Photo by George Lloyd

Bingoya Handicrafts: probably the best souvenir shop in Tokyo

One of the difficulties of shopping for high-quality Japanese craft products in Tokyo is finding everything under one roof. This is where Bingoya comes in. A capacious shop in Shinjuku, it has one of the widest selections of top quality, reasonably priced handicrafts in the city.

There are few other places where you can find quality ceramics, lacquerware, traditional wooden toys, indigo-dyed clothes, greetings cards, leatherware, and glassware in a single shop. Better still, many of the displays have handy explanations in English.

Photo by George Lloyd

Among the wonderful goods on offer in Bingoya are inden bags and purses. Inden 印伝 is a deerskin craft that dates back 400 years. It is soft, light, flexible yet strong, and used to be widely used in samurai armour.

Laquered deerskin (kosu inden) is a speciality of Kosu, a town in Yamanashi prefecture. The technique was pioneered by Uehara Yushichi and is still practiced by his family 13 generations later. They tan, dye and silkscreen the deerskin with colourful lacquers and use the resulting inden to make purses, wallets, belts, and handbags.

Photo by George Lloyd

Bingoya also has excellent wooden boxes and jars made from cherry tree bark, which is popular among craftspeople because it is unaffected by humidity and doesn't dry out. It has been used to make handles on bows and brushes in Japan for 1000 years and cherry bark craft (桜皮細工 sakurakawazaiku) is mentioned in Japanese classics like the Manyoshu and Genji Monogatari.

About 200 years ago, Lord Satake of Kakunodate Castle in Akita prefecture revived the cherry bark craft using the lower-class samurai in his employ as workers. Thereafter, cherry bark became a popular material for medicine boxes and tobacco boxes.

Photo by George Lloyd

Bingoya also carries a great range of Japanese paper (和紙 washi) from Yatsuo in the mountains of Toyama prefecture, a town that has been famous for papermaking for centuries. Yatsuo paper is made using pulp from the mulberry bush (楮 kouzo) and is surprisingly strong. It has long been used to make everyday items like kimonos, haori jackets and boxes.

Photo by George Lloyd

In the basement, you'll find some charming old-fashioned children's toys. In Japan, the toymaking tradition varies by region, but all toymakers tend to use simple techniques to make cheap, brightly coloured toys. Some double up as good luck charms, and many have religious significance.

Some of the toys on offer in Bingoya are made of paper and bamboo—like kites—while others—like masks and daruma dolls—are made of papier-mâché. There is also a nice selection of kokeshi (小芥子 limbless wooden dolls, as seen in the header picture).

Photo by George Lloyd

Bingoya ships internationally, so if you find something you like, you can have it delivered right to your doorstep. The shop is open 10 am - 7 pm daily. It is closed on Mondays, and every third Saturday and Sunday of the month (except in May, August, November, and December).

You'll find Bingoya at 10-6 Wakamatsucho, Shinjuku-ku. It's just over the road from Wakamatsu-Kawada station, which is on the Toei Oedo line.


For more details, see their website (it's in English and Japanese).

By - George Lloyd.