22 August Ginza. Perfect melons. Shopping. A good meal.
We woke late. After washing various garments and hanging them out to dry, and a trip to the convenience store to buy some bread and a copy of the Japan Times, we breakfasted. Stephen, Val and I then set out for Tokyo.
We disembarked from the subway at Ginza station and found it was still drizzling. We made our way to the Matsukoshi Department Store. Two young women in uniform who chorused Irrasshaimasu in a curious nasal sing-song voice greeted us at the door. Pairs of similar young women lurked at the top of each escalator and welcomed us onto each new floor in the same way, offering us maps of the store to ensure we had a happy shopping experience.
I used to work for a company that owned a chain of department stores, including Selfridges in London, so I reckon I know something about them. I was very impressed with Matsukoshi. It was big, and there was a huge array of merchandise, well displayed. The lighting and general ambience was excellent, and the window displays were masterful.
The most impressive items were the two floors selling food. We watched one of the in-house patissières deftly icing a cake. Every few metres, a roving shop assistant would implore us to sample one of her goodies and they
were good! (Especially the chocolates!) We sampled our way around the floors, trying foods known and unknown.
At one stall, Val sampled some tiny fried fish hardly more than hatched, by the look of them. As she did so, a spontaneous round of applause erupted from the assistants and fellow shoppers. The Japanese seem amazed and very delighted when a westerner appreciates Japanese speciality foods. On a number of occasions, as noted elsewhere, we were warmly congratulated on our ability to use chopsticks in restaurants.
We noted some luxury items. Melons are highly regarded as gifts, and the Japanese take gift-giving very seriously indeed. There is a protocol to gift-giving. If someone gives you a gift, (or perhaps he takes you to a restaurant for a meal) then a gift of much lesser value is usually given with a self-deprecatory remark like just a little something, irrespective of its value. The wrapping of the gift may be more significant than the gift itself. Indeed, it is amazing how neatly Japanese shop assistants, even in the humblest of shops, will wrap the item you bought. However, none of this prepared me for the sight of a cantaloupe melon priced at 15000 Yen (then around £90, or $145). While marvelling at this huge price, a shop assistant asked (in English) whether I wished to buy it. I said, No. But why does it cost 15000 Yen, when there are other similar melons on sale at 1000 Yen? She replied, without a trace of irony as far as I could see, Because the markings are perfect.
There were some "conspicuous consumption" items for sale in the store. These clothes for dogs caught our eye. Coats, maybe. But a tank top????
We left Matsukoshi, clutching bags containing cakes and biscuits. This had put us in need of refreshment, and we made for the coffee bar on the opposite corner. There we sat, watching the well-heeled world go by. We then embarked on a shopping expedition of our own. Incidentally, there is a Citibank along the Ginza, where you can use a debit (e.g. Switch) or credit card to draw cash from a machine. Few Japanese banks offer that facility for foreign cards.
We spent a happy couple of hours window shopping and another couple of hours in a Toy Shop, where we purchased various presents for children (of all ages) back home.
A tour round a typical Japanese supermarket was also interesting. I reckon I could recognise about 25% of the items on display (often by its tentacles or other accoutrements).
In the same block was a remarkable restaurant the Farm Grill. For 2500 Yen you can eat as much as you like in two hours. And the food was a massive range of things, from delicious crab claws, through steaks, to chicken prepared in imaginative ways, as well as any number of Japanese dishes. All the food was well prepared and very tasty. In parallel with this, you can pay 1000 Yen for as much as you can drink in the same two hours. And they have a colossal array of every kind of drink imaginable. I will not go further into details, but I fear I rather over-did the as much as you can drink part of the meal.
After leaving, we went on to the Sapporo Beer Hall, which had German Oompah music playing, and indeed it was reminiscent of the beer halls I had previously visited in Germany.
A lengthy journey home left me rather tired, and, it must be admitted, emotional. I do not think I have imbibed as much alcohol on any occasion since my Rugby-playing days ended. And my constitution is not as used to it as once it was. And I was probably allergic to the crab claws. I was grateful to crawl onto my futon and crash out.
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