“Bruh, have you even set foot in Switzerland or Germany, bruh?”
Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve never been to Switzerland and my stint in Germany was just a short business trip but hear me out. Compared to Switzerland or Germany, Japan is a more financially realistic destination for this particular watch geek. Geographically, it’s also a whole lot closer to home so that means a shorter flight in total.
That, and the fact that JDM watches are everywhere. Literally EH-VUH-REE-WARE. While some are priced out of reach, most are actually relatively affordable – and that’s not even the best part. While the watches on sale are amazeballs, what makes the entire experience that more memorable is the quality of their service.
I guess it is part of their culture and upbringing. After all, the Japanese are known for treating their customers/guests very, very nicely. Not just in watch shops, mind you. Throughout my entire trip, it was the same at restaurants, bakeries, train stations, theme parks (that’s part of the job, I guess), hotels, fish markets, meat markets and even shrines. There is no pressure in walking into a boutique and trying on 19 watches only to leave empty-handed.
Zero pressure. Nani mo.
“Sure? Not at all? Nothing?”
Nope. The sales consultants were so hospitable that at times I had to hold back trying on so many out of guilt.
“Gosh, they look so hopeful. They’re sooo nice… I can’t make them take out everything for me to try on and buy nothing. Can I? No. Maybe just one more…”
That’s pretty much my train of thought for most of my stops. Even better – and this is especially a huge plus for me – they do not attempt to follow you around the entire store every step of the way. In my experience, they greet you when you enter, come up to you and ask if they can help and when you tell them you’re just browsing, they retreat behind the counter and wait till you actually signal for them again.
“K cool story, bruh. Now tell us where the goods at.”
So, you may have read stories revolving around fabled watch stores that hold plenty of new and vintage models in Japan, right? Perhaps a certain store that was featured on a known horology site that shares the same name as a particularly acidic fruit that’s yellow? Ring a bell?
Well, as highly regarded as that shop was, nothing came close to my favourite haunt while I was in Japan. Which was…
1. BIC Camera
Let’s get this out of the way first – this is NOT a watch store. It is, according to Wikipedia, “a consumer electronics retailer chain in Japan.” And damn is it a huge one. Trust me when I say that you could find almost anything under the sun at BIC Camera. From TVs to boxes of soup stock from Ichiran Ramen to bicycles, cameras (obviously) and finally, watches. Quite a lot of watches.
If you’ve got other attractions on your list while touring Japan, I strongly suggest you leave this to the last because you could very well end up spending hours here. Just ask my other half. 😉
While BIC Camera does have its fair share of luxury watches, I can only stare at them before I start crying. So, if you’re on a budget, not to worry. They have tons of cheap Casios, Citizens and Albas on display – and when I mean cheap, I mean dirt cheap. In fact, they were so cheap that I purchased a few as souvenirs.
Told you they were everywhere. Business hours are from 10am to 10pm everyday.
2. Watch Ginza Sacomdo “銀座 紗古夢堂”
This was a little bit of a surprise for me as this stop wasn’t on my initial list – yes, I had a list of “attractions.” See, my other half and I were walking towards the Ginza district when she spotted this quaint place by the road with watches on display. Needless to say, the minute she called it out, we were already inside the establishment.
Now, here’s where things got a little interesting. You know how tourist traps would have employees who spoke decent English (or Mandarin)? Yeah, this place was the direct opposite. The conversation between yours truly and the lovely couple who ran the place consisted mostly of handing a phone back and forth with Google Translate open.
With that said, Sacomdo had more than enough for lovers of JDM timepieces as the amount of Seikos, Casios and Citizens were frankly pretty overwhelming. Also worth mentioning is the used watches corner with some pretty tantalizing options.
Business hours are from 10am to 7pm. Closed on Sundays.
3. Lemonsha Ginza
Remember that particularly acidic yellow fruit I mentioned earlier on? Yeah, you guessed it. This is Lemonsha in Ginza – a secondhand camera shop that also happens to stock quite a few used watches. It (arguably) shot to stardom when it was featured in a Hodinkee article several years ago. I myself recall reading that write-up and telling myself I had to stop by when I was in Tokyo.
Unfortunately, I have to say that Lemonsha turned out to be quite the downer. I don’t know exactly what happened but when I dropped by, there was only half a case of watches on display. To make matters worse, photography was not allowed as well. All I could capture was this…
Still, make a stop if you want to but from my personal experience, if you are short on time, give Lemonsha a miss. While I can’t fault them for not displaying a lot of watches in what is predominantly a camera shop, I found it particularly weird that they did not allow photos of the place. This was at odds with every single establishment I visited in Japan as the rest had no issues with photography.
Perhaps it was the millions of tourists swinging by with their cameras clicking away and disturbing the peace within. Who knows for sure…
Business hours are from 11am to 8pm, Mon-Sat and 11am to 7pm on Sundays.
4. NJ Time “銀座NJタイム”
Upscale establishment with a huge inventory of upscale watches. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is probably your best bet. With that said, it could run the risk of turning into a tourist trap in the future as the staff are trained in several languages which could hint at lots of foreign customers.
