Friday, January 13, 2012

Small Adventures #26

Japanese department stores are really nothing like those in the U.S. The bigger ones (those that take up a full block and are at least 7 stories tall) are self-contained cities that are similar to small-scale indoor shopping malls. The basement will be taken up by food stalls and a grocery or produce store. Floors 1-5 may be divided up into clothing sections for women, men and children. Then the upper floors will be a variety of restaurants and possibly an art gallery or movie theater.

As mentioned in Small Adventures #24, I'd entered the local foreigner's Japanese speech contest, and I needed a quiet place to practice speaking out loud for several hours a day leading up to the preliminary round on Jan. 14. I tried going into the International Exchange Center on the previous Sunday, but no matter where I went in the building, there were people milling about. I found a quiet bench on the second floor, but when I took a restroom break, I came back to find that someone else had taken over my bench. Besides, the Center closes at 5 PM and isn't open on Mondays. So, I wanted to find an alternative space.

The Daiei department store is right across from the main train station, and is much closer for me to walk to (under 10 minutes, rather than the 20 for the Exchange Center). Similar to the above description, Daiei has a drug and grocery store in the basement, and a bakery, grocery and liquor store on the first floor. Women's and kid's clothing on the 2nd and 3rd floors, men's on the 4th, and housewares, stationery and a small video game arcade on the 5th. There's a couple small restaurants at the far end of the 4th floor, and a coffee shop on the 7th. The 6th is made up of medical clinics. The 7th has the store's information office, a big open lobby space with benches and a few personal computer workstations (looks to be free use, but I haven't tried logging into them yet), one large room where people can read magazines and newspapers for free, and some small meeting rooms. Both days I visited that floor, several people were in one of the meeting rooms playing Go. They all carried their own Go sets with them. The 8th floor has a basketball gym, and a small exercise room with lockers and probably a set of showers. Also on the 8th floor is what seems to be a rehearsal space (the doors have always been closed, but once it sounded like some high school students were giving a classical recital to their parents; and another time there were voices and background music, either from a very old-fashioned movie, or some troupe practicing a stage play.

The lobby space on the seventh floor turned out to be the most practical for me. Although there usually were several people just coming in for an hour or two to read a book, or a high school couple making flirty eyes at each other, I was free to pick out one set of benches and pace around as I read my speech out loud. Oddly enough, though, when someone new came into the area to sit and read, no matter how empty the place was or where I was standing, they'd always pick the bench about 8 feet from me.

The best part of being in a department store is that, rather than paying full price for the drinks in the vending machines on the 7th floor, I can stop on the 1st and grab a soda or a bottle of coffee for 30% off and some snacks from the Mister Donut just around the corner from the bakery section on my way up.

The most interesting thing I've seen in Daiei so far was the group of 100 Japanese women wearing European-style skirts and blouses in the basketball gym, practicing something that looked like either a square dance, or a waltz-style folk dance. I challenge you to find something similar in Mall of America.


Michael Martin said...

You could practice speeches in a Pachinko parlour, nobody else will hear it even if they're sitting next to you XD

TSOTE said...

True. It would certainly prepare me for distractions, although I wouldn't be able to hear myself, either...