Buying furniture in Japan

You will never live anywhere this nice. With such nice furniture. In Japan, at least.

Here’s the dilemma with furniture in Japan: At some point during your life here you are going to want a bed. A shelf, even. You might even want to lash out and buy a sofa, if you have the space, although you probably don’t.

If you’re just starting out renting in Japan, you may have noticed that most long-term rooms come unfurnished. Why? Beats me. I guess people like to have their own furniture.

At some point you will probably also want a fridge, a washing machine or other fancy electrical appliances – while you can buy these at the furniture shops, there are much better options which I go into here: (another post that I haven’t written yet)

But let’s have a look at your options for buying furniture in Japan.

Ikea in Japan

Yes, it exists! Yes, it’s the same stuff! No, it’s not an overpriced “luxury foreign brand!”

If you look carefully, you can even see the faded remnants of English on the sign. This is truly the Ikea you know and love.
If you look carefully, you can even see the faded remnants of English on the sign. This is truly the Ikea you know and love.

Ikea is insanely popular in Japan, and they have done a pretty good job of keeping their original brand philosophy while adapting to the Japanese market. You might see a few products that you don’t see elsewhere, specifically designed to work in tighter Japanese homes. At the same time, the stores don’t feel quite as big as they do in other countries.

A car is still your best bet if you have one, but if you’re going via public transport (usually pretty easy) they can ship your purchases to you for a fee.

If you live in or around Tokyo, you’re lucky to have access to one of four Ikea stores, from a total of just nine around the country. (A tenth one is planned for Nagakute near Nagoya.)

Northern Tokyo: Ikea Shinmisato

Situated just over the border in Saitama prefecture, Ikea Shinmisato is accessible from the Joban Expressway by car, and the JR Musashino line if you’re on the train. It is literally right next to Shinmisato Station, so it’s very accessible from northeast Tokyo and even northern Chiba.

 

Eastern Tokyo: Ikea Tokyo-Bay

This is the Chiba Ikea. It’s just east of the border to Tokyo, in the general vicinity of Disney Land. The Metropolitan Expressway Bayshore Route (who decided bayshore was a word?) goes right past it, and it’s very close to Minami-Funabashi Station on the JR Keiyo line.

 

Southern Tokyo: Ikea Kohoku

Located in Kanagawa Prefecture (just south of Tokyo) Ikea Kohoku is where you’ll want to go if you live in Yokohama or Kawasaki, or the southern part of Tokyo. It’s right by the Kohoku exit on the Daisan-Keihin Road, but it isn’t very accessible by train – you will have to catch a bus from the station. They occasionally do free shuttle buses, but they change a lot, it seems.

 

Western Tokyo: Ikea Tachikawa

Despite being the furthest Ikea from central Tokyo, the Tachikawa Ikea is actually the only one officially in “Tokyo.” Doesn’t make sense? Agreed.

You can find it by Tachikawa Station (which connects four different lines), which is a fairly large station in the west of Tokyo. Unlike other stores, it is in a fairly built up area with shops, cinemas, cafes and even a water park. It’s actually less accessible by car, although the Chuo Expressway will get you near.

 

Miyagi: Ikea Sendai

To the south of Sendai City lies the only Ikea in the north. Hop off at Nagamachi Station if you’re going via train.

 

Hyogo: Ikea Kobe

On the way to the airport, you get to traverse a series of man-made islands in Osaka Bay – Ikea Kobe is on one of those islands. It sounds exciting, but it really isn’t. Minamikoen is the closest station, and by car, well, just drive towards the airport.

 

Osaka: Ikea Tsuruhama

On the other side of Osaka Bay you will find Osaka’s Ikea. It is literally right on the water – they probably unload their stuff directly off the ship into the warehouse. (citation needed)

Unfortunately it’s completely inaccessible via train, so you’ll have to bus it. On the Hanshin Expressway, you’ll need to somehow get off at that crazy Tenpozan exit and make your way through the maze of islands and bridges from there.

 

Fukuoka: Ikea Fukuoka-Shingu

While it says Fukuoka, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s actually in Fukuoka. Located in neighboring Shingu Town, Ikea Shingu serves the Kyushu region.

Right by the Shingu-Chuo Station.

 

Kumamoto: Ikea Touchpoint Kumamoto

Not sure why it’s called “Touchpoint Kumamoto,” but who am I to know. To the east of Kumamoto City and completely inaccessible by train, the Touchpoint Kumamoto Ikea is most easily access from the “Kumamoto” exit (maybe that’s why?) off the Kyushu Expressway.

 

Furniture from Nitori (Japan’s Ikea)

Nitori is Japan’s answer to Ikea – simple, affordable and ubiquitous. It doesn’t do the whole showroom thing, but almost every house you walk in to will act as a Nitori showroom due to how popular their generic modern furniture is.

The sign says Nitori. In Japanese. Because we're in Japan.
The sign says Nitori. In Japanese. Because we’re in Japan.

Nitori actually began in Hokkaido and spread down from there – which could explain the lack of Ikeas up north – and now have some ~400 stores all over the country. Their stuff is cheap, but it works, until it breaks, then you go and buy another one because it’s cheap. I don’t think you’ll find a single person in Japan under the age of 30 who doesn’t have something from Nitori in their home. I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.

The stores themselves are like big, simplistic K-Marts, except everything is white. Often they have two floors with smaller goods on the first and proper furniture on the second. While their bed selection might not cater to all tastes, I have to admit they are excellent for when you just want to pick up those final bits and pieces to complete your room.

Nitori is trendier than the chaotic “home centers,” but not so trendy that you’re paying extra for style. It’s not the place you want to go if you want to be unique. Not to worry, it’s Japan, so being unique isn’t nearly as desirable as it is elsewhere.