They also have a decent selection of used pieces. A word of advice, you might wanna’ dress the part if you’re serious about doing business with them as this was one of the few places I visited that seemed to judge a potential customer based on their appearance. For the record, I was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and…
… Hmm, that might’ve been my fault.
All in all, a decent place but tailored for a very specific type of customer. The one with deep pockets.
Business hours are from 11am to 8pm everyday.
5. LAOX Ginza
Much like the first store on the list, there are plenty of LAOX outlets scattered all around Japan. Also like BIC Camera, it’s not exactly a watch store. With a massive network of branches, LAOX is what most people would describe as a tax-free shopping haven for tourists. From cosmetics to edibles to electronics and watches, LAOX has it all.
There is, however, one major caveat. Although the prices are listed as tax-free, the mark-up is pretty steep. There were several Seikos and Casios that carried a much higher list price in LAOX compared to other stores. The saving grace is that LAOX does have a massive inventory so you could (technically) finish your watch shopping in one stop.
Compared to the rest, LAOX arguably has the widest selection of any stop on my list. In terms of prices, that is. One could easily pick up a Casio, walk 10 feet to the next booth and grab a Patek. Another pro (or con depending on how much you hate tourist traps) is that a good majority of the staff are extremely fluent in Mandarin.
Business hours are from 11am to 8pm everyday.
6. Hamilton Boutique, Cat Street, Tokyo
Here we are, then. Hamilton’s first stand-alone boutique in Tokyo. I must admit there is a selfish reason why I was there. See, some of those who are close to me would know that I was gunning for the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical (H69429931/H69429901) and I thought what better way to mark my Japan trip than to get it there, right? Wrong.
Nothing to do with the service of the place or anything like that, mind you. The staff were pleasant and accommodating as ever. What broke the deal for me was the fact that after trying the watch on in the flesh, the lugs are just that bit too long. I blame my skinny wrists.
That disappointment was short-lived, however. The rest of the boutique was a fantastic place to spend time with so. Many. Models. To. Try. On.
Of course, this being a boutique, don’t expect hefty discounts if you were to pick up a watch here. You are, after all, paying for the overall experience. For watch geeks, this is a stop I’d highly recommend.
Business hours are from 11:30am to 8pm, Thurs-Tues.
7. JackRoad, Nakano Broadway, Tokyo
Situated inside a shopping complex tucked at the end of an arcade in the Nakano ward, the term ‘watch Mecca’ was arguably coined for this place. JackRoad has been in operations since 1987, the establishment has the most exhaustive inventory under one roof.
I know I’ve probably said it a million times but here, we’re talking specifically about a watch dealer and not a super massive consumer goods departmental complex. Everything from vintage Seikos to F.P. Journes and A. Lange & Söhnes are displayed behind gigantic cases. Best of all, you are allowed to take as many photos and try on as many watches to your heart’s content.
There is also something for the ladies with BettyRoad situated right next to Jackroad. Same concept but for the fairer sex. Another reminder, if you are keen on picking something up, make sure you have your passport with you. JackRoad, much like a lot of other watch dealers and boutiques, offer an 8% tax-free transaction to tourists. By the way, JackRoad is located on the 3rd floor of the Nakano Broadway complex.
Business hours are from 11am to 8:30pm everyday.
8. Takashimaya Watch Maison, Osaka
Picture this. A separate wing on the 5th floor – completed dedicated to watches – inside a shopping complex that’s more or less located inside the Namba station in Osaka. Whoever says that the Japanese don’t take their watches seriously, show them this place. Then make them buy you a Grand Seiko.
Granted, it is a very “commercialized” outlet but you can’t complain when there are so many big brands under one roof, including the Seiko Premium Boutique. Inside, you have your usual assortment of JDM Seikos, Grand Seikos and Grand Seikos on steroids. I’m talking about the Credor line-up.
So while the whole place is pretty much paradise, there is one particular corner within the Watch Maison that caught my attention – the watch repair corner. Aside from the smartly dressed consultants, the range of straps that were on display in front of the reception desk are just… cannot. I just cannot. I CANNOT BRAIN THAT MANY OPTIONS.
That’s not the best part, though. See, in other establishments, the staff are trained to have at least a basic understanding of English or Mandarin or there might even be a translator on standby to help. The Watch Maison, however, has a staff member armed with a radio/phone that hooks up to an on-call translator for languages such as English, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Indonesian.
Business hours are from 10am to 8pm everyday.
“K, I’m sold, bruh. Japan is the place for watches, bruh.”
Not so fast. I haven’t been to Switzerland yet so I’m keeping my final thoughts on this subject. Really, though. Let’s not try to compare these two nations and instead embrace and relish in their diversity. Perhaps it’s the holiday high but I can confidently say that Japan really is up there with the greats.
Not just for watch geeks, mind you. If you like something, anything really, chances are that Japan has a thriving community and an equally healthy market for it. Till then, stay awesome Japan. I’ll be back soon enough.