Although it’s difficult to describe precisely what BEAMS JAPAN is—it’s not merely clothing brand or collection of brands, and simply describing it as a department store or select shop chain is too limited—the company recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and remains a legend in Japanese fashion and retail. There are dozens of the brand’s outposts throughout Tokyo but BEAMS JAPAN, the flagship, feels at home in bustling Shinjuku.
Tokyo is a fashion capital, but it has always been difficult to sum that fashion up into a simple description. Like Paris and Milan, there are art students pushing the boundaries and high-end couturiers, and like New York City or Hong Kong, street culture filters through the works of young designers to mass-market riffs on the underground hype. Tokyo has long been defined by the power of its subcultures, whether goth-lolita girls in handmade dresses or genderless-kei androgyny. What BEAMS has attempted to do, through the brands it carries and its own lines, is take the temperature of Tokyo fashion and translate the many looks, styles, and subcultures into a holistic vision of Tokyoness. The flagship store in Shinjuku is the perfect place to take the temperature yourself and pick up some dope souvenirs in the process.
In Tokyo, single-brand boutiques are rare compared to the select shop, which curates its own take on fashion. BEAMS JAPAN carries the brand’s own lines but is also a maximalist take on the select shop concept. Local brands (think Sasquatchfabrix and Kapital) take precedence, but the flagship has also sold BEAMS’ collaborations with larger brands.
Even for those not looking to pop tags, a stroll through BEAMS JAPAN should be on the itinerary if you’re stopping in Shinjuku. The store’s stunning spaces change with the season. Unlike the neighboring department stores like Isetan, the vibe is far less stuffy—no white-gloved shopgirls, elevator attendants and Goyard bags—even if the price tags can be equally eye-watering.
Perhaps it does BEAMS JAPAN a disservice to foreground fashion, as the store takes a holistic approach to fashion and culture. It functions as something like a hipster one-stop-shop. For example, say you need a vintage boombox to kit out your Koenji loft, BEAMS JAPAN has you covered. On the store’s fourth floor TOKYO CULTuART by BEAMS, restored portable stereos and releases on cassette are given central placement as both decor and product.
This floor is one of the company’s more original brand concepts, championing a hyper-local approach to the city’s culture. Offerings include zines by local writers and photographers, small-run releases from Tokyo designers, and pieces by neighborhood designers and artists.
The BEAMS made in JAPAN concept is the result of a handpicked team of “selectors” who choose products for the flagship store to carry. These range from handcrafted knives to brushes, furniture, jewellery, lacquerware, electronics, and even sake. This makes BEAMS JAPAN the perfect place to pick up an absolutely unique piece that has been thoroughly vetted by a discerning eye.
Once you’ve made your way through the varied floors of BEAMS JAPAN, a stop by Sarutahiko Coffee on the first floor is worth your while. An offshoot of an Tokyo micro-chain headquartered in Ebisu, and supplied by its roastery in Sengawa, Sarutahiko serves strong shots of true school espresso for the real heads and makes a respectable frappe for the less committed.