Saturday, November 14, 2009

Japan last Friday: Takashimaya Dreaming


Exquisitely excessive packaging at Tayashimaya in Japan and Singapore. A ball of rice is presented like a jewel; a cake resembles an architectural sculpture.



You know how you come back from some exotic place, and all you want to do is keep prolonging the experience, eating the same foreign food for as long as possible, mincing around in your sari or kimono or toga, playing Pavarotti or koto music while ordering papardelle con ragu for breakfast and a bento box for dinner?

Well, as I wrote in my Cheap'n'Choosy blog, today I made a beeline for Takashimaya, a Japanese department store in New York I'd roundly ignored prior to my recent 5 weeks in Singapore and Japan. I'd already cased out Pearl River and Sunrise Japanese grocery on landing, despite putting my back out in Tokyo, discovering that most of what I'd lugged home is readily available here in NYC.

There is generally nothing in department stores that I really want, especially ones like Henri Bendels which seem to be little more than a shrine to made-in-China bling, or Macy's which is unimaginative (but granted, profitable) at best.

But Takashimaya has the distinction of being Japanese, and therefore, a wee bit exotic, right?

Now Takashimaya in Singapore and Japan are giant emporiums to stuff, most notably their basement food courts crammed with everything you could ever want to eat in a lifetime departure from dieting.

Oh! What a grazer's paradise these places are! Excessively but exquisitely packaged crackers and sweets, infinite permutations on mochi, bean paste, rice and flour, plus food concessions as far as the eye can see. I was expecting the same command perfomance in New York, but it was not to be.

Takashimaya New York is but a shadow of its sister stores in Asia. The store would have to be their unbankable shingle in New York City.

There are 4 floors selling a handful of things, and a virtual army of staff. I swear, there must be a ratio of 1 staff member to every $495 mohair wrap or $16 cake of soap.
The merchandise is neither exclusive enough, nor diverse enough to warrant such an expensive location. Most disappointingly, a lot of it hails from China and elsewhere - anywhere but Japan.

I was actually looking for a Japanese teapot, thinking I'd buy it here rather than research it in Japan. I found a handful of styles in the basement tea shop, $60-100 and - made in China. The handful of Made in Japan exceptions were double or treble the price. Then there is an entire first floor of inconsequential fluff like fairly mundane travel accessories, where it should showcase the most amazing stuff from Akihabara, Tokyo's electric geek epicenter. Like that charred log that plays ambient sounds I read about! The store buyers need to get out more, and take a cue from Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore on Bryant Park that absolutely, positively makes you feel like singing, "I'm think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese I really think so."

I did however, enjoy the pressed rice sandwich in the Tea Box Cafe ... read about that and come and share it with me!

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