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The best sports shops in Tokyo

Tokyo’s specialist sports shops are honouring their heritage while appealing to the city’s distinctive tastes, as Beth Druce discovers

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

Tokyo’s status as a shopping capital is well documented, while its easy access to skiing, mountaineering and surfing attracts high-end sports-apparel labels in a retail category of their own. And as Japan’s love affair with luxury concept stores continues to blossom, international brands are discovering a second home in a city that provides the ideal platform for sport-inspired lifestyle stores that explore culture, design and functional fashion, all under one roof.

City surfers
New York label Saturdays is one example. Founded by three city surfers (surfers who live in the city and travel to surf), Saturdays sells casual separates and sportswear alongside technical surf gear in a lifestyle space where people can congregate and engage with surf culture, art and design. In 2011, when the trio decided to take Saturdays beyond New York, Tokyo was top of their list.

‘Saturdays has been popular with Japanese retailers and customers since we opened our doors in 2009,’ explains creative director and co-founder Colin Tunstall. ‘The parallels between New York and Tokyo are uncanny. Both cities are centred on style, art, music and food, which are hallmarks of our brand and our lifestyle.’

Incorporating these elements was key in the conception of the Tokyo store, which is in the Daikanyama district, known for its relaxed, down-to-earth vibe. The roomy, light-filled space has Saturdays’ signature whitewashed walls, a gallery and an espresso bar. ‘We wanted to strike the perfect balance between maintaining the Saturdays aesthetic, while incorporating design elements unique to Tokyo,’ continues Tunstall. ‘[The store] boasts a wide space with a clean and more open design than our New York locations. There is also a sprawling wood-decked patio which blends into the Tokyo backdrop.’

Tour de Tokyo
Four kilometres, or a short cycle ride, north of Daikanyama is the Kitasandō area, close to fashionable Harajuku, Omotesandō Hills and several venues for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Here you’ll find cycle-clothing brand Rapha. Simon Mottram, the ex-brand consultant and bike enthusiast who launched the brand in 2004, was inspired by the golden age of cycling and a determination to create cycling kit that could be both stylish and functional – something that had been rather elusive until then. Rapha next branched out into lifestyle stores or ‘Rapha Cycle Clubs’, which combine retail spaces with cafés geared specifically to the needs of cyclists.

All of the Cycle Clubs share the same design principles. However, as Rapha’s retail communications manager Darren Read explains, the Tokyo club has an ‘ultramodern glass, steel and concrete construction which is typically Japanese, but features such as Rapha imagery, wooden furnishings and rare cycling memorabilia mean that it can only be a Rapha Cycle Club’.

Hit the slopes

While these brands are relatively new to the Japanese capital, Patagonia has had a presence in Tokyo for more than 10 years. Its store in the Shibuya area is a glass-fronted multi-story creation which focuses on Patagonia’s extensive range of functional clothing for skiing, surfing and mountaineering. Head to the top of the building and you’ll discover the ‘ocean floor’, designed to mimic the feeling of being in the sea. It features a surfboard-fin ‘wall’ as well as an array of surf memorabilia, and there are regular exhibitions by visiting artists whose work relates to the sea.

What connects these stores is the investment the brands make in the cultural heritage of their respective sports. So the Rapha Cycle Clubs document the history of road cycling, while Patagonia mimics the functional nature of the traditional surf shop, albeit on a much larger scale. Meanwhile, Saturdays presents an opportunity to engage with elements of fashion, art and design that often take inspiration from surfing, but are not defined by it, something its founders feel is integral to engaging the Tokyo market.

‘The Japanese consumer is incredibly discerning and attuned to the realms of art, fashion and culture as a whole,’ explains Tunstall. ‘What is distinctive about Saturdays is that we do not specialise in one category; we sell clothing, books, coffee, surf paraphernalia and much more. As a result, consumers have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what elements of our brand they’d like to adopt into their lives.’

What is emerging is a retail category that has transcended its niche origins to deliver a high-end shopping experience that is rich in cultural heritage, yet finely tuned to the needs of the Tokyo shopper. That’s a truly modern phenomenon.



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