From some of the world’s finest denim to 120-year-old kimonos, Asia’s retail scene offers everything you can imagine—crafted by artisans from all around the globe. Here, we’ve rounded up the best shops the continent has to offer.
Kapital, Various Locations, Japan
For enthusiasts, Japanese denim is the most prized, favored for its deep dyes; rough, imperfect hand; and (if you’ve never worn it) startling density. Since the debut of Big John in 1965, the city of Kurashiki has produced the bulk of Japan’s jeans. Perhaps the most comprehensive denim shopping on earth is found in the Jeans Street district, a five-minute cab ride from Kojima Station. Today, many of the top brands are also found in Tokyo. Try the craft-obsessed, hippie-nomad brand Kapital or the classic, understated Momotaro. For a retro experience, head to the stalls of Ameyoko open-air market in Ueno, where Occupation soldiers once sold off their used pairs. Maruseru, the very first store in the nation to sell jeans, is still going strong.
The Nishijin Textile Center, Kyoto
The Nishijin Textile Center offers simple cotton yukata robes ($60) and custom silk kimonos that take 30 days to be made. Prices start at around $2,500 and can reach $9,950.
Since 1688, Hosoo has been creating some of Japan’s finest textiles using hand-dyed yarn, three-dimensional weaving techniques, and ornate brocades from its headquarters in Kyoto’s Nishijin textile district.
What began as an obi (kimono sash) workshop remains a family-owned business, only now it sells to designers such as Chanel, Dior, and Yohji Yamamoto; debuts collections at Milan’s Salone del Mobile; and makes iridescent fabric by injecting jellyfish proteins into silkworms. By appointment, Hosoo offers consultations, glimpses of its 20,000 archival patterns, and showroom tours. While it caters to fashion houses, Hosoo sells fabric starting at $100 a foot.
Toshiyuki Ohigashi is the fourth generation of his family to run this shop near the Jonangu shrine. Daitou got its start selling futon bedding such as soft cotton gauze sheets (a queen set is $138), and today it also stocks items like pajamas. Bleached over four consecutive days—most companies complete the process in 40 minutes—the store’s special fabric keeps one cool in summer and warm in winter. The shop also happens to be certified by the Department of Sleep Medicine at Japan’s Shiga University.
A contemporary lacquer gallery south of the Imperial Palace, Zohiko was a purveyor to the imperial court. Its craftsmen use 16 techniques to lacquer wood, sometimes gilding it with metallic powders or applying gold in millimeter-wide lines. A set of 12 modern sake cups is the best seller. Prices range from $26 for a lacquered bamboo dish to $44,000 for an inkstone box.
Housed in a 120-year-old townhouse near Tatsumi Bridge, Sekisen is popular with collectors of antique bamboo, lotus leaf, and rattan baskets. (Prices range from $400 to $50,000.) Owner Michikazu Mizutani, a fifth-generation art dealer, is also an expert on regional design styles. “There are over 80 antique shops in this area, so we each do what we love best,” he says. His sons Yuichiro and Masaya sell ancient painted scrolls in the shop’s back room.
Kamiji Kakimoto, Kyoto
Founded as a bamboo business in 1716, Kamiji Kakimoto now supplies everything from origami kits to richly printed business cards. The shop, close to the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, has a wall of rainbow-hued washi and stocks more than 10,000 varieties of paper. Among them is aizome ($94 a sheet), which is made from Japanese indigo plants, and is a favorite of interior decorators.
Pass the Baton, Kyoto
A two-story designer thrift store near the Minami-za Kabuki theater, Pass the Baton opened last year to critical acclaim. The shop sells not only vintage bags (some priced as high as nearly $18,000), 120-year-old kimonos, and antique Japanese glass, but also the latest fashions and recycled washi lanterns. Hip locals head to the bar downstairs for sake and tea-based cocktails.
Hitamuki showcases tableware and decorative pieces by artists working with old materials. Look for thinly shaved Kurikyu cedar lunch boxes, which protect food from humidity, and tumblers from glassblower Chie Metaka, who grinds glass on a diamond wheel before reheating it to attain remarkably smooth surfaces. Most items cost less than $300.
This metal-goods maker, which started out designing religious artifacts for shrines and temples, has been in business since 1838. It remains Kyoto’s only pewter specialist. Working out of a studio near City Hall, five in-house artisans craft tea sets, incense holders, and chopsticks in pewter, silver, bronze, and copper. We particularly like the pewter sake cups ($50) and silver teapots ($3,500). Seikado also exhibits modern metal masters.
In a tiny atelier near Hokyoji temple, Hiyoshiya’s artisans produce umbrellas, lampshades, and bamboo frames. Founded 160 years ago to furnish parasols often used for tea ceremonies, Hiyoshiya has adapted well to the times—its lampshades hang in stylish hotels, and its new line of compact umbrellas feature waterproof bioplastic derived from sugarcane. Prices range from $60 to $3,600.
The Armoury, Hong Kong
With tailors from Spain, Italy, and the UK, the Armoury has sourced some of the world’s most exceptional craftsmen for bespoke men’s clothing. Alongside suits, the dark-wooded shop also offers accessories like Drake’s ties and Alden shoes. There’s also another location in Hong Kong on Queen’s Road Central, and in Manhattan on Duane Street.
Harvey Nichols, Hong Kong
While Harvey Nichols is a British department store, its Asian outpost offers emerging labels from China, Japan, and Singapore that you won’t find elsewhere. You can also find another location in the Landmark.
Ganesh Emporium, Udaipur, India
Udaipur’s family-owned Ganesh Emporium features sixteen galleries overflowing with silk fabrics, cashmere pashminas, paintings, and more. And the prices are right. A bonus: the mecca ships internationally.
Maharani, Jaipur, India
Maharani’s selection is not only extensive—some of the world’s finest cashmere, silk shawls, alpaca, embroidered scarves, patchwork quilts, and more—it’s all handmade by local artisans.