TOKYO-Stepping off the airplane and soaking in my first few moments in Tokyo, all I could think was sensory overload. Everything is overwhelming. From over 50 train lines (I think I counted over 80) to the masses of people and signs and stores, I could hardly digest it all. Shopping in Tokyo doesn’t fall short of being overwhelming either.
Considering I’ve lived in Tokyo for over a month, you’d think I would have grown tired of shopping, but being the true shop-a-holic that I am, I don’t go a few days without buying something new for my wardrobe, or just to have something small like phone charms or pens.
I may be spending unnecessarily, but it’s impossible not to give in to the urges to spend with such a vast array of things to buy. Tokyo is a consumer’s heaven-the Japanese truly make the shopping experience something to love.
At any major subway stop – and there’s a bunch – there are amazing department stores, or “depato” as the Japanese call it. While the Japanese may have borrowed the word from English, they have totally outdone even the finest department stores in America.
Some of the top department stores are Tokyu, Seibu, Keio and Odakyu to name a few. Besides noticing their immense size, you’ll notice the service – may I emphasize amazing.
I can’t speak for all department stores, but in a couple that I’ve been to I saw women in uniforms with crisp white gloves behind an information desk. Even some elevators are operated by elevator ladies in nice uniforms that push the buttons and announce the floors.
These “depato’s” have everything you can imagine, from food to pets to designer clothes to art galleries and even rooftop playgrounds.
Currently, the spring lines are arriving, but post New Years there were sales, sales, and more sales with throngs of eager women and men packing in and shoving and rummaging to get a look at the last of winter’s finest. When I say throngs, I mean so many people you can barely move without stepping on someone.
Shops are packed in tightly together, a combination of Japanese stores with their unique fashion and more top designer mega-stores than there are in New York and Philadelphia combined.
If Sak’s Fifth Avenue and King of Prussia were to battle it out with just one of Tokyo’s department stores, there’s no way the American counterparts would win. Size, quality, and quantity alone make America’s finest seem merely humdrum to the Japanese equivalent.
As for shopping etiquette, there are some differences that the American shopper should mind. For example, when trying things on you should pay attention to the fitting room floor, if there’s a carpet you have to take your shoes off before entering. Also, you cannot try anything on that you have to put over your head (at least for women) because of makeup. But, some places have head covers that you put over your head – think plastic bag – to prevent the nasty makeup residue from rubbing onto the cloth.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised to find is that they hem pants for you in the store for free. I was trying on pants and they came over with pins and gave me a number and told me to wait 10 minutes, and viola the perfect pair of jeans to fit my short legs.
I noticed that the stores typically only have one item of each on display, and when you want to buy it, they present you with an untouched-still-in-the-plastic-wrapped item that they package neatly into a new shopping bag taped shut with a pretty sticker. Sales associates then leave from behind the counter to present you with your purchase or escort you to the exit of the store and then hand you the bag.
When I return to the States, I know I’ll miss the rush of busy shoppers and customer service that accompany my ever move. Tokyo is a shop-a-holic’s dream, and I think I may have fallen in love.
Kaitlyn Dreyling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.