Previously: I had meet up with Jessica and got a small tour of Naruto
With new clothes graciously donated to me, Jessica and I head out for lunch at the local mall. We hop back into The Pumpkin and drive through Naruto.
The funny thing about small-town Japan is how farmland is sprinkled throughout. Turn a corner and you’ll suddenly be in a potato-field no bigger than a two-car garage. I’m used to farmland – I live in the country right next to wheat and soybean fields, and there’s even a berry-farm not five minutes from me – but I’m not used to such small fields. I couldn’t tell you if they’re part of a co-op or just a family’s personal garden.
The thing I find troubling about these fields is that roads, when running next to these fields, may be raised. I’m confident I saw 30cm height differences between some roads and fields. And they sure as heck didn’t have rails. It’s enough to make you anxious. Made me anxious and I wasn’t even driving.
I mention all this because, on our way to the mall, we cross over a two-way bridge that can only accommodate one car at a time (as we discussed last post). And immediately after that bridge is a long stretch of road – again that can only handle one car – that is surrounded by farm fields and big drop-offs.
We drive through no problem, but I was tense regardless.
Soon enough, we make it to the mall whose name I think is YouMe, but that might be the name of a store.
I should mention November 3rd was a national holiday, thus why Jessica was able to pick me up in the middle of the day. So, when we arrive at the mall on a Thursday in the early afternoon, it is packed.
So packed that there are traffic officers directing people in the parking lot. I found this novel at the time, but I eventually learnt this is pretty commonplace in Japan.
Japanese and Western malls are pretty similar. I’d say the only major are ‘open-concept’ stores, where a business isn’t confined to a room, but their shelves occupy an lobby space. Such a store was found at YouMe in the form of a pharmacy. At first I thought it was just surplus from another store, but nope – it’s totally independent.
Makes me wonder how they lock up at night…
We came to the mall for lunch and possibly buy some clothes, but we’re also just looking to bum around. We agree to grab something to eat first, but we take our time. We make a quick stop at an anime-accessory store. The kind of place you’d buy Minnie Mouse nail art or a One Piece phone case.
If you like anime or Japanese pop-culture, it’s easy to get sucked into these kinds of stores. That said, there are millions of them, so don’t burn yourself out at the first one you see. Also, a lot of them share the same products.
After maybe ten minutes of browsing, we move along to the food court.
In theory, it’s possible to convince oneself that they’re still in the West via walking into a shopping mall, ignoring the demographics. One you reach the food court, however, I’m sure tourists will get a strange sense of culture shock.
A Japanese food court wears the skin of it’s western counterpart, but that’s it. If you were feeling like Mexican, Greek, a simple pizza, or even a classic burger, you aren’t finding that in Japan. Japan is an amazing food culture – I’m still impressed by the amount of diversity within their own dishes. I can’t say I remember every chain in the food court, but I’m pretty sure none of them offered the same thing.
Even the quintessential American burger-combo is fundamentally different.
I’m not saying I expected it to be EXACTLY the same, but it’s something you can’t help but notice. Maybe you’ll like the taste, maybe you won’t. All I can say is that Japan (outside of Japanese McDonalds) has not mastered French fries.
Jessica seemed to understand my reluctance to try heavy-duty Japanese food at the time and had suggested, before we left her apartment, we get Mos Burger. I got a Teriyaki burger combo. It was exactly as it sounds and it was pretty good!
Another nice thing about Japanese food courts is their water fountains. There are little cups and you can grab a refreshing drink. It’s nice when you just want a little sip instead of a whole bottle.
Anyway, we eat lunch and admire our surroundings. Afterwards we visit the arcade not ten feet away. It’s one of those claw-machine arcades with a bunch of nice, difficult-to-win prizes. We also run into some of Jessica’s students.
As you can imagine, she’s easy to find in a crowd.
We browse around some more – specifically another anime store with manga and merchandise – but eventually make our way to Uniqlo.
Uniqlo is the prefect mix of H&M and Hudson’s Bay: high quality basics. Thankfully they’ve expanded into North America, which is a welcomed move if you ask me. I like their lack of stylized clothing. I love graphic tees, but I find their novelty doesn’t last through the ages. With the basics at Uniqlo, those shirts can last a lifetime.
Because I was low on clothes due to my lost luggage, I intended to buy a copy of the pants Jessica loaned me. If you ever come across pants like this, I recommend buying them. they’ve very comfortable and light. Perfect for spring and fall when the temperature is in the mid twenties.
The trip to the mall proved successful, but I didn’t buy anything else besides the pants. My luggage was on it’s way, and since I’m larger than the average Japanese woman, I didn’t want to buy anymore clothes.
We left and hopped back into The Pumpkin. It was late afternoon by that point so we went to the local grocery store to grab supplies for dinner.
Japanese supermarkets are basically the same as in the West, save for types of products and the check-out process. They also have much smaller carts – basically hand-baskets on top a push cart. Very like Europe, I’ve inferred that Japanese people make regular rounds to the store during the week.
Jessica grabbed stuff off her list and things for dinner. I get a can of beer and some dango.
What will really throw a foreigner off, should they ever walk into a Japanese grocery store totally ignorant, is how the check-out works.
Like in the west, you line up and pay. That’s the same. It’s the bagging part. When paying, the employees will scan your items and (IIRC) will put you items back into your basket. When finished, you take your basket to a separate counter, about two meters from the cash-registers, and bag your items there! I guess it’s one way to keep lines moving.
So we did all that – they offer plastic bags no charge – jump back into The Pumpkin and make our way home.
It was an otherwise uneventful evening. Jessica made us a soup, containing noodles and crab. We watched Netflix and set up my futon. I tried the dango which was pretty tasteless – don’t let anime fool you. But it’s something you gotta try so I’m glad I bought it. I’m incredibly tired by 8PM because of my jetlag, but I think I manage till about 10PM.
I fell asleep easily. Being with good company makes you do that.
Next time: A trip to Tokushima City and conveyor belt sushi!