Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Our next stop was Shinjuku, home of the busiest train station in the world. Take the wrong exit (of which there are over 200), and you might be half an hour from where you were supposed to leave the station. We walked to Tokyo City Hall, which was the tallest building (by roof height) in Tokyo until 2006. The 45th floor observation deck is open to the public and commands an incredible 270-degree panoramic view of the city. From there, we could see the city's most important skyscrapers and also, to the west, Mount Fuji.

We then headed to Isetan Department Store, originally founded in 1886 as a high-end kimono shop. Today, it reigns as the grandmother of Japanese malls, with branches throughout Japan and in Southeast Asia. I naturally began my exploration in Isetan's famous depachika, or food hall, located on the vast basement floor. I should have taken some pictures, but I was far too busy gazing at and sampling the vast array of beautifully arranged pastries and mochi and noodles and jellies and chocolates and eel and cakes.

I could also rave at length about Japanese service, but here's one brief anecdote that reflects my opinion so far on service in this country. One end of Isetan's food hall is basically a grocery store, and I went there to purchase a few snacks and a bottle of milk. When I arrived at the checkout counter, the sales clerk first bowed lightly and then quickly placed my food in plastic bags, which she sealed with small pieces of Isetan brand tape. She somehow conjured up a small packet of ice and slid it in next to the milk to keep it cold. Also, because the milk was in a glass bottle, she tucked it into a small case of bubble wrap before putting it in a bag with my other cold items. Of course, all this with a smile and a stream of very friendly-sounding, albeit completely incomprehensible (to me) Japanese. Environmentally friendly? No. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But still, dear American service sector employees, please take note. On second though, never mind - if American grocery store sales clerks were all this courteous, I would probably be grotesquely obese.