Trip Start Sep 29, 2009
9Trip End Oct 29, 2009
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Where I stayed
My first full day in Tokyo, I took the train up to Laketown Mall, an enormous shopping center adjacent to the Koshigaya Laketown train station in the Saitama suburbs northeast of Tokyo. (To get here, take the Japan Rail Saikyo (pronounced Psycho!) Line from Ikebukuro to Musashiurawa, then switch to the Japan Rail Musashino Line to Koshigaya Laketown.) It's a huge, huge mall with environmental pretensions. It has two sections, one called Lake and the other Forest. The anchor stores are the Jusco discount store and Sports Authority, and the entire mall was developed by Aeon, the parent company of Jusco. The smaller stores are mostly specialty shops, with a focus on women's fashions. There are stores with odd names like "Starvation." Next to the mall is an enormous lake, which is square and apparently artificial, and a large park with no litter containers (I know from experience carrying around a sticky ice cream cone wrapper)
Next, I took the train one stop to the Shin-Misato station to see La La City (yes, that's the official legal name on the formal address signs!). La La City (developed by the La La Port folks) has yet another mall, but this one is a much more manageable size. It is anchored at one end by Costco and at the other end by Ikea, and in the middle there are stores including Uniqlo, H&M, and Muji. But it is not enormous, a much more reasonable scale than Laketown. Costco has a mix of stuff you'd find at their USA stores and some uniquely Asian merchandise. Cheese bagels continue to be big sellers at Costco, and they had some enormous GE refrigerators on display. There was also a lot of clothing in American sizes. I had dinner in the food court--an excellent Chicken Caesar Salad for 600 yen and a slice of pizza for 300 yen, one of Japan's better dinner values. The salad was excellent, although I think my diet has been deficient in green vegetables since I arrived in Japan.
A NOTE ON JAPANESE TELEVISION
I took the public tour of the NHK public television network in Tokyo
From my random TV watching, I saw one program where they brought in a team of housecleaners to tidy up a very messy house. I hope this was a one-time report, and not an ongoing series where they find and clean the country's messiest houses.
I did watch a lot of TV two Saturday nights in a row, so I have information about two series. "Challenged" is about a teacher who goes blind but still manages to do his job--so well that he is able to navigate the river rapids and retrieve the missing test papers that his teaching assistant lost when she was hit by another bicycle
For those of you who are wondering if the Japanese people are deprived of shop-at-home television experiences, no need to fret. They have a solid selection of American full-length advertisements with subtitles and dubbed Japanese where appropriate. The product lines focus on housecleaning and food preparation. Typically, they use the American advertisement, and supplement it with scenes where actual Japanese use the same appliance for cooking fish or cleaning a small floor
After I got home, I had the opportunity to watch a Japanese television drama on television with English subtitles. It had all the classic elements--the central character is a young woman and the story revolves around whether she will marry the right man. She's engaged to a young army officer who is called to serve in Siberia, and, of course, he is injured in battle and reported dead. After getting the news, she is pursued by the local newspaper editor. Then comes the rumor that the army officer isn't dead after all, but is somewhere in China. She makes a trip to China "to find out who is reflected in the mirror in my heart" and barely misses finding the army officer. Turns out the army officer has amnesia (usually the amnesia in TV dramas results from a fall on an escalator at Narita Airport, but this story was set in the 1930's). The family who has taken him in includes an artist who happens to see his fiance on her trip to China and makes a sketch of her. When the army officer sees the sketch, he recovers his memory and rushes back to Japan, only to reach his fiance on her wedding day, and of course, she is being married to the editor. Of course, it would be impolitely direct to tell the army officer about the wedding, so he loses precious time waiting around. Will the army officer get to the church on time to stop the wedding? Of course not. Instead, he asks another officer to pass along the news that he is back, and that officer re-delegates the task to the newspaper editor (and groom), who keeps quiet
