No18 [Journey] Through the tower of delights

Even someone not often inclined to go shopping cannot resist the appeal of Tokyu Hands.

Being someone who doesn’t like shopping and whose idea of hell is a day at a mall, most stores leave me cold. One of the very few exceptions in Tokyo is the mighty Tokyu Hands, the unfortunately nicknamed “Hint Market” where you can not only find what you are looking for but, perhaps even more importantly, almost always discover things you didn’t even know existed. A visit to Tokyu Hands is a head-spinning mix of adventure, treasure hunt and field research and each floor is like a different amusement park attraction. According to the official floor guide, Tokyu Hands’ flagship store in Shibuya spans nine floors, two of them underground. The truth is more complicated though, as each floor is divided into three sub levels (A, B and C, for a grand total of 24 different areas) and the whole structure looks like a giant spiral. So let’s take the elevator to the top of the building and start from 7A where we find the store’s latest addition, “Hint 7”, which features no174the Hands Cafe and whose large loft-like space is often devoted to workshops. Downstairs at 6C we find an interesting combination: jewellery-making supplies AND pet supplies, which perfectly makes sense as pets have lately replaced children in Japan as the family treasure. On this floor we also meet the first of the 274 white-shirted staff who patrol the store.

With their green aprons stuffed with tools and notebooks, they are always on the lookout for confused customers in search of advice. From jewels to sewing materials it’s just a short trip downstairs, and it’s here that the real tour de force begins. Personally I couldn’t care less about fabrics, buttons, etc. but the variety of colours and shapes are truly mesmerizing, let alone the funky-looking leopard-printed Bernina sewing machine displayed on top of an antique model that sells for 40,000 yen. Time to take a break and have some fun on the games and party goods floor (6A) where several versions of The Game of Life enjoy pride of place near the stairs. Even on this floor the variety is breathtaking, but the terrifying monster masks which take up the whole wall and the spooky doll of current ultraconservative prime-minister Shinzo Abe scare me into the soothing realm of craft and design, full of art supplies. In the washi corner, for instance, a bilingual sign explains the properties of Japanese paper and gives advice on how to use it in original ways. In another corner an array of pink wrapping paper has been used to make a stylish mini giraffe, while Kumamon – the cute bear (kuma in Japanese) that represents Kumamoto prefecture – is featured on writing brushes and other products from that part of Japan. This is only the fifth floor but I’ve already reached my personal paradise and decide to spend the next hour among paper, pens (14,000 different kinds!), colours and other design supplies.

Maybe later I will pay a visit to floor 2A (stationery) to buy my new personal planner and maybe a few fancy stickers. Curious people with more stamina than me can proceed downstairs, rest their tired legs for a few minutes at the Hint Pit and then venture into the Kingdom of Light. Although, if you don’t have a good pair of sunglasses you may be blinded by all those light bulbs and fixtures. Those with no need for fancy illumination are advised to go to floor 3C and tackle the over 18,000 different kitchen items instead. Here a lot of the fun comes from guessing how to use many of the strange implements on display. One wonders how big a kitchen would need to be in order to store all those knives, pans, whisks and… what the hell is that?! Whenever I feel philosophical I head to one of my favorite floors, 2C (beauty and cosmetics). It is here, surrounded by all kinds of cosmetics and hair, body and facial-care products, that one can meditate on human vanity. Honestly, many of those strangely shaped objects look like instruments of torture. I can’t imagine the pain many women – and a growing number of men – go through in order to look or feel better. Among all those truly amazing and unimaginable things you will find the latest trend for so-called “kogao” goods (products that are supposed to make your face look smaller). It is a brave or curious customer indeed who would be tempted to buy the “Head Refresher” which looks suspiciously like a shark’s jaws. Last, but not least, over 45,000 DIY products are strategically placed on the lower floors. These represent the heart of the store, as Tokyu Hands originally opened as a shop that could give people all the tools they needed to make things themselves. But even if you are not into DIY, you will surely find something for yourself. Enjoy.

Gianni Simone

Photo: Jérémie Souteyrat