Japan is my favorite place to travel to. I cannot do this now, but I can still visit all the Japanese or Japan-inspired places in New York. And thankfully we have no lack of them. And who wants to read just another New York City guide, right? Plenty of those around. For this guide I start in Brooklyn and then move on to Manhattan starting from downtown and slowly going up, so you can explore by foot.
About Glamour – this is the best Japanese-owned consignment store left standing after the beloved Tokio7 in East Village fell victim to Covid and looting. The offerings are by designers from all over the world but the proportion of Japanese labels, especially Comme and Yohji, is high.
180 The Store – this multi-brand shop with a high concentration of Japanese brands like Kapital, Maharishi, and Nanamica may skew towards a more mature audience, but worth a visit not only for the clothes but for the home goods section as well. The shop is run by Denise Williams, who’s had a hand in helping iconic Japanese brands like Visvim develop in North America.
Blue in Green – a pioneer in bringing the Japanese denim to the United States, the store stock One denim, Pure Blue, Studio d’Artisan, and others. A decent selection of Kapital as well and a coffee machine should you need some fuel. (SZ Pro tip – there is black denim)
IF Boutique – around the corner from Blue in Green is one of the most iconic multi-brand boutiques in New York, a SoHo pioneer who’s been selling Yohji Yamamoto to Andy Warhol’s entourage. The shop sells plenty of Belgians and others, but at its core sits an excellent assortment from Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto. There is also Junya Watanabe and TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist.
Nanamica – this newly opened flagship for a cult Japanese techwear brand, whose designer also designs for North Face Japan (it’s complicated), was one of my best finds this year when I stumbled upon it while strolling in SoHo.
Snow Peak – if Nanamica skews towards techwear that’s really aimed for the street, Snow Peak takes no prisoners for real outdoorsy stuff. You can buy a portable stove to go with your weather-proof parka.
Uniqlo – this is a no-brainer for so many things – from thermal underwear to merino wool turtlenecks, to the actually worthwhile collabs with Jil Sander and J.W. Anderson. The quality is there and the price is right. Don’t miss a little Japanese book/magazine corner on the first floor by the registers – the store’s best-kept secret.
LOWER EAST SIDE
Self-Edge – This is the place to end all places for Japanese denim. Kiya Babzani, its co-founder, knows Japanese denim and workwear in and out and it shows in the passion he puts in the lineup of his store – Iron Heart and Sugar Cane denim, Buzz Rickson MA-1 reproductions, and so on. He also recently began a multi-year collaboration with Rick Owens on an exclusive line of DRKSHDW Japanese denim. Everything in the store screams quality and durability. Built for life and a must visit. (SZ Pro tip – everything comes in black).
Comme des Garçons – on the outer edge of Chelsea in the galaxy far far away between 10th and 11th Avenues, sits the Comme des Garçons flagship store. It’s all futuristic and gold and awesome, and includes fashion from the entire CDG universe. A must!
Dover Street Market – we know you know, but, you know, still have to go for everything from the CDG universe plus Undercover, and much, much more.
Kinokuniya – A New York outpost of the Japanese equivalent of a Barnes & Noble, this is where one goes to get Japanese magazines, books about Japan, out-of-this-world Japanese stationary, and manga (if that’s your thing). They also have your regular selection of English-language books, and a fantastic fashion book section.
P.S. The diehard Japanese fashion nerds will probably notice one major store missing from this guide – Nepenthes. That’s because I never actually went, so I don’t have anything to say about it, nor do I understand why a Needles track suit is something I should be excited about, but to each their own. So, should you happen to be into Engineered Garments and wish to go to Canada – I mean Long Island City – certainly give it a go.
EAT / DRINK
Samurai Mama – This casual Japanese restaurant always feels like home. Get the gyoza and the sushi taco set and you will be glad you are alive. There are several sister restaurants in the area run by the same team, and you won’t go wrong with any of them.
Chuko Ramen – I don’t imagine you’ll be going out to Chuko’s main location in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn any time soon, but they have a little outpost in a food hall in Williamsburg. Yes, food halls are lame as lame, but if you need a casual fuel-up, the ramen is excellent. If you do make it out to the main location, don’t sleep on the pork buns, kale salad, and crispy brussels sprouts.
LOWER EAST SIDE
Mr. Taka – an excellent casual ramen joint of many to follow here.
Raku – a brilliant house-made udon place. There is another branch in East Village.
Sugarfish – When this famous Los Angeles sushi restaurant opened in New York, quality of life went up here significantly. It ain’t exactly cheap, but you can easily pay 2-3 times the price for this level of quality. There are two more outposts in New York, in Flatiron and Midtown West.
Omen – if you want to drop a wad of cash for a traditional Japanese meal, you can come to this New York institution that seems to be as old as the SoHo of its art heyday and their cash only policy (really, who carries $300 in their pocket these days?). You are bound to run into a fashion celebrity here, because that’s where they congregate.
EN Japanese Brasserie – High end Japanese dining at its best, from the wonderful decor to brilliant food and service. Having been to Japan several times, I can attest that this restaurant totally holds its own. A perennial favorite.
29B – this wonderful Japanese teahouse is founded and run by Stefen Ramirez, who trained in Japan in the arts of the tea ceremony. So you know he takes tea seriously, sourcing it directly from the best farms in Japan and beyond. You can do a proper sit-down meal or just buy some tea to go. Don’t overlook the pottery and homeware section of the store. It’s not cheap, but you’ll know what you are paying for.
Ippudo – sure, everyone knows it and there are always lines out the door, but there is a reason for it. Arguably, Ippudo was the place that jump-started the ramen scene in New York and the fact that it hasn’t lost an ounce of quality despite its popularity speaks volumes. Come in, put your name down, get the outstanding pork buns and a beer and wait at the bar until you get a table.
Hi-Collar – One of the most regrettable casualties of Covid is this lovely small Japanese bar. For now you can get its excellent katsu sandwich to go in its new location. And don’t sleep on their coffee and iced tea (best iced tea I’ve had in New York).
Cha-An – another lovely Japanese teahouse on the second floor that transports you away from New York City as soon as you walk in (though the next time you’ll walk in will be after Covid is over). For now you can order excellent desserts and tea to go.
Otofuku x Medetai – Another Covid refugee temporary relocated (see website). Go to this lovely hole in the wall for the excellent takoyaki – octopus balls.
Angel’s Share – I’ve held this one close to my heart for a long time, but there are no secrets on the Internet for this 22-year-old bar that was a total revelation when it opened. Mimicking countless Tokyo bars that are hidden away from the street, this one sits on the second floor behind an unmarked door inside a casual Japanese restaurant. The cocktails and snacks are absolutely stellar. Parties of four are a maximum allowed, and loud talking discouraged. A real oasis.
Minca – Although it’s not my favorite, this is a highly regarded ramen spot, so I’ll just leave it here.
Ramen Goku – One of the many excellent ramen spots in Manhattan, around the corner from Dover Street Market.
Tonchin – New favorite ramen spot. Simply outstanding ramen and equally outstanding drinks. Probably the best Old-Fashioned I’ve had in my life outside of the one at Claridge’s hotel in London.