Still Possible to be Insulted!

It goes without saying that our Western bodies are larger than most Japanese bodies.  By Western standards, THEY are VERY slender.  In fact their size is generally so uniform, that when shopping for clothes, there’s often only one size available in women’s wear. I frequently see an item of clothing I’d like to try, only to discover it’s in one size only, and that one size is decidedly too small for this woman. I probably could have fit into it at age 16 or 17.  Such is life.

As a relatively familiar shopper in Japanese department stores, I’m quite sure the salespeople are instructed to go out of their way to try and be helpful to their foreign guests.  They always make sure to speak the Japanese word for welcome when I walk past them or within hearing distance  This is a nice touch, but I also see them trying to decide whether to approach me or not, if I linger or show interest in something.

Along with the word of welcome, I prefer just a nod or smile of recognition acknowledging that I’m in their territory and they’ve noted it.  I wish I could tell them, “I’ll know where to find you if I need you. ” I HATE a hoverer.  It can drive me to descend to rudeness very quickly.  I realize the language gap puts them at a disadvantage.  Ball in my court, please. Usually all goes quite well and we end up with a smiling transaction.  win/win, so to speak.

So it was that as I was on my way to lunch at a dep’t. store restaurant,  I got a bit distracted, as is my tendency, by a For Sale sign. I was just casually checking it out.

The saleswoman, who must have been nearby, sniffed a target and began to hover and smile too intensely,.  Initially, she tried  to show me that some of the items I was looking at had half of an expandable elasticized waist which, if her luck held, might just fit me. I could see that without her pointing it out to me. I tried to move away from her.  But she was not to be tossed aside. Undaunted, she showed me a second item.  Not an item that I’d picked up, but one she decided might be suitable for me.  Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you) I quickly said to her, hoping she could tell from my attitude that I was just being polite and was not interested in her help. Undeterred, she pulled out the big gun.  It was a pair of pants whose waist was completely elasticized.  To my horror, with two hands, she pulled apart the waist band to its maximum expansion to assure me it was large enough to fit a baby elephant! (my interpretation) And therefore…

I immediately fled her department, telling her in English to leave me alone.  I’m not sure if I added anything else, but I hope not.  I was amused at some level but felt shame and anger on another.  I really wanted t hit her.  I know she was just trying to help, but she didn’t pick up my signals and went off the rails.

I quickly doused my pain adding a piece of chocolate cake to my lunch order.

 

See You Later

It can be heaven for some or bordering on hell for others.  I learned how to shop at my mother’s knee. I know what I like and easily make decisions about items, their value and appropriateness for me.  No internal struggles.  “When in doubt, count it out,”I learned from Mom as well!  It’s never led me wrong.

By the way, please touch the towels. The colors are never better, the weave never softer, anywhere!

You can always fill the need to restore vitality in the restaurants in department stores

Shopping is seemingly ingrained in the Japanese pursuit of leisure.  You see young couples, teens , new mothers, and befuddled tourists all enjoying the pursuit. Each depato houses several restaurants so in case hunger strikes, that can be  easily satisfied without leaving the building.

show stoppers!

My pulse rate quickens when I walk into a sophisticated Japanese depato (department store). Welcome to fantasy land for anyone who likes to shop. This world exists to coddle, support and take away barriers that might make it difficult to separate you from your money.  The best in the business create displays guaranteed to make you stop, gaze and consider.

 

Salespeople here have learned how to hover discretely; there to help when needed, but almost never intrusive.  That’s a skill not see in the West too often.

I can be expected to make a pilgrimage to a favorite depato soon after arriving in Japan.  It just comes with the territory.  I must see what the treasures of the day await in the Exhibition Hall.  Often,  I discover a wonderful ceramic artist. I seek out special displays of Japanese made objects, often finding the artisans themselves at work in the store.

charming and clever window display.

Here, form=function and materials shine. Seasonal displays are always varied,fun and engaging. I must browse through the basement food floor, hungry or not, just to gaze at the art of the possible. Presentation of food is always taken to a new level of beautiful (if unnecessary) packaging and gastronomic allure.

