppongi as midtown Tokyo.
Shibuya: An upmarket area next to Harajuku and Omotesando, known for department stores as well as the famed statue of a dog who came to the Shibuya Station daily to wait for his master, not knowing that the master had died.
Shinjuku: Bright lights, big crowds, many chain stores and lotsa action for young people and those who buy vinyl at the big music stores.  Large and major train station makes this the center of the world for many; there are numerous hotels in this area as well.
Tsukiji: Home of the famous fish market; not far from Ginza.
Ueno: My motto: ‘Ueno is bueno” – this is a street market and hopping neighborhood for mostly western goods, after 11AM. There are gardens, cherry blosssoms and museums here, but I come for the Ameyoko Market, which developed during World War II.

Shopping Hours

     Many stores open at 11AM and close at 8 or 9pm; some stores open earlier—but always check or you could be out in the cherry blossoms. Many people like to arrive at a department store right before it opens to see the opening ceremonies, which include a lot of people bowing to you in their cute uniforms.
     Shopping on weekends is a national event, so stores are crowded then.

Must-Do Shopping Ops of Tokyo

    You may be over-whelmed as you contemplate shopping adventures in Tokyo or you may think that Ginza is the ultimate shopping destination. Hey, wait! Because this is a city of small towns, you can easily handle it all with a short list of destinations. This is my personal must-do list:

·         Tsukiji Fish Market: There is a rumor that this market will close and re-locate, but until then make it a point to use jetlag in your favor and get to this market around 6AM for a look-see and a sushi breakfast. The famed Tuna Auctions now require a ticket (get in line at 4AM) but you can walk around and take gobs of photos, eat the most amazing sushi of your life and shop at a few stalls that sell fishy souvenirs. Don’t make the mistake that we did... Check before you leave the hotel to make sure it isn’t a Japanese holiday. The market could be closed.
·         Ginza 4: This is the heart of Ginza, the crossroads of various department stores and local chains. If you walk toward the 1 chome you can find Itoya, a must- see craft and papergoods store; on the far side of the 4-chome crossroads there’s a Uniqlo; don’t miss the department stores here as well—they’re great for local goods/brands and for lunch. Look at the Wako Clock Tower to know where you are—Wako is the Bergdorf Goodman of Tokyo.
·         Takeshita Dori: The most adorable pedestrian street through the heart of Harajuku where you can see the small boutiques and follow a route to the larger trendy stores as well as the high end shopping portion of Omotesando.
·         Omotesando: Wide avenue with designer shops on both sides – a good place to stroll to enjoy the architecture and window shopping of an upscale Tokyo neighborhood. I like to come on Sundays. Note that most stores here open at 11AM.
·         Takashimaya Shinjuku: This is a nice department store made nicer by the fact that within the same building, there is a branch of Tokyu Hands, a crafts and gadgets and novelty and gifts store.
·         Ueno/Ameyoko: This street market is dull and boring in the mornings, so get here around lunch time for a look at real people doing their shopping. Walk in the pedestrian lanes and visit the stalls and small shops for foodstuffs, souvenirs, trendy gifts and much Hello Kitty merchandise. There are a couple of shops devoted to vintage Louis Vuitton bags. Prices for new LV bags have risen about 13% in recent months, so "vintage" has never made more sense.

Local Heroes

Oriental Bazaar
9 Jingumae 5-chome, Shibuya-ku, Closed Thursday
     This store has changed a lot since I have been shopping here, but you’ll find it a somewhat modern version of a TT (tourist trap) that sells everything from kimonos to woodblocks to fancy souvenirs. Come here on your stroll around the ‘hood; this is near Harajuku. I bought some small bonsai growing kits for gifts.
Hayashi Kimono
International Arcade, 2-1-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
     One of the most famous kimono dealers in Tokyo, with kimono for both men and women. Much of the merchandise is touristy; I didn’t see anything to swoon for, but this is a good source for basics.
     I usually buy kimono in Kyoto or at the street vendor near Harajuku who hangs out on Sundays at the corner of Meiji-Dori and Omotesando; my budget for a used kimono is $25. I once got a great kimono in the used kimono department of one of the famous Ginza department stores; all department stores have kimono departments.
Shibuya 109
     This is is an entire building of in the mode shops, particularly popular with local teens and tweens. There are actually two different buildings, the second one is called 109-2. There are restaurants on the 8th floor.
Branches all over town and in some department stores, also note Ginza 5-7-7. There’s a branch at Narita in Terminal 1, 4th floor.
     Prices are lower in Japan than many places in the world, but this brand is known for offering fashion values. This is something like The Gap of Japan, but the brand has international scope. Their thermal line is soft and cuddly and perfect for layering in wintertime. The brand is expanding into the US with locations in New York and San Francisco.
Tokyu Hands
12-18 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
This is one of my favorite stores in all of Japan, although note that the various branches are different. The original flagship (address above) is the best one, but the one in Shinjuku is easy to get to and modern and new. The store is a department store of color and gadgets and fun merchandise that you’ve probably never seen elsewhere. I also like the location of the flagship in Shibuya; you can stroll around a little bit and also grab a burger nearby at Freshness Burger.

Snack & Shop

     Grabbing s bite while you’re out shopping is never hard in Japan, although sticking to an under $10 for lunch budget can be a challenge. We sometimes get prepared foods from the department stores that have incredible grocery stores and eat a picnic; there’s also plenty of fast food around. Noodle shops sometimes have a touchscreen outside; make your selection, grab the ticket and go inside. Your order will be served within minutes.
     Most department stores have restaurants and/or food courts. If you can’t read the menu, remember that most restaurants have plastic models of the food…or you can point to what someone else is eating.

Next stop: Kyoto