Last weekend, a group of us were seized with a desire for that most popular “lowest common denomination” activity, a stroll at the mall. Not surprisingly, options are somewhat limited in this neck of the woods, but an obliging member of the faculty and his most delightful wife took pity on us and arranged a trip to Niigata City, about 70 miles away, for that express purpose. There was some added benefit for them as well; a chance to visit a computer store and a chance to stop at the only frozen yogurt stand anyone has been able to find in all of Japan. But best of all, it was an opportunity to get off campus, to stop listening to the drone of cicadas for a spell, and to spend some time with colleagues outside the academic realm.
Well, in my scientific study of Japanese malls (one), the conclusion is: they look a heck of a lot like American malls (and Polish malls, etc. etc.). There are of course singularities, hence this post, but the overall experience is the same – gigantic temples to consumerism, one store more inviting than the next; a virtual army of motivated sales people and clever adverts all designed to separate you from your yen. I managed to resist the sirens more than some of my fellow shoppers, but that was due, in all candor, to the fact that I don’t fit most Japanese clothing or shoes, and that made it all the easier.
My first surprising observation is that….nearly all of the signs are in English! This is particularly interesting to me because so very few Japanese seem to speak or even to understand English, with the exception of a few words. But here’s an entire gynormous mall, all signed in (mostly correct) English, with the addition, of course, of some funky made-up brand names.
Here’s an example of a typical women’s clothing store. This one has a slightly Gallic motif, but you’ll note the color palette is quite subdued compared to the US. These colors, navy, gray, camel, white, or their close relations, are repeated in nearly all the competing establishments:
Some stores were trying harder than others to attract attention to merchandise and/or sales, but I didn’t see anyone more determined or enthusiastic than this team. I think they were thrilled to be photographed:
My colleagues all wanted to hit one particular department store, and I could quickly see why. Good quality merchandise, great selection of sizes and excellent prices, just not long/tall/big enough for me, although I did manage to find a scarf which fit perfectly. I had fun, though, giving feedback and racing back and forth to swap out sizes. Here’s a shot of the changing area – one is only allowed four garments in the room at one time:
On a completely unrelated topic, one odd aspect of this summer, given that I live in a very rural area, is the absolute lack of any domesticated pets whatsoever in my ‘hood. I may have mentioned somewhere below that I saw one cat at the honor vegetable stand and one man walking a dog while I was on the train to Nagaoka, but that’s been it. Pet ownership is alive and well, however, as demonstrated by the photo below. I immediately thought “puppy mills” and “Go to the Humane Society,” but I wisely kept those remarks to myself. The puppies, adorable as can be, were wicked expensive, in some cases between 1500-2000 USD. No wonder everybody just looks.
I was delighted to see a couple familiar favorites among the other unknown chains, this on now virtually unknown on the North American continent:
Seeing this store brought back a “whoosh” of memories from my college days, when on many a late Saturday night we would pile into someone’s car and drive from Eagle Rock (near Pasadena in Southern California) along Sunset Boulevard to somewhere in West LA or Beverly Hills where there was a Tower that stayed open 24/7, if memory serves. After hours of looking and listening, we’d head to a Denny’s for a little refreshment (the grand slam breakfast at 3:30 am was a particular favorite, accompanied by gallons of the kind of execrable percolator coffee that was in vogue at the time). Ah, sweet memories of youth.
Another old friend I was happy to see was Starbucks, my first since hitting these shores:
I didn’t actually HAVE any coffee (too late in the day), but I did sit there for a long spell just breathing the fumes. They even had Caffe Verona instant “coffee bags” to take home, but I was feeling too cheap to buy them. I did take a close-up of what was being offered that day, but it was a bit of a mystery, as most things are around here:
Nearby was a shop that was selling more traditional Japanese delicacies – the round things are called “mochi,” I think, and the weird green tied items are called “sasa dango.” They have rice and other goodies inside and were wrapped that way, I believe, because they were road food for samurai.
I am, as you probably know, a huge fan of pen and stationery items, and Japan is a mecca for those types of products. The quality of the paper is excellent, and the amount and variety of writing instruments is hard to believe. While I am still mulling the purchase of a rather expensive Pilot fountain pen (the Custom 914 with an FA nib, to be precise), I really enjoyed this rainbow display, all in readiness for the beginning of the academic year next month:
While the gals were shopping, the lone male hied himself off to the cinema in the mall. We had checked the place out when he was deciding how he would amuse himself during our afternoon-long shop-a-thon. I was charmed that as decoration there was a huge mural with a chronology of many popular animated movies of the last few decades. How good is your knowledge of Japanese film?
So finally, tired and shopped out, we piled ourselves and our treasures into the car for the journey back to Urasa. A great day and an enjoyable time with wonderful people.