Japan Day 16: Kimonos and Shinjuku

We stay with a host family while in Tokyo, and mentioned to them that we were interested in getting (at the very least) an Aubri-sized kimono, but didn’t want to spend too much on it.

So our host, Hiro-san, made some calls around and found a wholesaler with a sale happening the next day. We made the plans and he said he would take us.

It turns out that we only got into this place because the shop owner thought Hiro-san was a kimono dealer. The place was crazy, and we got our own personal sales person to fetch, carry, and put things on us.

So we started with Aubri’s kimono, which was actually a brand new 3rd Birthday style kimono priced at 8,000jpy ($80) as opposed to its usually 30,000jpy.

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I can’t even describe the words.

So then we moved on because Jamie wanted to get me a hakama. It took a minute or two to explain to the confused sales guy that I wanted a men’s hakama and to wear it in the men’s style.

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We also picked out a haori (long jacket, explanation here) for me. Total for mine was about 10,500jpy ($105) after we explained that we wanted used rather than brand new.

So then we moved on to Jamie, and of course the women’s kimonos are all sixty times as expensive.

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We actually wound up with a yukata (summer kimono) and several “slightly stained” inexpensive 900jpy/ea kimonos for Jamie because they only had 30,000jpy+ or “slightly stained.” But we’re confident in our ability to fix that problem since they are just little tea spots. Also I don’t have any more pictures because Aubri started acting up and we ran around the store/warehouse.

All told we spent 21,600jpy and about 2 hours in the place. So Aubri was starving and we were exhausted from the madness.

So we headed for Shinjuku because our next goal was some shopping in Shinjuku, but also because some of the best mid-priced tempura available is there. If you head for the South Terrace shopping area, cross the big bridge and find Takushimaya Times Square, you will also find Tokyo Hands and, on the 14th floor, Tsunahatchi, the delicious food. Its prices are best at lunch time, but the food is delicious.

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Alternatively, if you want tempura udon, there’s a place nearby that is crazy delicious. If you exit the same exit but on the main level (instead of using the South Terrace bridge), and turn right to follow the major street you’re on for about 4 stoplights, you will see a recessed courtyard area with several restaurants. CoCo’s will be the sign you can see from the street, but across from CoCo’s is this udon restaurant:

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Basically you pick your initial udon (which runs about 390 for a normal or 490 for a large portion of broth/noodles, even for curry udon) and then you pick your own tempura selections from a huge range. The prices are very good. For all this food I only paid 1490jpy (about $15). The food was delicious. Aubri ate four helpings of noodles and a whole tempura pumpkin slice.

Moving on, we were in Shinjuku for that giant department store across the Southern Terrace, with its 8-floor Tokyu Hands (mostly).

Tokyu Hands is like the DIY store of kings in Tokyo.

The 8th floor is dedicated to dayplanners/calendars/stationery/drawing supplies/writing supplies. We spent an hour playing with pens before selecting a few.

The 7th floor is dedicated to cell phone supplies, other techy gadgets, toys and pet supplies.

Pet me! (They even had a lint remover intended to use on cats).

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Barnes and Noble’s puzzle selection is more limited.

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Healing Time puzzles.

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These are cell phone cases that look like gun handles.

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The 6th floor is dedicated to being the Tokyo Home Depot but with leather design tools too.

The 5th floor is interior decoration/design.

The 4th floor is the cooking and eating floor.

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Walls of bento boxes, tea pots, pans, chopsticks, and more. There are better places (for pricing) to acquire bento boxes (such as 100 yen shops) and chopsticks (the same), but for looking and admiring, this is the place. Also the quality of them is probably a bit better. Foreign shoppers get 5% off with their passport!

The 3rd floor is health/beauty (mostly diet and cosmetics), and the 2nd floor is an extensive travel luggage and personal bags floor. Very nice stuff, but not inexpensive.

This Takayashima place can absorb your soul for an entire day if you let it.

We’re almost out of time in Tokyo, but my next post will be about our Yabusame experience (Japanese horseback archery) and Don Qijote and hanging out with Jamie’s friend Hazuki.

In Defense of Consumerism – It’s not what you think.

This post is written from the perspective of someone who worked in retail for 6 years, joined the entrepreneurial market at a young age, has studied micro and macro economics, and social behavior. I own a number of small (very small, in some cases) businesses, run a company with over 50 active volunteers, and still work a corporate job with a company whose name usually strikes envy (or sympathy) into the hearts of the educated.

