department stores in Japan

Food Fair 2.0 (ex a diversus terra)

Italian Restaurant in Hikarie Shibuya

Please note that all posts are officially now from Canada (ex a divers us terra= from another country…sadly we’re not in Kansas anymore). Though I still have lots to say ūüėČ

Back to the land of the rising sun (which is actually what the characters mean¬†śó•śú¨…”the origin of the sun” or “the place where the sun rises and sets”) where you can find amazing restaurants in department stores. This goes way beyond the diner-like restaurants we used to see in Zellers and is more reminiscent of a cafe you’d find in Saks; however, you can¬†usually find 1-2 floors of restaurants (example 6F and 7F¬†in Hikarie Shibuya) plus 1-2 floors of food items in the basement (example B3F and B2F in Hikarie Shibuya) in most Japanese department stores.

The restaurant offerings are varied and range in price from fairly moderate ($10 pp¬†for a set menu dinner) to really expensive ($80+ pp for dinner). There are usually up to three different Japanese restaurants specializing in¬†various types of Japanese cuisine such as sushi, tempura, noodles, tonkatsu (pork cutlets in a variety of dishes), kaiseki (haute cuisine based on seasonal offerings), barbecue or grilled items, bowls of noodles with a whole egg sitting on top (not my fave), Japanese sweets, plus various places with regional specialities (Okinawa, Kyoto, Kyushu). In terms of other types of cuisine, curries from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also popular in addition to basic Indian food from India. Italian food is also popular with the Japanese and most department stores have at LEAST one restaurant specializing in Italian food but you will often find restaurants with regional specialities (Milanese, Tuscan or Southern Italian), pasta, or pizza and casual fare. Chinese food is quite common and again, offers a few different types like dim-sum, noodle dishes, or very-high end Cantonese cuisine. Irish pubs abound. I’ve seen quite a few Spanish tapas bars as well.

In the basement you’ll find at least one, but often two floors selling groceries (dry goods), fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, deli items, ready-made meals (worldwide cuisine, not just Japanese food), bakeries, patisseries, wine, beer, spirits, chocolate, candies, boxed gifts of food, custom-order dinners that are made while you wait, vitamins, shakes, specialty coffee and tea…as well as smaller take-out restaurants lining the perimeter of the area selling meals that are much more reminiscent of what¬†we would see in a food fair in the mall.

Our culinary experiences were positive for the most part. We did have department store dinner in Hikarie Shibuya at Capricci¬†which was quite good. We had the set menu and our total bill which included the bread bar, an appetizer and a pasta. Including¬†a ginger ale and a prosecco and the total bill was just under $60 (no tipping). The food was good but you can find a few quirks or questionable attempts at Japanese-Italian fusion…sweet potato buns and spinach buns in the bread bar; sweet butter (caramel flavoured?); and weird fish paste on top of Karis’s pasta. Overall it was very good and a pretty decent price. That being said, I bought some Italian deli items one day for dinner¬†and they were less than fantastic (in terms of preparation, quality of ingredients and odd substations) despite costing close to $50. In my experience, it seems to be best to enjoy the cuisine of the country you are in, especially a place like Japan that offers a variety of delicious options that are usually the most affordable as the ingredients are common. Our favourite was sushi at the places with the conveyor belts (usually cheap and cheerful for people in a hurry on their lunch break or on their way home from work). The food was fresh and delicious and Karis and I could eat our fill for less than $15.

Back in the land of Messy, Grumpy People.

Subway people

I know it’s a bit presumptuous to have reverse culture shock after being away for only 5 and a half weeks but I think you experience things differently when you are living somewhere as opposed to holidaying–i.e. you are staying¬†in an apartment, cleaning it, taking out the garbage, grocery shopping and not just staying in a hotel. Though I would have really liked a pool….

Anyway, it’s been a bit weird being home. I’m sure most of it can be attributed to jet lag but there are some cultural differences that spring to mind. People here seem undisciplined and self-concerned compared to the inherent order of Japanese society. Also messy and grumpy. This isn’t really much of a surprise as culturally we are conditioned to value the individual before considering our impact on society as a whole; the Japanese are conditioned differently, pretty much the exact opposite. They are taught to maintain order, avoid chaos and keep the social order intact. Children are taught from an early age that “the nail that sticks up is hammered down” so the urge to conform¬†is pretty basic. Wherever it comes from, it makes for a more orderly and streamlined¬†society, though I have no idea what people are thinking, they are outwardly polite. People don’t push or shove, they don’t jump the queue, they rarely honk their horns, they wait patiently to board the escalator, they make way on the sidewalk…though I guess this behaviour is partially a survival tactic in a city as large as Tokyo, otherwise chaos and anarchy would reign.

