Air travel is an essential part of 21st century life, especially for residents of the island nation of Japan. An overseas trip can mean jetlag ranging from a few hours to the better part of a day and many hours of forced stillness while cramped into a small space. While passing through Terminal 1 at Narita Airport on a recent occasion, I realized that the newly updated shopping arcade there might be the perfect place to actively flex one’s ”retail therapy muscles” before settling in for a long-haul journey.

The ideal first stop after checking in for a flight would be Tsutaya for books and magazines. There’s nothing that can replace the feel and smell of a brand new book, or the dazzle of the latest magazine with an appealing cover, whether about food, celebrities or current affairs. As something to pull out of your carry-on bag while waiting to take off, a fresh book or magazine is like the beginning of a conversation with a new friend.

Near Tsutaya, a mannequin in front of Travel Shop Milesto, the Narita branch of the popular Japanese one-stop travel boutique (, had one of the most eye-catching items in the arcade, a lovely, snow white backpack. As impractical as white is for a piece of utilitarian baggage, not only did it seem flexible and roomy, there was a special place to stow an umbrella for springtime rains. Poking around inside the shop, one finds an impressive array of wheelie carry-ons in fun colors and patterns, and myriad travel gadgets to ease or liven up any trip.


A simple yet eye-catching white backpack at Milesto.

There never seems to be enough time to prepare before the mad dash to Narita airport, and those who postpone purchasing trinkets for friends might hit some of the shops with excellent souvenirs.

The awkwardly named souvenir shop Gotouchishouten Yonshichido ( appears to be a favorite place for one-stop KitKat shopping. The mass-market confection is always a huge hit and Narita seems to be ground zero for finding the newest flavors.

“Kitto katsu” means “surely win” in Japanese and the KitKat flavors developed by Nestlé for the Japanese market are always welcome abroad. There have been over 300 flavors over the years, from cherry blossom to matcha green tea, and even sake rice wine. In my recent visit, customers at the checkout were purchasing stacks of packaged Sake KitKats with their white chocolate layers and 0.8% sake content.

match kitkats

What flavor should I get?

Before checking souvenirs off a list, though, it’s prudent to remember the kids of one’s friends, and the huge obsession with the Hello Kitty icon around the world. Predictably, there is a Hello Kitty Japan corner ( among the shops, devoted to the beloved cat with the latest editions of items ranging from plush Kittys to Kitty-emblazoned purses crammed on to the shelves.

Kittys galore !

My personal impulse purchase is always socks. Not just any socks, Tabio socks. This hugely successful brand of fashion socks sold throughout Japan has a charming boutique at Narita ( ) which stocks a unique variety of socks for both winter and summer in a range of styles and materials including silk, cotton, and wool.

tabio socks

The Tabio selection is hard to resist.

Further along, you encounter a riot of color at Design T-shirts Store Graniph ( ). The selection here changes rapidly. On my recent visit I agonized over the choice between two shirts inspired by traditional Japanese textile patterns, one with a cute teddy bear motif and another featuring a geisha girl sporting sunglasses.

t-shirt shop

Graniph stocks t-shirts in a range of designs…

geisha in sunglasses

…including such unusual and humorous ones.

A good bet among the shops here is to snag some Yayoi Kusama goods if one hasn’t had the patience to wait in line at the souvenir stand when seeing the current show of this iconic artist at the National Art Center in Tokyo. Kusama, possibly one of Japan’s hottest exports at the moment, is enjoying more fame than ever at 88 years old, with not only a large retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York and other cities, but also a comprehensive show in her own country.

LAMMFROMM, at Narita airport, has a huge selection ranging from Kusama T-shirts to all kinds of objects displaying Kusama’s well known pumpkin motif. The store also stocks other goods from internationally famous Japanese artists like Yoshimoto Nara and manga-inspired Makoto Aida.

kusama goods

The Kusama craze is alive and well.

If seeking a spiritual moment amidst the shopping frenzy, stop in to Iwakura, which is the Shinto name for “rock,” and also the name for the Narita branch of a store located in Yokohama’s Chinatown. It stocks many gorgeous, Japanese-inspired items fashioned from natural materials, Buddhist prayer beads and wind chimes.

Iwakura features a huge selection of smartphone covers with traditional patterns and in particular, Japanese colors that the store claims are good luck charms.

smart phone covers at Iwakura at Narita

Smart phone covers at Iwakura are also good luck.

A special corner promotes the “Sounds of Japan,” with a selection of small bells with many different sounds that are perfect for meditation.

meditation bells

Meditation bells at Iwakura carry the sounds of Japan all over the world.

Indigo is a color often associated with traditional Japanese craft and design, and Blue Blue ( has an impressively wide-ranging selection of indigo-dyed wearable items. Fluffy indigo dyed socks are tucked along shelves lined with stacks of one-off indigo dyed T-shirs with unique designs. On another set of shelves, zori, Japanese sandals, are lined up next to unique hand-dyed boots.

indigo shirts

Blue Blue has stacks of indigo t-shirts.

blue zori

Blue Blue zori (Japanese sandals).

indigo socks

Piles of fluffy indigo socks at Blue Blue.

For women who want a pre-flight pamper, a final stop before boarding could be Nail Quick, which offers a “sushi manicure” where each nail looks like a piece of nigiri sushi. I opted for just a plain top coat before I dashed to security and immigration with my recent purchases stowed neatly in my carry-on bag, feeling that the wait at Narita hadn’t been that bad after all. Almost worth the long haul flight ahead.