When M and I first looked over Follow Me Japan's Tokyo Shopping Tour itinerary, we were completely baffled by its inclusion of guided walking tours to introduce us to the malls, on not just one but both of the shopping days. Let's be real here: If shopping were a subject you could take in school, M and I would totally wreck the bell curve. But even if we hadn't been perfectly capable and avid shoppers, it still seemed like a rather odd inclusion. Malls are malls are malls - You walk around each floor, and when you're done, you move on to the next.
In the end though, what we first perceived to be madness and folly turned out to be quite an ingenious plan. Our guides were none other than staff from Lumine headquarters, interested to see what travellers from Singapore thought about the shopping experience and mix of available brands at their sprawling malls in Shinjuku, Tokyo. While observing us, they also acted as our personal shopping assistants, bringing us to stores we might be interested in (We'd filled out a fairly extensive questionnaire about our shopping plans, which they then put into action), and helping us with all the necessary translations. As shoppers on a time-sensitive mission, it turned out to be wonderful not to have to pull out our usual song and dance routine to bridge the language barrier and communicate what we needed.
Since I was due to start work on the 3rd of August, I meant for this shopping spree to be dedicated towards getting basics I could build up into a sleek, chic office-ready wardrobe. Of course, I ended up getting completely sidetracked by store after store of glorious shoes that came in sizes that actually fit me.
A brief primer on the Lumine chain of shopping malls: the company was founded by Japan Railways way back in 1967, with their first building located next to Omiya Station in Tokyo. They've expanded across the city and beyond since then.
Because their malls are always located conveniently by major train stations, their stores have healthy foot traffic. Most of their tenants cater to younger shoppers, and thanks to the regular infusion of new brands in their store lineup, they've kept ahead of the fashion curve.
The great thing about Lumine is how they carry mainly local designers, and many of the boutiques there carry Japan-made items. If you don't own a pair of Japanese leather shoes, start now and your feet will thank you. Within an hour I changed out of what I'd originally picked out that day into a totally new outfit, just because I could. Here I am halfway through this transition, in a cool white and teal wedge heel I'd just purchased. Breaking in new shoes is always such a trial, but this pair from a brand called Poolside were so beautifully crafted that I was able to walk around them for an entire day without issue. The salesman who sold them to me also helped me affix a pair of insoles, which made them even comfier.
You wouldn't notice it from the somewhat tired exteriors, but apart from constantly updating their line-up of brands, frequent remodeling also keeps the interiors looking really fresh. When we visited Lumine EST, the floors dedicated to dining had just undergone a complete overhaul. The all-new dining area is beautifully decorated and there are so many Instagram-worthy angles, but unfortunately the lighting doesn't make for the most flattering iPhone pictures.
#YumYumEST is the official hashtag for the revamped dining areas, called 7&8DINNER. M and I wanted to check out their special summer beer garden up on the rooftop, but sadly found that it was only open in the evenings. So we went for some really modern udon instead at the cheery Men, Iroiro. Itsudemo, Oyatsu. Here's my shiso and bonito chilled udon, perfect for warding off the searing heat outside.
After refueling, it was back to the shops for us. The stores at Lumine all seem way ahead of the fashion curve - we were there smack in the middle of summer, yet the autumn styles were already being launched. Turns out we were there in time to witness their "It's New!" week and the transitioning of the design season.
We really did pick the best time for a shopping trip. Thanks to the influx of Autumn-wear, most of the items from the Summer collections were on sale. Japanese fashion imports are priced at a premium in Singapore, so it was nice to see much more reasonable numbers printed on the tags of clothes that just so happened to be perfect for our hothouse climate.
Sales aside, there were also loads of signs telling you which stores are tax free. Most boutiques don't come with this perk, but under Lumine's roof the stores that don't offer it are in the minority. A few intrepid Chinese visitors aside, we seemed to be the only non-Japanese shoppers around, surprising given how tourist-friendly the mall infrastructure was.
We got the full VIP treatment while shopping our way across the three Lumine mall buildings. Apart from pointing out the best stores, helping us hunt down specific we wanted to buy and answering all our questions, they also whisked away each shopping bag for safekeeping so we wouldn't be bogged down on our shopping spree.
Do you know how dangerous it is to go shopping and not have to carry any bags? Every time you step into a new store, it's like you've restarted your shopping adventure. To say we went a bit mad with our purchases would be a gross understatement.
Shopping with M is always a joy, because she has quite the eye for interesting pieces. I'm the sort of person who'll go for comfort over style in my clothes, and M ensures I don't end up looking like a complete slob. This time around, she even indulged my shoe habit, and helped me pick out a few awesome pairs, like these smart, heeled Mary Janes.
Tucked away in the corners of Lumine EST are small stores offering services, like a tailor on the 4th Floor, and a nail salon offering exquisite Kiki and Lala (My Little Twin Stars) manicures. I was so tempted, but I always manage to subtly wreck every manicure I've ever done within ten minutes of leaving the salon, so I decided it was for the best to leave it.
Lumine's target audience is mainly young working women, but they don't just cater to this demographic. M managed to find some nice things for herself, and we ended up buying BB some really cool shirts and bags from the menswear floor.
Some shops make their tax refund counters so utterly grim, but Lumine EST sought to make theirs a much more stylish and pleasant place to be in. They've got a row of chairs so you don't need to stand in line, but the best part is how efficient the staff.