People dress more formally. I saw women in Lululemon-like outfits three times. Two of them were jogging and the other looked like she was on the way home from yoga class–based on the fact that she was carrying a yoga mat. The majority of men wear suits and women wear skirts or dresses or dressy shorts. Many kids wear uniforms and if not, they have the cutest clothes ever. Even the dogs are groomed. I know some of the formality comes from living in a larger urban centre but there is a noticeable¬†difference to North American sartorial habits. It’s almost as if you have a responsibility to not disturb the flow by dressing like a bum. Being odd or alternative is fine (Harajuku girls come to mind) as long as you’re tidy. I noticed a similar scenario in Paris and subsequently read a book by an American living in Paris, married to a Frenchman, who was told by her husband that running to the bakery to get croissants in her sweats with her hair in a ponytail was insulting to society in general. Perhaps they have a similar expectation in Japan? I’ll have to look into it…. Also keep in mind that most households wash their clothes in cold water and dry them on a rack–even our¬†neighbour, whose house was worth approximately $4 million, had laundry hanging daily on the deck.

In shops and restaurants they greet every single person that walks through the door. Always. Irasshaimase (welcome). When you pay for things they bow. In any place except the convenience stores and the grocery store, they walk your purchase around the counter and hand it to you, bowing. In smaller shops they walk you to the door and bow as you leave. If it’s an expensive purchase they bow until you are out of sight. Yes, I actually saw this in the Issey Mikayke boutique in Omotesando (high-end shopping area). Four shop assistants bowed until the woman disappeared around the corner two blocks away. I’m not even kidding. In department stores, they bow before they leave the floor. Bus attendants at airports and hotels bow as the bus appears and again as it drives away. I know this sounds excessive, but it is quite charming and you don’t actually realize how peaceful it is to be away from angst and strife until you are back in it. This is the country that experienced no looting or violence in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident.

I went to the 7-11 on Friday night. I said ‘Konnichiwa‘ to the clerk, mostly because I was so tired and momentarily forgot that I was not in the neighbourhood 7-11 in Tokyo where I visited every day. He looked at me like I was a complete nutter. He didn’t bow when I left….

It’s a barbieworld!

Barbie

It’s technically our last day…though the blog will carry on for a while as I’ve got a few more topics that I haven’t covered yet. In term so of modelling, it’s an odd market this year for a variety of reasons but mainly because there are more girls in town than usual. Karis has more work in Vancouver so we’re heading back to the west coast tomorrow…but hopefully back to Tokyo in the next year or so.

Anyway, back to Barbie. It was sort of apropos that we ended up at the Barbie 55th Anniversary Retrospective as I picked up a flyer advertising it from Seibu (department store in Shibuya) on my very first day in Tokyo…and I remember thinking that it would be a very cool thing to see. As I’ve mentioned before, most department stores here have a gallery and exhibition space and they tend to have some unique exhibits…sort of like 55 years of Barbie ūüėČ As usual, very well done and beautifully presented. A very complete collection of Barbies in the most amazing outfits, including some collector’s items and a unique Barbie designed by a contest winner. Lots of high fashion Barbie including Burberry, Juicy Couture, Bob Mackie, Christian Lacroix, Dior, Givenchy just to name a few…that I could actually read…the only drawback is that department store exhibits are rarely translated so it’s a bit slow trying to figure it all out but at least I can read the dates and take photos of Karis with the life size Barbie in the display.

Toire-wa doko ni ari masu-ka?

Amazing toilets

Literal translation is “Where does a toilet exist?” Luckily, in Tokyo, almost everywhere. If you are in need of the facilities, there are decent toilets to be found in many places such as department stores, coffee shops and train stations. The ones in department stores are usually quite lovely, many equipped with a handy baby/toddler chair (also good for umbrellas), baby change table and a fold down platform that provides you with a clean area upon which¬†to stand should you need to change your clothes.

Japanese toilets are probably the best in the world sadly they don’t export the most majestic models but you can find lovely TOTO models in Canada. Even the base models, found in public places like train and bus stations, have automatic flush or an electronic flush activated by movement. Many also have heated seats, a built-in bidet (with controls for temperature, pressure and angle of water), a dryer and a recording to mask any embarrassing sounds you might make. There is also a toilet seat cleaner that automatically dispenses a spray of antiseptic for you to wipe the toilet seat; however, many higher-end toilets clean themselves after each use.

