The Japanese department store. I have to say they are the masters of the universe when it comes to department stores. Having been a New Yorker, I think I know a thing or two about shopping and am usually not phased by stores.....but I have to admit that I was absolutely floored when I entered the department stores in Tokyo. The picture above is of Takashimaya Time Square. This is the behemoth that was across the walkway from our hotel! First off, just a side note about our hotel. It was a fantastically modern sleek hotel that exceeded our expectations. It belongs to a class called business hotels and mostly has a Japanese clientele. The hotel lobby starts on the 20th floor and our room was on the 33rd. We had some awesome views....Views that were pretty much like the ones in Lost in Translation---just spectacular. OK, that being said.....across the walkway was the huge Takashimaya dept. store, Kinokuniya (a fantastic 6 floor book store), & Tokyu Hands (another behemoth that bills itself as a Creative Life Store, where you can find anything and everything for the home--from toilets to stickers!).
Back to the dept. store. you'll never find a 2 or 3 story department store. That would be too easy...No, they have to have at least 10 floors for it to be a serious store. Takashimaya had 14 floors! You ask, "what can you possibly have on 14 floors?" Everything from clothing to foods to entertainment. It is definitely one stop shopping! All the stores have the same concept. Some are ritzier than others, like Takashimaya and the ever ritzy Mitsukoshi, which is where they have the Laduree branch. Even the subway stop was decked out in marble. The basement levels are dedicated to all sorts of prepared foods & dessert delicacies. I can say it feels like a football field when you enter one of these. It's like traveling through the Harrod's food section, but in a grander/bigger scheme. Since they are big fans of French desserts, all the big-time chocolatiers are on hand. It's quite dizzying when you're trying to maze around with all sorts of foods presented your way. And the biggest show stoppers are salespeople. I had read about how each associate goes through extensive training on how to serve customers and even learn the intricacies of how far you should bow to customers, but I didn't believe all of it until I saw it for myself! These people actually like their jobs. No dilly dallying here. They not only bow but say thank you to each and every person that comes their way. I mean, seriously... I learned very quickly that all I really needed to speak was "Arigato gozaimas (basically thank you very much)". The very first department store we went to only had 10 floors(!) but while taking up the escalator through each floor, we encountered the cleaning staff standing at the ends of each rail with a dust rag at the end. They were cleaning up the handrails so they could be kept clean! I mean, can you see anyone doing this in the States? The attention to cleanliness is amazing! Public bathrooms are always spotless. You can seriously eat off the floor (I'm exaggerating here but I'm not far off from the truth!). Side note on public restrooms: Even subway restrooms are spotless! Can you even imagine going inside a restroom in a NY subway station?
As much as I love shopping and had a mission to find certain things on my list, I didn't buy nearly as much as I had planned on....mostly because I was just overwhelmed. That's probably the best word to describe a lot of what I saw. There's just so much of everything--cute things to the umpteenth degree---that I nearly lost my mind. Many times I just had to leave a place because my brain just turned numb. Just thinking about all this makes my brain freeze at the moment. I'll write more later!
NOTE: I totally forgot about the gift wrapping. OK, you think you know about wrapping packages but when you see a Japanese sales associate wrap a gift it's really serious business. First off, they always ask if the item you're buying is a gift. So being greedy I just say it is because I really like nicely packaged goods! They painstakingly wrap each and every item for you. Then they proceed to bow tie it all (sometimes even asking you which paper & bow color you want) and then put it in a bag and then sometimes re-bag the bag and then tape up the whole package again! It's mind boggling. OK...I'll stop now.