Yet another TV note: Gatsby is Japan's leading line of men's hair products--the typical convenience store has an aisle devoted to Gatsby absorbent face paper and hair wax. They needed some catchy American music for their hair styling wax commercials, so they chose the Stylistics (what a pun!!!). The song they chose was a remake of the Stylistics hit, "I Can't Give You Anything But My Love." Now the lyrics are "I can give you Gat-tsu-bee." If you do a search on www.YouTube.com for Gatsby, you will likely find it
HAKUSAN IN TOKYO
It rained hard today, so I gave up on my plans to visit Kamakura and instead spent the day shopping in Tokyo. Hakusan (the folks who make porcelain in contemporary designs; I trekked to their factory store in Hasami) has a store in Tokyo, so that was my first stop. Last year, I was a block away from their store and had no idea they were there! They are on Otemesando, at the edge of the fancy retail district that includes Otemesando Hills (a multi-story shopping complex that has no connection with any hill), Cartier, and Prada. When I passed the fancy Prada building, I was very tempted to barge in and yell,"The devil wears Prada!" But I didn't. Hakusan is in an attractive modern space 1/2-level below the street, so it is barely visible. The shop is small, not big enough to display everything in the catalog. Their level of design quality deserves a much bigger store
According to travelpod, over 1,000 people have viewed my Japan blog. I have no idea why so many people are interested, but if any of you are in the retail business in the USA, Hakusan deserves consideration. Their quality is excellent, the prices are modest, and their designs are classic modern. I have no idea why I don't see their products in major American stores. Anyone out there from Nordstrom, Macy's, etc.?
The Hakusan shop in Tokyo is on Otemesando Avenue, about 3 blocks southwest from Aoyama Dori. (Dori = Avenue.) Walking along Otemesando, you will pass Prada and then Cartier. Past Cartier, but on the same side of the street and on the same block, you will find the "From" Building. Hakusan is hidden 1/2 level below the street. The address for the Hakusan Shop is "From 1st Building," Ground Floor, 5-3-10 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo (Metro Station: Omotesando). (In the other direction along Otemesando, you will find Oriental Bazaar, Shakey's Pizza, and Kiddyland. Oriental Bazaar is a good place for modestly-priced souvenirs. Kiddyland has a mix of cool toys for kids and gifts for adults with limited taste.)
Machida is at the southwestern edge of the area within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Tokyo government
THE CRISIS OF MODERN ART, A RIVER WALK, LIBERTY, AND RUSH HOUR
I avoided Tokyo's morning rush hour by staying in my hotel until at least 10 a.m. every day. The evening rush hour was surprisingly late. One day I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, only to discover a couple of small signs saying that it would be closed for two weeks. I still wonder if the Japanese text of the sign said that they were sorry to announce that they had run out of ideas of traditional art they could deconstruct or modern art that hadn't already been done. So I walked back to the subway, realized I wasn't sure where the subway was, and soon found myself at a bridge over the Sumida River on a sunny day. So I took a walk along the river until I found a subway station that could take me to the monorail line to Odaiba, a landfill site with a huge development of offices, a convention hall, and shopping centers. First stop in Odaiba was the Venus Fort shopping mall, geared towards women and with an Italian village theme, complete with statues and fountains. Next was the waterfront Aqua City shopping center, which has a replica of the Statue of Liberty
My next excitement was taking the train back to the other side of Tokyo at 5 p.m. I was convinced this would be a disaster of overcrowding, but was surprised to find that there was plenty of room on both the monorail and the Yamanote Line. I think people work late enough that rush hour isn't even beginning at 5 p.m. The trains were much more crowded between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and there is yet another rush hour at 11 p.m., when everybody rushes home before the last train.
Kawagoe is a cute little town north of Tokyo. (From Ikebukuro, take the Tobu Tojo Line.) Its historic district includes old warehouse-store buildings and more recent structures that have been designed to blend in. Kawagoe has recently been "discovered" by the guidebooks, so it was full of tourists from all over. It seems that I wasn't the only one with a clipping from the travel section of the New York Times!