Saturday, May 05, 2007
The Station Experience - Part 2
This picture is a good mixture of the typical and atypical. Unless it is a national holiday (particularly "adulthood day" in January), you don't tend to see many women in kimono. This young woman is very likely headed for a special occasion or works in traditional dress. The young man next to her is far more typical as he's glued to his cell phone while he waits. I've asked my students what they tend to write in their text messages when they peck at their cell phones to kill time and most say they exchange short messages of almost no consequence like "how are you doing/I'm fine" types of things. Personally, I think they'd be better of reading a book.
Pillars are a common place for considerate people to stand and wait in stations because they are relatively out of the way and not so far from the wickets. It's where I tend to stand and wait for my husband when we meet up at a station. The oblivious people stand right near the wickets and block everyone, of course.
This picture is not quite as clear as some of the others because my husband had to be somewhat surreptitious when taking pictures of people and he couldn't take pictures from a distance because the foot traffic is so dense that you can never get a clear shot from far away.
This is a good example of how small some of the shops can get in the stations. When I see places like this, I wonder about two things. First of all, what must it be like to work in a tiny cramped space like that for hours at a time, and second, how incredibly expensive the rent must be to have to resort to setting up a business in the equivalent of a walk-in closet. You'll notice if you load up the larger version that it doesn't look incredibly clean around the floor in the front and crates are unattractively placed to the side. Because of the high amount of traffic, a lot of stations aren't the models of gleaming Japanese cleanliness foreigners tend to expect.
Bagels were hard to find when we first arrived in Japan so it's rather heartening to see them sold in so many places these days. They are, unfortunately, rather expensive and of mixed quality. To me, a good bagel is nice and chewy. Most of the Japanese ones tend to be too fluffy. A plain bagel at this shop is about $1.13 (U.S.). Other varieties include cinnamon fruit, onion cheese, blueberry, whole wheat, fig and walnut, and sesame and tend to be closer to $1.50 on average. If you look very carefully at the sandwiches on the second and third shelves, you'll notice they are sold in halves for about $2.20 each. This is a good example of the sizes of food reflecting smaller Japanese appetites.
If you look at the sign on the left, you'll see that the Beatles only got it half right. The Doughnut Plant is another of the many franchises transplanted from the U.S. to Japan. The raised doughnuts are dense and chewier than other varieties (making them, coincidentally, more bagel-like) and the cake ones have a rather coarser texture than those from Mr. Donut in Japan.
Since my husband took these pictures, there has to be a glamor shot of the goodies. ;-) The signs show that there are some seasonal varieties - orange and triple berry. There are also some sugar overload varieties - "Black Out" which is a chocolate donut with chocolate inside and outside and "Tres Leches" which is sort of the same thing in vanilla. In Japan, you often see varieties labelled as "milk" which would likely be called "vanilla" in the States. You can also see how pricey they are at a little over $2 a donut.
After you've had your expensive, sugary donut, you can go wash it down with an expensive sugary drink. There are places in the station which are neither western nor selling sweets but there are a disproportionate number of places selling expensive "junk". I'm guessing part of the reason for this is that the rent in major stations is such that items closer to the luxury end help pay the bills and the other is that people are more likely to pick up an expensive, sweet morsel on the go while shopping.
Note that this Godiva drink and chocolate bar has no seating and that it features the type of plastic food (the drinks between the two ladies off to the left) that Japan is famous for.
This is the Godiva variant on a frappucino or a designer shake. The name is a bit curious for the Japanese market since it's a melding of "chocolate" and "elixir" and I'm certain most Japanese people have no idea what an "elixir" is. It looks lovely though, particularly the raspberry one.
We move from Shinjuku station to Omotesando subway station. Shinjuku is a major hub with both subway and train lines intersecting at it. Omotesando is far less complex and leads to an area which is known for a higher end shopping experience. Unsurprisingly, the shop above is a branch of an upscale (i.e., expensive) foreign food store named Kinokuniya. The dancing "O's" across the bottom of the glass front are not donuts. They're "O's" for "Omotesando."
Since you can't take pictures inside of stores, this is as much of a look at the interior as one can get without taking shots sneakily with a camera phone (and we don't have cell phones). Cookies and wine are at the front in an interesting pairing of items. You'll notice most station shops have a section of beverages or snacks in a refrigerated case which is the same as the sort that you'd find in a convenience store. I think that these sorts of shops may not make much (or anything) off of these types of drinks relative to the shelf space they occupy but they sell them anyway as a way of bringing thirsty travelers in so they'll be attracted to other pricier items.
This is a handicapped public toilet entrance in Shinjuku station. You don't see many of these around Tokyo and you see them even more rarely in stations (as opposed to department stores or shopping areas). The icon-based communication for various handicaps or infirmities are more and more common as a way of communicating important information to people who can't read the language.
The only type of handicap that you often see special allowances for is blindness. Even when I first arrived in Japan about 18 years ago, there were displays with braille, ridges built into walkways and platforms, and paper money which has tactile cues as the denominations. The handicapped bathroom goes one step further by showing the entire layout in a raised diagram so that someone who is blind can "read" the pattern of the place.
The entrance above leads directly into the little green area. I didn't go into this bathroom but I'm pretty sure that the toilets with "holes" in them are western-style ones and those which are smaller and solid (upper right in the pink area, for example) are Japanese-style ones. The very small ones in the blue area (all along the left side) are urinals. The lines with circles on either side are sinks. Graphically, a lot is communicated very simply and without the need for text explanations. It's quite impressive.