Because our bags kept getting magicked away throughout the day, we didn't realize how much we'd actually bought until they were all brought down to the tax refund counter. We were quite horrified when we saw all our stuff piled together.
We'd have been in big trouble if we had to carry everything back to the hotel ourselves, so thankfully Lumine arranged to have the bags delivered directly to our rooms in Ginza. You couldn't move from the door to our beds, what with all our brand new things lining the corridor. It was quite the sight.
The focus of our next day at Lumine 1 and 2 at Shinjuku was beauty products. What our itinerary modestly noted as an opportunity to try out Japanese skin care and make up, turned out to be the chance to get a full makeover at one of their beauty emporiums, and an option for a mid-day touch up at another cosmetics counter.
After a brilliant first day, I was down to experience the works of whatever they had planned for us.
I'm pants at applying makeup. After many years of practice, I can now put on eyeliner without accidentally stabbing my eyeball 9 times out of 10, and I like liquid foundations because all you need to to is smear it on. But tell me to put on eye shadow or blush or (Heaven forbid!) bronzer, and I always revert to the skills I picked up doing my own stage makeup. Great when you're in a theatre, frightening on a day to day basis.
I'm absolutely keen to learn though, and what better look than the Japanese version of something natural and pretty? Korean make-up looks are all the rage right now, but I have fabulous naturally arched brows, and I refuse (On principle) to straighten them out.
My makeover was done by the wonderful Erika-san, who took the time to walk me through all the steps she was taking, and teach me the techniques I ought to be using for that fresh-faced glow. She started by prepping my skin, then applied makeup from Shiseido's Benefique range, which was formulated for people with sensitive skin.
The eyeshadow routine she took me through was super fuss-free, thanks to a really well put together shadow palette. I ended up buying it for the convenience, as well as Benefique's gorgeous floral packaging (The design is exclusive to Japan). I was also introduced to a brow mascara from the Maquillage range that actually fits my skin tone. Two gentle brushes and my face looks framed and polished. It's fantastic.
I took full advantage of Erika-san's expertise to learn how to apply falsies as well. Turns out: the angle you apply it in? So important. They ought to lie flat against your own lashes for a subtle flutter. Learning something new every day!
Face done, we moved on to explore the rest of the shops in Lumine 1 and 2. One of the stores we really liked was Vecua Honey, a Japanese brand that was set up fairly recently, and is currently carried by Tokyu Hands in Singapore. They started out at Lumine and have expanded greatly since, and it's easy to see why. We ended up getting a dozen of their limited edition Wonder Honey moisturizing summer gels for ourselves and as gifts in the Cucumber and Apple Gelee scents. I carry mine everywhere now, it's so cooling and I slather it on my neck and arms whenever I feel overheated.
Lumine 1 and 2 are a tad more grown up than Lumine EST, with more high end and household brands carried.
Toiletries are my weakness, and I had to physically tear myself away from stocking up on more lotions and cleansing face brushes that I don't need, but desperately want. The products at Hokuroku Sosui had such a heavenly Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) scent though, and in the end M caved and bought a few bottles to bring home.
Since our guides were people who've made shopping their business, I took the opportunity to ask them questions to understand more about Japan's unique shopping culture. We gained quite a number of interesting insights, from rather spirited discussions of people's shopping habits and favoured brands. Tokyo's shoppers always seem to be chasing the next big thing, so the trick is discovering what's hot just ahead of the fashion curve.
Lunch this day was specially organized for us courtesy of the Lumine team, at one of their specialty restaurants. The Kodawari (Specialty) of the menu at Okamadomeshi Torafuku (大かまど飯 寅福) is Japanese rice from Nagoka, Niigata. The meal began with sharing platters of vegetables, which is apparently the Kyoto style of serving starters.
We had a choice between a bowl that mixed five different grains of rice, takegomi, rice braised with pork and vegetables, or white rice. The five grain rice is the best-seller, but takegomi sounded exciting, so M and I decided to get one of each to share. In the end, the takegomi was ridiculously good on its own, but the five grain rice went so well with the excellent miso cod that was part of our set.
Torafuku's rice is all cooked in very traditional iron rice pots, over fairly untraditional clean burning fires. The large pots looked terribly impressive.
After our delicious and filling lunch, M's energy flagged as she was hit by the dreaded food coma. Lumine 2 had quite the exciting collection of work by young Japanese designers in well-curated boutiques, but given M's zombie-like state, I spent more time making sure she didn't wander off instead of shopping. I deeply regret not buying this dress, which was on sale at a reasonable price.
Eventually, we successfully corralled M to the second of their big beauty stores. M was able to hunt down the products Auntie S had requested we bring back, while I made my once-yearly makeup remover purchase.
I've been using Shu Uemura's POREfinist cleansing oil for my oily skin all this while, but the salesgirl convinced me that my sensitive skin needed their A/I anti-inflammatory cleansing oil instead. Both get rid of my makeup equally well, but I must admit I do like the slightly richer feel of my new cleansing oil.
At the end of the day, we stopped to consider how we were going to cart everything home.
M: Eh, we'll find a way. I packed in another expandable bag that we can also check in.
Me: You're a genius.
After two outstanding (and successful) shopping days, the Lumine team spoiled us further by organizing an exquisite Kaiseiki meal for us, which we enjoyed with the President of the company, who was truly interested in hearing our opinions on shopping, both in Singapore and Japan. It was a wonderful evening, and a blog post for another day.