Generally the Japanese only like to buy stuff new. Add to this the fact you have to pay to have large rubbish disposed of, you’d have thought Japan would be a great place to pick up second hand bargains. Unfortunately despite my most diligent cheapo efforts, I’ve only ever seen a handful of second hand shops, and they were all somewhat overpriced!
Rich Expats to the Rescue
Enter the Sayonara Sale (goodbye sale).
Typically a large amount of foreign residents are only in Tokyo on a temporary basis, so when it comes time to leave they will often have a Sayonara Sale. And in my experience it’s a buyers market. With the owner wanting to sell their stuff as quickly as possible plus the problem of having to pay to have large items disposed of, you can pick stuff up cheaply and often for free.
My personal recommendation is to focus on sales in Minato-ku, Meguro-ku where the richer expats tend to live – this is where you’ll get the real quality items, like Le Creuset cookware and poncey food processors. Best if you can get hold of a car or van for the weekend, it’ll be worth the rental fee.
I put together nicely fitted out kitchen and living room pretty much exclusively from freebies and cheap stuff on craigslist, pretty much all of it from meguro and ebisu.
And if you’re thinking of a trip to IKEA, be sure to check out craigslist first, you might find the same bed going for crazy cheap or even free.
Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!