Most restrooms also offer at least one squat style toilet for those traditionalists who say it’s more hygienic as your body isn’t touching anything. Personally, I find it odd to see a squat toilet in a fancy washroom surrounded by marble and mahogany but hey, it’s great to have choices in life. If you’re feeling a little tired and in need of a rest, many restrooms¬†in stores and museums offer sitting areas with comfy couches and make-up areas. Surprisingly there are no refreshments served.

The only thing missing in most train station restrooms is a hand dryer…which is usually a great opportunity to put all those packages of free Kleenex to use.

A good time was had by all.

Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri Festival_2 Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri Festival

I went to my first official festival in Tokyo today, the Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri Festival: “The Eisa Matsuri Festival originates in Okinawa as a ritual of kyu bon (old bon), to honour the spirits of ancestors and pray for the well-being of families and the prosperity of businesses. Teodori hand dancers, sanshin three-stringed instrument players, jutei singers, clown-like characters… form a procession and dance through town to the beat of taiko drums large and small.¬†This nationally renowned traditional event from Okinawa came to Shinjuku, Tokyo and grew into a symbol of summer. This year marks the 12th holding of the festival.”

Japanese festivals are a great way to spend an afternoon…the dancing, the music (especially the drumming) and the crowds…oh the crowds. I totally don’t recommend festivals if you are in the least bit agoraphobic, actually, I’d avoid Tokyo in general as it’s pretty much always crowded. That being said, the crowds are pretty orderly. They have tons of staff (and police) to control the flow of people, to keep passageways¬†free and to ensure everyone can see. If you want to get closer, you just ask and you will politely be invited to step on the other side of the rope which is there to keep an open throughway. When you consider the heat (‘feels like 41 degrees’), it’s actually amazing that there are no fights, no pushing, no bad behaviour of any sort. The homeless dudes (yes, there are homeless people here) drink their sake in the shade and the families just walk on by. There was even one little blond boy who lost his mum. He was just chatting away to a policeman and some festival organizers until his frantic mum found him. No panic, just follow the “lost-child plan” though I’m sure the fact that it was a non-Japanese speaking blond kid threw them for a bit of a loop.

Apparently this festival originates in Okinawa and I was lucky enough to happen to go to Isetan department store (LOVE Isetan) where¬†their special event space on the 7th floor was a one-day market for Okinawan specialties–food, sake, clothing, pottery and all sorts of handicrafts. Now THAT was crowded, but again, everyone patiently waits their turn to be served. No pushing. Line-ups don’t seem to be any sort of deterrent here. I guess people get used to them. I’m still not though, can’t wait in a lineup of twelve people for snacks no matter how delicious they look. There’s always a 7-11 or two on the way home…

Department stores like you’ve never seen…

View from the Gallery level at Hikarie Department store in Shibuya

View from the Gallery level at Hikarie Department store in Shibuya

The department stores here are epic. There’s not really any other way to describe them. They’re huge…4-10 floors including a basement and possibly a sub-basement or two. They usually have food like groceries as well as take-out boutique-style food. I mean serious food here…all kinds of Japanese food, Korean barbecue, French patisseries, Italian delis, butchers, bakers, fromageries, chocolatiers…it’s quite something. Anyway, the food does not stop here. There are usually cafes and restaurants interspersed amongst the floors in case of starvation…think high-end food court. There are often art galleries and museums on the top floor as well as public spaces and sometimes even theatres and movie theatres. Up until today I’d only been shopping but today I did my first gallery tour at Hikarie Shibuya. I saw an exhibit on Japanese puppets (amazing), an installation on travel with various ‘objets’ and a modern art exhibit. Hikarie has two floors of restaurants and cafes. And it was packed.

I guess having such a huge population supports stores like this…think Holt Renfrew (10x bigger) with about 20 stores in the downtown area. For the most part, most department stores¬†sell fairly high-end goods and many are boutique style, housing top designers within each store. They usually have a gift section and a kimono department in addition to the usual fashion, household goods, and beauty ¬†departments. The customer service is amazing…if you go right at opening time (usually 10 or 11am), all the staff stand at the door and bow as you enter. They also bow whenever they leave the floor by turning to face outwards, bowing (even when there is no one there) and then going through the door. You rarely have to wait…if they see a lineup forming clerks will rush to a till to serve you…so that you, the honourable customer (o-kyaki sama), does not have to wait. It’s quite radically different from shopping at the Bay.

