Looking for bargains? Lots of them, in the same place? You might be able to find them in the city, but so will thousands of others, and the crowds will likely be bad for the nerves and the elbows. However, the good news is that you don't have to go too far afield to find somewhere more spacious and (relatively) quiet to hunt for goodies; less than an hour's drive north-east of Tokyo in the pastoral countryside of Ibaraki, Ami Premium Outlet is a one-stop shopping center with something for everyone.
It's a deceptively well-endowed place, packing over 150 stores and restaurants into its compact, easily navigable space. The majority of the stores sell clothing, shoes and accessories, including household names such as Coach, Marui, Diesel and Forever 21; Brooks Brothers and Banana Republic both have factory shops, and there are dedicated outlet stores from Gap and Timberland.
If you want to fit out your house as well as your wardrobe, Le Creuset has stylish kitchenware to use on imported food from Bon Marche and St Cousair's jams and sauces, while there's a Ralph Lauren Home Factory Store for up-market domestic goods. There are a range of stores catering to the whole family too; as well as the kids clothes on sale at many of the stores, Combi has everything for baby, LEGO provides a play space in its store (only for kids, sadly), and Pet Paradise doesn't really need explaining.
If and when you need a break and a bite, there are a handful of coffee shops and restaurants on the arcades. Tully's Coffee, Bagel & Bagel and Café 31 will do for a quiet sit down over a drink and snack, while Enoteca D'oro Premio and Chinese Qing Cai offer more substantial meals for lunch and dinner. For a more communal dining experience, slap in the middle of the outlet there's the Food Gallery, with a central court of tables shared by a range of stands offering among others Japanese, Korean, Thai and Italian meals and snacks.
If you're driving, a visit to the Outlet can be easily combined with a stop at the nearby Ushiku Daibutsu to make a full day's outing. It's also possible to walk from one to the other, in which case I'd recommend from experience seeing the Daibutsu first so you're not laden down with shopping. Whether you take in the spiritual or stick to consumerism, a trip to Ami Premium Outlet will likely see you going home lighter of wallet, but well satisfied with your shopping experience.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.