Stationery can be beautiful, particularly in banks, and nowhere does it better than Tokyo's amazing shop Itoya, right in the heart of the retail area Ginza.
As soon as you walk in, banks of cards attract you, colourful and enticing. Categorised as the 'sense' floor, it certainly attracts by sight and touch. Downstairs is relatively small but offers hints of the fabulous products available throughout the rest of the shop.
As with so many places in Japan, groundspace is limited, so the shop is built up over eight main retail floors. Each one has a distinct theme. Not all are entirely stationery-related, but they all have beautiful things. Up at the top are even three floors for events.
The pen floor includes whole banks of the same pen available in different colours, with huge ranges of inks to go in other pens. There are ample opportunities to try out different pens, nibs and inks on bits of paper around the place. If you are going to buy beautiful paper, after all, you need something beautiful to write on it with.
The paper on offer isn't just for writing on. Whole banks are available for all kinds of possible craft projects. When you arrive on the paper floor the rainbow display of possible colours and kinds of paper is staggering.
There is more to Itoya than just stationery, and if you are interested in colourful and often slightly quirky gadgets, then the Homeware floor is a must-stop place. It's close to the top of the building though, possibly in appreciation of the fact that it is not the shop's main draw.
Right up at the top is an area where you can get your purchases properly wrapped. Moreover, you can buy wrapping products - ribbons, papers and accessories. Buying beautiful things makes it sensible to have them beautifully presented, and the wrapping corner offers another chance to showcase the high quality, colourful, wonderful papers on offer.
Spotting the shop means looking out for something more unassuming than its interior - it is marked out by a red paperclip. In all the glamour and glitz of Ginza it would be easy to miss it, but this is a shop where you can spend hours looking around.
Opposite is a whole shop devoted to pens, K. Itoya. Here the street icon is a pen. Downstairs are the ones one might want to buy as a treat. Upstairs one floor is a museum of beautiful pens, one a back to school heaven and then you move into more art materials.
The art of letter writing may not be as much appreciated as it used to be, but shops like this must certainly help. Whether stocking up your schoolbag or looking out for a present for someone special, Itoya is a veritable Aladdin's cave of beautiful stationery. They stock brands from all over the world, with delicate Japanese paper in specially commissioned sets jostling for position alongside sturdy notecards and fine handmade Italian papers.