Here are some of the big ones; Marui;¬†Parco Shibuya¬†and Shibuya Hikarie¬†Isetan, Keio¬†and Odakyu¬†in Shinjuku;¬†Mitsukoshi, Matsuya, Matsuzakaya,¬†Printemps and Takashimaya¬†in Ginza; Seibu¬†and their partner stores Loft¬†(my favourite in terms of affordability and selection for household, beauty and paper) and Muji;¬†¬†Shibuya 109 (horrendously loud on the weekends); Tokyu; Tokyu Hands¬†(which is like Michaels on steroids); Tobu in Ikebukuro; and Daimaru. That’s not to mention the stores that specialize in health and beauty aids; the 100 yen stores like Daiso¬†(which we have in Richmond); and all the designer boutiques that are at least 2-4 floors. There’s a lot of stuff to buy here. It’s hard to resist…already checking out the price of suitcases to haul my prizes home ūüėČ

A typical day (the Mothership)

A Zen exercise environment...lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

A Zen exercise environment…lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

Being here in Tokyo, staying in a house that is not mine without a garden, husband or dog, has given me a fair amount of free time. I’m here to help Karis stay organized and on top of things…mostly by making sure she’s fed and her laundry is done. This isn’t always easy here. You need to food shop almost every day as there is no storage space and we are sharing with other people. Also, I’m pretty sure if I left it up to her she’d be eating a lot of Ichiban (which means ‘number one’)¬†noodles and salad which isn’t a nutritional wonderland. The older girls (17+) are a bit more cognizant of what they’re eating whilst the 15-year olds on their own tend to eat out, make pasta or have noodles and toast…mostly because they can because they’re 15! Laundry, as you’ve heard in previous posts, is slightly more complex as it has to be air-dried and there can be a lot of sudden rainstorms. Running errands and getting money can take time. The only bank machines that take foreign ATM cards are the ones at the Post office…which are only open when the post office is open. It took me a day to buy a pillow…one that didn’t cost $75. Printing and mailing an electronic document also took the better part of a day though I know how to do it now. However, seeing as I am experienced in doing the household stuff and relatively able to figure out other¬†things, it doesn’t take up that much of my time. So I’ve got some free time where I’m on my own.

I’ve been exercising every day. I tried running but it hurts my knee too much. Probably need new runners and the pavement can be a bit uneven. It’s also a bit unnerving as there is a constant stream of people and bikes coming at you which makes me really anxious. Anyway, I decided to run up and down the stairs at the sumo park around the corner. It’s been fabulous. Quiet. Somewhat shaded if I go early enough and doesn’t hurt my knee. I considered joining a gym or doing a class but it’s quite expensive here (over $30/class) and I’d have to walk or take the train. I’m so very lazy that any sort of extra work will end up being a great excuse for me not to go. So since the park is literally about a hundred¬†yards away, it works for me. I also do other exercises from Karis’s trainer Caroline Walton¬†which are helping my core and keeping my back from getting sore ūüėČ

I also write. This blog is part of my writing commitment as are various other projects I’m working on while I’m here. I write and read every day. Being here has made me really think about how I spend my time…and how I waste my time. I watch a lot of TV at home. Much more than I actually thought. We have a TV here but it’s in a cupboard and I don’t even know if it works. Haven’t cared enough to try. Karis watches movies on Netflix and sometimes we’ll watch one together. I read the newspaper about twice a week. I’ll be instituting a few changes when I get home.

I also help Karis if she needs to take the subway anywhere as she’s not yet confident on her own. She’s pretty good and is picking up the finer points–the agency does give them maps but it’s still VERY confusing. Basically, I manage to amuse myself all day, every day. The department stores here are amazing…6-9 floors of cultural anthropology. The cosmetic stores are amazing…they have products we haven’t even heard of. Stay tuned…. I still hate cooking and find it hard to figure out what to cook. Ingredients you take for granted are sometimes hard to find though I have to say, it’s a lot different than it was in the ¬†90s…I got anchovies and capers at the store today to make Salad Nicoise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicioise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicoise with prosciutto and melon and roasted peppers on Italian buns!

 

The Art of Re-gifting…

From the gift catalogue at Life Supermarket where I have my bonus card ;-)

From the gift catalogue at Life Supermarket where I have my bonus card ūüėČ

Japan is the land of gifts.¬†The intricacies of gift-giving are¬†challenging¬†for non-Japanese to understand. I hear it’s particularly difficult for business people as a badly wrapped or improperly presented/received gift can derail a relationship. The etiquette is familiar and well-known to¬†Japanese people:

  • OMIYAGE are souvenirs from¬†holidays for friends, family and co-workers
  • TEMIYAGE are thank-you gifts
    • when¬†going to someone’s house for dinner (rare) or, more commonly, to a restaurant as a guest
    • at the beginning of a business relationship
    • to a boss, mentor or co-worker
  • Seasonal OSEIBO are gifts given¬†in December to co-workers, friends and relatives
  • Seasonal OCHUGEN¬†are gifts given¬†in June also for co-workers, friends and relatives

