Monday, December 10, 2007

Trip to Japan Part V

The next day we didn’t do much. It was low-key. My wife and I took a break and went shopping in the Saitama area. Luckily for me, shopping in a foreign country can still be and interesting endeavor. I guess the big highlight of the day occurred when we went to the Aeon shopping center. It’s a new complex built and organized in a similar fashion to an American shopping mall.

Here’s the outside of the AEON shopping mall. You can see the Saitama Soccer stadium in the background. It was built for the World Cup championship from a few years ago. My Mother-in-law and my wife both complained that stadium cost a huge amount of tax money and that the structure can only be used for soccer so it’s such a waste. I thought about that for a moment and said “I’d rather waste millions on a soccer stadium than a stupid war” My statement seemed make to make them feel a lot better about the whole thing… but not me of course.

It was fun to walk the aisles but what was the most fun was the store itself. Everything was so small but in a huge space. Here was the gigantic building with a very high ceiling but the shelves were all very short, what I might consider a child’s height in the states. Of course the average Japanese person is shorter than the average American, but my western biased mind felt they were wasting so much space that could be filled with products. I felt like Santa Claus in the elves’ town. On the other hand, not having huge shelves made the place feel very open.

Here are a couple of pics of two AEON employees preparing red bean paste for sale. It’s sweet and used in many desserts in Japan. We ended up buying some. I think the gal who sold us the red bean paste was overwhelmed by my appearance as she just filled the containers to overflowing, a very un-Japanese-like thing to do.

Another interesting aspect of the mall was that since it was so spacious, there were combo shopping cart/kid strollers available for families to use. It’s kinda’ a normal thing in the states but to see it in Japan made me realize what a novelty it must be here. I also saw folks in wheelchairs, which was nice. Life in Japan can be pretty hard when your disabled as next to nothing is accessible. This mall was very different as there was plenty of room to move around and it was a straight shot from the parking lot to the mall interiors. It reminded me that disabled folks in Japan put up with a lot of crap and here was the one place they could come and have a normal shopping experience.

The other “important” stop of the day was a second trip to Book Off. It’s a used Book, CD, and Video store. Book Off is one of the few stores created in the aftermath of the economic bubble that’s been wildly successful. Now there’s no point in buying everything new. My wife sold a bunch of old titles that she had left at her parents’ house and picked up some newer titles to take back to the states. When it comes to novels her tastes tend to run in the thriller and horror realms although she’s open to almost anything. Of course they had a fantastic selection of manga and I was happy to browse the aisles. My SO also bought some manga too as she grabbed several Black Jack digests and huge collectors digest of a comics about cooking and food, although I don’t know it’s name.

After we left Book Off, I noticed a different store that had a similar name to Book Off. It was called Hard Off. I had a lot of fun explaining why Hard Off wasn’t such good name for a company. My in-laws laughed about that for days.

We finished up our shopping excursions by swinging by a family friend that runs both a ceramic studio and an organic food store. She’s a great lady and she really wanted to talk to me as she’s been studying English for years. My wife and in-laws affectionately call her and her husband “the hippies” as they run an organic business, love 60s’ and 70s music and are big outdoor lovers. Naturally, they don’t look like hippies but I bet they’d dress a little like them if they could get away with it Japan.

We had a nice conversation in her ceramic studio and the place was full of adult students busily using potter's wheels and other tools as they prepped for a ceramic show that was coming next week. As my mother-in-law picked up her fired piece, my wife and I headed next door to the organic store. It’s a small place mostly stocked with fresh vegetables. But that makes sense, as food, like everything in Japan, is very expensive. Organic food has almost become a luxury but our family friend believes that it’s important to have healthy, natural foods to eat. Before we left, I mentioned that I think she would really enjoy Oregon and that I hoped she and her husband could visit someday.

Here’s my mother-in-law’s ceramic piece in its finished, painted form on display during the ceramic show the following week. The birds nest on top with eggs was my SO's idea.

That day, I think I managed to get another trip to 7-11 in there too.



Don Snabulus said...

Nice looking lantern. I get a hard off looking at it.

Arkonbey said...

I thought a hard off is what you get when you see something you don't find at all attractive.

I never thought about Japan and handicapped accessability. I figured they'd be at least as accessible as the US. Or that they'd give every handicapped person one of these.

I should try some red bean paste if I can find it. My SO and I were talking the other day why some foods are considered BREAKFAST or DINNER or DESERT and we don't mix them up. To me, beans are dinner...

The Moody Minstrel said...

My, but AEON(Jusco) shopping malls are popping up everywhere! Not that I'm really complaining...

Organic food seems to fade in and out of popularity in waves, but it's definitely a good thing to have. My in-laws have been organic gardening, which is definitely a fringe benefit to living here!

Pandabonium said...

Judging from my email spam, a lot of people have a "Hard Off".

Swinebread said...

Snab - thanks I’ll tell my mother-in-law… ok maybe I won’t

Arkonbey – nope the USA (and Canada) is very unique when it comes to accessibility. The Japanese may have a lot of great technology for disabled folks but those folks sure can’t go anywhere with it.

I know the red beans paste sounds weird but it’s quite good.

Moody – Ah, Jusco is the real name thanks for the correction. It makes sense they’d be popping up all over. It’s a nice place to shop as opposed to the very crowded stores downtown.

Organic all the way!

Panda – tell me about…

The Moody Minstrel said...

Actually, Jusco is the name of the department store chain, but AEON is the name of the parent company. In the beginning there were only stand-alone Jusco department stores all over the place. When they first started building bona fide shopping malls around them they first gave them unique names (like the Cheerio mall in Kashima, which is also owned by AEON and features a Jusco). When the 100+ shop "super malls" started appearing, however, they started naming them AEON, after the parent company, which confused a lot of people.

Even if you shop at a stand-alone Jusco, however, AEON is the name that appears on their own credit cards, financing receipts, member's cards, and gift coupons. Apparently they also have their own insurance and bank subsidiaries.

(My father-in-law owns stock in AEON, which means he has a handy little shareholder's discount card good at any AEON-owned outfit.)

Swinebread said...

No wonder for the confusion, thanks for clearing that up. Sounds similar to how Macy’s used to be.

ladybug said...

I'm sure liking the posts on your travels. It's all very interesting, and it's sure a crack up that your in-laws found the "hard off" English joke enough to last them a couple days of amusement.

I remember when we had an exchange student, whom we picked up in Seattle rather than Portland....she kept talking about the "heads"-"Why are there all these heads?

We couldn't figure out what she was talking about...then we realized in WA state they have President Washington's profile for most of the freeway/highway exit signs!

We're so used to it, we never really "noticed" them!

Swinebread said...


"Hard offs" are always funny

Was this the chick who had an advernture in Cub Foods?

ladybug said...

YES! I'd forgotten about that .....don't think she'll try that again! any country!