Where luxury and kaleidoscopic subcultures collide: Isetan Dept Store’s “Tokyo Kaiho-ku”

By Misha Janette

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Where in Tokyo can you find the most kaleidoscopic view of the city’s myriad street cultures? Does such a playground of whimsy, rough extremes, fantasy and fashion from Harajuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara exist in one easy-to-find spot? It sure does, and it may be in a place you’d least expect it to be. It’s time to put down the hiking boots and step inside the comfort of Isetan Deptartment Store in Shinjuku. This is where you’ll find the “Tokyo Kaiho-ku”.

IMG_4285 IMG_4286 IMG_4299Frilly good-luck pop-up shop “Pink House” with uber-idols “Momo Iro Clover-z”

In Tokyo, each of it’s 23 wards are called -ku. The Japanese word for “letting loose” is kaiho. So this Kaiho-ku is literally a place for “all-things-go”. Every week or two weeks, the area is taken down and redecorated, opening under a new theme. While there are no official rules to who or what can take over the space, the underlying current runs on subcultures, artistic fashion and experimental ideas.

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Boudoir for acute grrrls and Nero

Some of the pop-ups are more obvious, such as the girlie “All Pastel” or Lolita-themed ones. But for the duration of the shop, you can find both shoppers and sales staff dressed head-to-toe for their parts, like a Tokyo Disneyland gift shop from a parallel universe. “Where can I find cool kids dressed up?” is a common question, and if your timing is right it could be right here.

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The wild world of Gustav Higuchi Yuko 

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Some popular ones include the twisted “Alternative Wedding” pop-up, with pretty dresses of tulle and lace by local brands in very DIY or a dark color palette. There have also been ones that comment on social issues, like “unisex” or  “gender-less” clothing that has become popular with Tokyo subcultured fashion. This means lots of skirts and dresses made for men, by designer Mikio Sakabe who is spearheading the movement.

I even got to make my own pop-up store here, proving that they are certainly willing to take risks with their curators (*wink*).

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Some challenging ideas in Un-gender by Mikio Sakabe

Some of the themes are more esoteric, such as the recent pop-up based on Jellyfish, with a selection of designs from local brands. Fluffy, squishy, purple and pink goods in ombre decorated the space, which was curated by stylist Ijima Kyoko (known for her work with rival for weird with Lady Gaga, J-Pop idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu).

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The “New Bride” pop-up

You may forget that this is still Japan’s most luxurious and famous Department Store, Isetan. True, you can find all other famous brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada just a few steps away. So you might think that this Tokyo Kaiho-ku store would be pushed to some dark corner, but on the contrary, it’s right at the foot of the escalators on the 2nd floor (if lost, ask for “Tokyo Kaiho-ku”). The entire floor was remodeled recently, and it is all decorated like a modern playground. Don’t forget to stop by the champagne bar next door afterward, before stepping back out into the crowded Shinjuku bustle. You can also check for what store is on or coming up next before you venture there here.

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Keisuke Kanda

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It’s a knitted world we live in…. Knit Vol 2

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This author at the Kansai Yamamoto pop-up 

Open: 10:30 to 20:00 (8pm) Mon-Sun.
Check the website below for some infrequent closures

Isetan Online (for visitors)




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About Columnist

Misha Janette
Fashion stylist-journalist-editor

Tokyo-based fashion creator-stylist-journalist-editor. Ms. Janette handled tour costumes for Nicki Minaj and collaborated in Kansai Yamamoto 2014 sales success at Isetan.She writes for media in and outside Japan and launched “Tokyo Fashion Diary” to introduce the Japan scene to the world.