Ito-ya—First Stop for Art Supplies in Tokyo
On a recent trip to Tokyo, we had the pleasure of visiting Ito-ya, the famed art supply store in Ginza.
The store advertises its impressive collection of “fine writing instruments, leather goods, art supplies, custom frames, and globes” with deserved confidence. But they’re also aware of the special experience at play: “It’s like a ‘hideaway for adults’; you can relax and enjoy your shopping time.”
If every major city has a standout art supply store, Ito-ya is Tokyo’s.
Well-designed art supply stores like Ito-ya have playful, eye-catching exteriors that invite passersby to make detours, and stop in. But what draws people into Ito-ya’s six-story building isn’t just the large paperclip attached to the outside of the building, it’s the ground level’s industrial appearance and its immense floor-to-ceiling windows. Even from the outside it’s easy to see how Ito-ya borrows design elements from fine jewelry stores, presenting art and office supplies in an environment that provides them an elevated level of respect—implying that they are as valuable as the earth’s most precious jewels.
While much more could be said about the architectural and interior design schema of Ito-ya, the products deserve equal attention. Wandering around the store our eyes were constantly drawn to the bright color spreads created by the pens, markers, pencils, pastels, and paints lined up across seemingly endless shelves.
It was a treat to our senses to look down each aisle and catch the color gradients as they moved horizontally from foreground to background. Equally so, it was a delight to inspect the well-curated variety of brushes, canvases, paper, and pencils (an encounter with variety reminiscent of a visit to a vibrant farmers market when what you’re used to is a city grocery store).
Ito-ya is a reminder that analog tools and physical environments are extremely valuable to designers who work primarily in the digital realm, that there is something wonderful about getting our hands dirty with oil or chalk pastels, the need to sharpen pencils when the lead meets the wood, or to dip a brush in paint and water. With the potential for creativity abundant in each tool and medium they carry, Ito-ya harks back to a time when inspiration co-existed with messiness… and anyone who enters, even those who aren’t artistically inclined, leave with aspirations to incorporate more creativity into their lives.