I’m not going to bother listing up all of the locations – Google it yourself, there’s probably one nearby. (Japanese: ニトリ )

Other places to buy furniture in Japan

While Ikea and Nitori are the big two, they aren’t the only places you can buy furniture in Japan. There are actually quite a lot of options, but they all fall into the following three categories:

  • Old furniture stores. Or antique. Or just, 80s style. Think wood laminate.
  • Overspecialized stores. Stores that only sell sofas, for example.
  • Underspecialized stores. Sure, they sell beds, but they also sell dried fruit and underpants.

But for your consideration, here are a few:

Furniture from Muji (Mujirushi ryohin)

Muji is pretty great – their name literally means “no brand,” and that’s exactly what they sell – a whole bunch of reasonably quality stuff with no brand markings on it.

Everything in the shop is a relaxing shade of wood.
Everything in the shop is a relaxing shade of wood.

Muji furniture is also of reasonable quality, although a touch on the expensive side. Since they also sell dried fruit and underwear, the furniture is limited to just a couple of different beds and other bits and bobs. They are nice looking bits and bobs, though. I recommend you check it out.

Chaotic home centers

Or “hardware stores” as they call them where I’m from.

If this picture doesn't scare you, this might just be the perfect place to buy your furniture in Japan.
If this picture doesn’t scare you, this might just be the perfect place to buy your furniture in Japan.

They won’t be anywhere as large as what you’re probably used to, and they tend to focus more on raw materials, but they do have some basic stuff.

Department stores such as Aeon

There were more, but Aeon ate most of them up. Just like the supermarkets. Soon, we will all be Aeon. Aeon for all and all for Aeon.

They'll eat you up too if you aren't careful. Don't buy furniture at Aeon.
They’ll eat you up too if you aren’t careful. Don’t buy furniture at Aeon.

They have a selection of beds and sofas and shelves etc. if you get desperate, but it’s cheap generic stuff and you would probably find something better elsewhere. Try and avoid Aeon if you can.

Specialty stores such as Noce

I bought my sofa at Noce. I like my sofa. I didn’t need a sofa. Nor did I have enough space for a sofa. I bought it anyway. Because I’m an adult.

Adults buy their sofas here.
Adults buy their sofas here.

I was actually looking for a sofa on the internet for a long time, but really wanted to test the sofa out before I bought it. Noce offered the perfect solution: They have a bunch of showrooms around Japan where you can test out their sofas, before going home and buying them on their website and having them delivered.

This was great for me, as I was concerned the sofa wouldn’t fit on the back of my motorbike.

TOKYO interior (should be called EVERYWHERE BUT TOKYO interior)

That’s right, there is not a single “TOKYO interior” in Tokyo. They do have about 40 shops around Japan, though. I suppose they are bringing TOKYO furniture fashion to the rest of the shabby country.

The Nagoya TOKYO interior. Great for buying expensive 80s furniture when you aren't in Tokyo.
The Nagoya TOKYO interior. Great for buying expensive 80s furniture when you aren’t in Tokyo.

Speaking of style, it is definitely targeted at an older audience and isn’t nearly as trendy or ubiquitous as Ikea or Nitori. Perhaps perfect for those with a little too much cash and a strong desire to be different?

Using the internet to buy furniture in Japan

Finally, the 21st century. Internet shopping in Japan is great because a) shipping doesn’t cost much and b) you probably don’t have a car.

One disadvantage to using the internet is that unlike electrical appliances, where you know exactly what make an model you want before purchasing, furniture is a lot more about how it looks and how you feel in its presence. You probably want to see and touch the thing before you buy it, at least to make sure it doesn’t crumble away beneath your fingertips.

Nevertheless, here are your options (or should I say “hacks” because this is a blog post and it’s the internet and and… sorry) for obtaining furniture via the internet.

Amazon Japan

Easy. Cheap. They have an English checkout system. Take the reviews with a grain of salt, if you can read them as they will be in Japanese.

Look, you can shop in English. If you manage to sign up.
Look, you can shop in English. If you manage to sign up.

Nonetheless, good range, reasonable shipping – if you find something you like, why not pull the trigger?

Rakuten Ichiba

“Japanese Amazon.” Maybe not. The site is chaotic and extremely unfriendly to foreigners, but the app is okay. They also have a much bigger range of furniture than Amazon – if you can find it – as they have a much larger variety of merchants, and they are usually about the same price. Just don’t forget to uncheck the “send me tons of junk mail” options at checkout.

Second hand sites / apps

While auction sites like Yahoo Auction still see a lot of activity, “flea market” apps such as Mercari and Rakuma are seeing a boom in popularity. Aimed at the young, computer-illiterate generation, these apps make it extremely easy to snap a photograph of something you don’t need and plop it on the platform for someone to come along and buy.

Actually FRIL was eaten by Rakuma, so it doesn't exist anymore.
Actually FRIL was eaten by Rakuma, so it doesn’t exist anymore.

They can be a great source of cheap second hand stuff, but remember that you are buying something you’ve never seen from a complete stranger. Oh, and occasionally people will write NO FOREIGNERS in their product name. Kids will be kids, I guess. And foreigners thieves.

Furniture stores that also have websites

Nitori has a website.

Muji has a website.

Noce also has a website.

Even TOKYO interior has a website.

Ikea? “Sure, we have a website.” “Can I buy something from it?” “NO!

I guess they want you to come all the way in and pick up that extra bed you wanted while you’re at it.

Alternatively you can try searching for any of these brands on Amazon, although they do tend to be a bit more expensive.

Wrapping up

It’s a hassle without a car, but buying furniture in Japan is definitely not impossible. Hopefully you will find at least one option that works for you, and won’t have to resort to trying to take your Ikea sofa home on a crowded commuter train. Good luck, and enjoy life in Japan!