2014
06.25

SYNOPSIS:  About shopping in Japan.  About a train station to behold!

Nagoya is known as the second shopping capital (Tokyo beats it) of Japan.  And when I arrived at the train station of Nagoya I had no doubt.  But I also know myself — shopping the way it’s understood by most:  going to the mall — is not my thing.  I get completely overwhelmed and then cranky and just can’t do it.  I will do my best and work up some courage to perhaps go department store shopping in Tokyo at the very end.  Maybe.

Just to give you an idea of this train station and some of the shopping:  first it is not one but technically six stations combining the hubs for four private train lines, the state-run JR line, and the subway.   That is not counting the bus terminal or the taxi areas.  From beginning to end it measures a whopping full kilometer covering about 10 city blocks.  I have no idea how many entrances or exits there are.  I carefully remembered some landmarks to just get from one side to the other where my hotel was located.  The guidebook remarks to leave enough time for transfers.  Are they kidding?!  You fricking get lost there despite the endless signage in both Japanese and English.  And you may need half a day to make a transfer should you, god forbid, transfer between different lines, need any special care (such as an escalator for a heavy suit case), a special ticket (like the renewal of your rail pass), detailed information, etc.  Each of these could take you from one end of the station to the other and in between, good luck!

In this limited transfer I make, I pass about five bakeries.  I don’t even want to multiply and guess what that means for the total of bakeries for this station.  That’s just for starters.  The central Plaza advertises 35 restaurants whereas the JR terminal alone adds 53 more eateries and cafes.  And that is just food.  Now add the dozens of malls, hundreds of shops, multiple ticket counters, information stands, the post office, underground passages and I bet that there is more shopping in this one kilometer than in all of Ann Arbor combined!

And that is just the beginning for this town.  Nagoya is laid out generously in a grid system with wide 4-8 line avenues and neon-sign filled side streets.  Many of them are designated shopping districts.  There simply was no end to this.  There was just no way I could go shopping here.

For the last few weeks I had kept my eyes open about buying things.  After all, I can’t return empty-handed.  I need souvenirs and preferably a few handfuls of them.  A favorite  purchase among the Japanese seem to be the local sweets.  Every city has its special food things and store upon store sells them beautifully packaged with logos from the region such as the castle, or a landmark bridge, temple, or garden motif.  I would see people walking out of these shops with an armful of boxes.  I could not even tell for the most part what the content was…  Aside from that, no perishables for me.

I had also gone to some of the nicknack stores you can find near any tourist attraction.  There is an endless array of plastic and cheap paper or metal souvenirs.  Ugly, cheap looking, yet completely overpriced (an item I might be willing to spend $2 on will sure cost $10 and anything I would deem worth $5 will cost at least $20).  There was no way I could go shopping that way either.

But I sort of knew that and had chosen Nagoya for another type of shopping: developing out of the ancient temple fair tradition there was still one temple here that held antique fair/flea market type of gatherings twice every month.  That was my kind of a place — small, contained, funky, different.  It was just my luck that it was a rainy day…

When I arrived and saw some of the vendors packing I almost panicked.  The guide book had listed this fair as rain or shine.  And I had gone out of my way to be here.  But many of the vendors stayed open as promised, hovering themselves and their wares under umbrellas or plastic tarps.

I did not even know what I was looking for.  But I figured things would fall into place.  If money, size, weight, or all of the above would not matter, I could have walked out of this market with a truckload of stuff.  There were the $1000 ancient wooden Buddhist sculptures, there were the heavy and expensive brass tools of the scribes and the artists, there were tons of old kimonos, dyed fabrics, dolls, jewelry, tables full of unique ceramic pieces and on and on.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.   There were also old magazines, toys from the 50’s, film cameras, and pieces of small furniture.  Where to start?  I had to remember that everything I purchased either had to be carried or to be shipped back.  And most of my budget was needed for traveling, not for shopping or shipping…  No easy limitations.  I settled for some painting scrolls, a couple of kimonos and a set of lunch boxes.

From the market I carried my loot to the post office where it all had to be packaged and shipped.  The postmaster has a long list of forbidden items but luckily they were mainly food related.  He had no objections to my kimonos and my painting scrolls.  But he did object to the fact that I had put no address on the packing slip and that I had put a note on it instructing the US post office to leave the package at the door, should nobody be home on the day of  delivery… Back to the drawing board and following orders this time.  And so this day in Nagoya went with activities of a different nature.

I felt quite accomplished by the end of the day.  I have to say.

Good night.

3 comments so far

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  1. Another idea for souvenirs….I think a great souvenir would be a small piece of sculpture you make next semester representing your impressions of Japan. I have seen your stuff, like the Snake Goddess and the Benin King, and you definitely have talent in the sculpture area. Not that your photos aren’t interesting…they definitely are, but I have them right here and I can blow them up and look at all the detail very nicely on line. That’s how I was so taken with the faces of those Japanese kids out on a class trip. Serious little people…I do wonder about that English speaking thing.

    Just an idea.

    Or you could go the route of a $1000 Buddha statue for everyone…or one of those perfect pearl necklaces. LOL

    And just as another point of interest: I too hate places like Briarwood. Not only am I overwhelmed, but the air is bad. Half an hour in there and one practically needs to be resuscitated.

  2. Your souveniers have always been a rich and tangible part of your engaging lectures post travel. I think most people, who like me have way too many dusty knick knacks, would say that the best gift/souvenier you could give to a dear friend or loved one would be a signed print or small album of your wonderful photographs.

    • Interesting thought.