Time and cares have a way of disappearing on these outings.  It’s escapism at its finest for those of us who appreciate such things.  For American spouses, not so much.

Depato shopping for me is usually best for me as a solitary pursuit, prefaced by an airy and indeterminate “See you later!”

The Kyoto Hospitality Hour

“Come to our apartment for a little sake and chit chat before we go out for dinner,” is how our invitation goes.  That said, we have easily pulled together a spontaneous series of Vapnek hospitality hours that we are very happy with.  Our guests seem delighted as well.  It could only happen here.

Our more frequent visits to Kyoto have coincided with a rise of Kyoto visits from friends and friends of friends of friends who are making first visits to Kyoto for a few days.  Invariably, we’re contacted for obvious reasons by folks just wanting to say hi, curious about how we live here as well as  looking for restaurant/sightseeing/shopping guidance.

We’ve gotten into the habit of inviting visitors over.  That way, we have a friendly social hour and can determine their interests and offer suggestions.  Generally, they’re visiting for a few short days and my main advice is not to expect to see it all on one trip! If the spark is lit, I assume they’ll return for a deeper exploration of this remarkable city.  We’ve acquired a nice selection of sake cups.  Our guest are happy to pick their own, which is a fun custom here.

Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment is a store in the Nishiki Market that has a wonderful sake selection.  (my husband’s job).  Then on to a pickle emporium grabbing some cucumbers, daikon etc.

Japanese cucumber pickles

A short walk follows to Daimaru food court for a bag of assorted rice crackers that always gather a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the first timers.

Japanese rice crackers

We bring some almonds and pistachio nuts from California each time we come so that rounds out the food tableau.

Of course, I’m in charge of set up and flowers.IMG_0158

Japan: Through A Child’s Eyes

One way we can recall what it’s like to be a child again, is to travel with children. It’s good if they’re thoughtful and curious.  It’s an added bonus if they have a good “eye” and catch sight of things you might overlook.  A willingness to try new things including unusual looking foreign food is a bonus.  A sense of adventure comes with the territory.

A little back story. Remarkably similar to their grandmother’s penchant for sweet things, both children became initially fascinated with Japan because each time I came back from Japan, I brought back Japanese KitKats for them. The delightful flavors are unseen in the USA.  (See original post.)  The Japanese love of sweet things seems to surpass that of any other country I’ve visited.  Kids pick up on this candy heaven quickly.  It goes without saying they can become easily distracted by what adults think of as junk, but that’s part of being a kid too.

In just a few days, they’ve wandered with us by the small shops, the food stalls and the trinket shops that lead up to the Kiyomizaderu Temple.  I find myself suddenly playing the role of tour leader, expounding on Kyoto history, which they’re not that interested in and do not yet feel they have to feign interest.  I’ve learned to direct my lectures to their parents, who at least appear interested!  It’s a fine line from informing to information overload. Continue reading “Japan: Through A Child’s Eyes”

Just Another Day in Tokyo

I usually judge my “amazement” temperature by the number of photos I’m inspired to take.  A trip to Japan usually means hundreds and hundreds of snapshots.  Thank God for digital.

 The wonders of this remarkable city began appearing soon after we left our hotel.  In looking over my stash of photos from the day, I thought it might be best to do a chronological rerun of our day in Tokyo, beginning at the reasonable hour of 10:30 AM when the National Art Center opened its doors.  No pictures taken of my 4:30 AM awakening.

A Day in the Life of a Tokyo Visitor

10:45 Yayoi  Kusama retrospective, My Eternal Soul, at the National ArtCenter.  Just a short walk from our hotel to arrive at this display of fabulousness in this large architectural gallery displaying the investment in the arts that Japan understands as essential!  Weather: sunny but windy.  Spirits:  high.

The approach to the building features trees whose trunks are wrapped for the show, setting the mood perfectly. Continue reading “Just Another Day in Tokyo”