Japanese women give chocolate to men on Valentines Day and receive double or triple their efforts back a month later on White Day.¬†Gifts are not traditionally given on birthdays or Christmas but the infiltration of the Western world has prompted¬†some Japanese people to participate. At weddings, births and funerals people give money in beautiful envelopes wrapped with intricate cord; also children get money on New Years day. Money is also the most common gift for a teacher…something that would not be appropriate for us! (Can you say ‘bribe’.)¬†Money received at¬†weddings, births and funerals is acknowledged/reciprocated by a gift sent by post a month or two afterwards.

Presentation is everything and the wrapping is often more important than the gift itself. I’m pretty sure I was Japanese in my last life as I love wrapping presents. (I could also have been a caterer as I also excel at arranging food on plates.) I digress. If¬†you’re ever presented with a gift from a Japanese person, be sure to accept it with both hands and express gratitude. Don’t open it in their presence as it’s considered rude, this also makes it easier to re-gift if you don’t ruin the packaging ūüėČ You now have an obligation towards that person …hence the beauty re-gifting. Which is great for non-perishables but doesn’t work so well for melons, meat or flowers.

I just love the fact that you can get beautifully wrapped and nicely boxed canned goods, laundry soap, tomatoes, cans of beer, soba noodles…pretty much anything you can think of. This is so far¬†beyond the typical North American gift of a nice box of chocolates, cookies or fancy tea that you really have to see it to believe it. Many department stores and supermarkets have entire departments dedicated to the choosing, ordering and delivery of gifts. Note that foreigners are not expected to understand or comply by the gift etiquette but if you plan on living here it might be an idea to learn…and bring a few bottles of maple syrup or maple butter (VERY popular) if you’re on your way over.

 

If I had a million dollars….

Fashion_3 Fashion 2 Fashion_1Walked home from Omotesando station today and noticed yet again that I’m definitely out of my element in terms of fashion here…they’ve got ALL the top designers and more than one store within a 10 mile radius! There seems to be many sales right now. It’s funny, the word ‘SALE’ is often in English, French (soldes) and Italian (saldi) but never in Japanese…or maybe because I don’t know what it looks like in Japanese ūüėČ

Anyway, it’s a shopper’s paradise here. Also a good place for a “basic” dresser such as myself (jeans and various black tops with boots in winter; beige shorts with various black tops and flip-flops in summer) to learn about fashion. I must say, it could be quite an addiction. I’ve always kept it simple and pretty inexpensive:¬†a¬†couple pairs of jeans that fit well, a¬†pair¬†of boots, my Prada flats (thanks to Misha for making me buy them–best investment ever), various tops, a purse and my flip-flops. It’s a little harder here. For one, people don’t wear flip-flops in public…they are regarded as ‘shower shoes’ or slippers and I would be mocked. People make an effort…hell most of the women wear stockings when it’s 35+ degrees here! I will never do that. In terms of fashion though, there is so much to see and covet. And I do see it every single day. It’s in my neighbourhood, not in some rarefied downtown area on streets I rarely go to. They have a _______ (fill in the blank–Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga…) boutique in many of the department stores which are literally just down the road from me. This is NOT Sears or the Bay…more like a whole bunch of Holt Renfrews. I think I need to head out to the boonies to see what real people wear.

I’d like you all to know that I do try. I wear skirts and dresses. Makeup sometimes. No shorts in the city. Silk tops and even, dare I say it, colours besides black. Sometimes even a matching hat though I don’t have a Darth Vader visor (yet…be patient Lorna). No one to mock me but the child.

 

To-i-re wa, doku ni ari masu-ka? (Where is the toilet?)

Toilets

The Japanese are master toilet makers. Ranging from the squatting version on the left to the high-tech Toto in the middle to the standard household model, they’ve got it all covered. The squat toilet was in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and was one traditional toilet amid a sea of Western ones. It’s actually fairly hygienic as you don’t actually touch it with your body anywhere…. The high-end Toto version was in the Loft department store in Shibuya and has a build in bidet function, a dryer (some still regard the use of toilet paper as incredibly dirty) and can play music or a fake flushing sound should you be making an embarrassing sound yourself that needs covering up. Sadly most of the instructions are in Japanese which makes it a little tricky. The toilet¬†in our house is pretty standard for middle-class homes with the built-in¬†tap on the top to wash your hands with the water that is FILLING the tank. Cold but better than nothing and also a good way to conserve water…. Personally I prefer the Totos with the heated seats that play music ūüėČ