Look for the big paper clip...you can't miss it!Let me start off with a frame of reference. The real estate on the Ginza is $1M per square foot…no exaggeration. It is some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Needless to say it is the Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue or Saville Row of Tokyo. VERY EXPENSIVE!!! We saw a melon – one melon that looked like a run of the mill melon – it was $1300. Yipes! However, if you know where to go it is the place to shop and see the best Japan has to offer. You should not go to Tokyo without making a trip to the Ginza. We enjoy it most during the early evening hours when all the people are out enjoying the streets, beautiful neon, trend setting fashions, shopping – and let’s face it – just being seen on the Ginza.

During our first trip to Japan in 2010, Itoya was recommended to us for paper shopping. At that time we didn’t really have a frame of reference for shopping on the Ginza. We knew it was the expensive part of town, we just didn’t realize how expensive. Itoya is a paper store right on the main drag of the Ginza. It is eight floors of paper and paper related products. Eight stories! No wonder there is a small cafe on the top floor,by the time you get there you need sustenance.

A little about the Itoya paper store. There are general writing instruments, paper products of all sizes, shapes, colors and price levels. We saw things within the store that we have only been able to find online. It is a wonderful place to test, touch, and experience all varieties of paper products, pens, inks, writing doo-dads, and traditional japanese paper crafts. My recommendation – pace yourself! After the third floor it can become MAJOR sensory overload. I would also recommend going in with a plan. We have spent three hours in the store touching and reviewing every paper product known to Japan, then ended up tired when we got to the section we really wanted to see. The map in the lobby is very easy to read, it is in multiple languages, so go to the section you most want to see – then visit the rest of the store.

This was our third trip to Itoya, so we knew just where to go for handmade papers. The store does not allow pictures within its walls, so the only one we can add are the outside shots. We arrived early and the store wasn't open yet - rats!(I greatly upset one of the sales women when I pulled out my camera the first time! The Japanese are VERY careful not to embarrass people, so her outburst let me know I was WAY out of line…lesson learned!!!) Handmade papers are on the 5th floor which is covered with everything handmade paper – paper supplies, origami, and fans, dolls, and a vast array of handmade anything. Take a deep breath and pace yourself. There are drawers and drawers and drawers…the nice thing about shopping here is that the sales people leave you alone to gather what you want, how you want, and for however long you want. On this trip my husband and nephew wandered the rest of the floor and store while I basked in the drawers, displays, and bins. When they came back I had selected about 40 pieces of paper (various sizes, colors, and textures) for purchase. I check my personal inventory for the colors and textures I need before traveling to Japan. In Itoya, I always check the sale bin as there are usually some real deals in there. The store doesn’t open until 10am, so plan ahead…

This is the writing instrument store! Note the big cartridge pen!

No need to worry about how you are going to carry the paper. The salesperson will roll it up, wrap it in protective heavy paper, and even put a strap on it for easy carrying. We take an empty duffel bag with us to manage all the rolls of paper we purchase as carry-on  for the plane trip home. As handmade paper is a national treasure in Japan, there is no duty on it when traveling back through customs, unless you purchase $1500 or more. We have confounded several customs employees when we tell them the whole duffel bag is full of paper. One guy winced, looked funny and said, “Paper, you bought paper???…must be some kind of paper!”

FYI, there are multiple Itoya locations throughout Japan – be sure to check them out as they are a great resource for papers not available in the United States. They have opened a new satellite store for high-end writing instruments (Mont blanc, Rotring, etc.) It is in the building right behind the main store…note the cartridge pen sign!

If you can only visit one paper store and need a variety of paper options, Itoya is the place. It doesn’t have to be the location on the Ginza, however don’t miss seeing the Ginza!

We went to more paper stores, so stay tuned for those posts coming soon!