I have a variety of great friends out there, many of whom are small business owners who make their own jewelry/clothes/whatever. Some of them are photographers, some are massage therapists, and so on. But by and large, most of my small business owner friends have come out this year in vitriolic wrath at the entire concept of Black Friday. In my heyday I also laughed at the jokes that “only in America” could we be thankful for everything we have one day and then kill each other for greed the next. This post is NOT to tell you about the best deals on Black Friday, because a combination of Ad Sites and Blogs can do that (links provided for reference only).

And now, Black Friday has finally encroached right up into Thanksgiving, a holiday probably more secular and certainly less controversial than those to follow. In my day (which wasn’t that long ago, since my last Black Friday worked was in 2008) opening at 6am was a Big Deal. People camping out overnight was a Big Deal. I think that was the same year that someone got trampled to death at a Walmart… (Someone got stabbed in the parking lot of my Circuit City too, but I don’t know where the article is for that one).

When I first left Circuit City in its downward death spiral, only a few days before they closed their doors for the last time, I swore I would never shop a Black Friday OR work another Black Friday again. The experience was exhausting, and a terrifying examination of human nature. My understanding of it all coalesced when, in the middle of the day on Friday, a poor retired couple asked me why the line was 63 people long when all they needed was an HDMI cable. They had no idea about Black Friday.

The word is that Black stands for the books of most retail stores going from in the red to in the black–but those who work retail know it really means that Black Friday is a dark and unholy day, filled with screaming soccer moms and insane cheapskate dads.

So that’s the bad side. Black Friday is encroaching on one of our few remaining feast days (wait, what? We eat and drink like maniacs whenever we are given the chance!) and besides, family.

Here’s the thing. Our economy is very much consumer driven. And that sucks for those who can’t crank out enough of whatever they make to have a crazy pseudo-cheap sale where millions of people flock to buy, buy, buy. It can be argued that this buying mentality is a direct cause of the people seeking holiday jobs. But a lot of the people who work in retail stores are students, both high school and college students. In the grand scheme of social stigma, people would rather work retail than be fast food employees, and they have some shred of a chance of improving their lot in life (look at my experience–from $8/hr to $42/hr in 6 years without my degree having an impact). And more retailers are hiring which means more jobs.

Are they great jobs? No, probably not. Most starting wages for the big hitting retailers like Walmart are barely above minimum wage. I remember my first year at Circuit City, I was hired on at $8.25 and all the holiday employees came in at $7.25. Our boss gave a speech then–they were basically there for Black Friday. Failing to show up that day was the same as handing in their resignations.

Now, let’s back up from retail and look at all of the other components involved. Shipping. Advertising. Planning. Product placement. Manufacturing is mostly overseas, but that’s true even on normal days of the year. The manufacturing side of the coin is being handled by places where business is still stuck in the industrial age.

Buying a bunch of stuff online means a whole bunch of peoples’ jobs are less necessary. Now, I’m an avid proponent of Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, etc. But one of the reasons their prices are lower a lot of times is because they have fewer employees to worry about. Lower rent. Lower overhead. It’s simple business.

The sales surrounding Black Friday have become a mad tradition–but sometimes they are the only time that some people can afford things that appear nicer–like TVs, computers, etc. Others, little known to the world, are buying up those electronics to hawk on Ebay/Craigslist later. I expect this will especially be the case with the tablets and Ipads on sale this year (For the record, that $300 ipad is only $312 right now on Amazon with no wait).

If you are worried about family, you could always be like these people.

All of this being said, I finally came around and decided to start checking out Black Friday deals. I price compare, of course, like any smart shopper. I would never camp out for anything, cheap or otherwise. But for me, it’s not about saving a few dollars–it’s about the myriad of emotions, the crazy whirlwind of people, the invigorating experience of seeing humanity in its most base form–when thrown together like primal man, all hunting for the same things.

I would advise, for those of you out there, that you shop smart if you shop Black Friday. Many electronics deals that are doorbusters are actually exclusively manufactured for the sale–which means they are built in a hurry and frequently cut corners. This is most true for TVs and computers. Be wary of cheaper-than-they-should-be laptops and TVs, because they are utilizing lower than standard parts even if they are name brand. Clothing is a good bet, and if you are buying electronics verify that the model is one available all the time.

I am not defending the manic obsession with objects that people are all on the bandwagon decrying this year. But understand that with that focus of buying dollars comes something more–human interaction, jobs for starving college students, and a continuation of the brick-and-mortar store. Our economy was built on the backs of small business owners, but that was prior to the concept of mass engineering. In this day and age, small business owners must learn to market themselves and dig a niche in the consumerist market–or be buried under a cascade of barbie dolls and strangle-me-Elmos (Now THIS is a toy that pawns off the affection you should be showing your kids. Seriously).