Sunday, October 16, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Friday, October 14, 2016

Akiko Suwa Traylor at 93 years young.
I present my mother-in-law, Akiko Suwa Traylor, now at 93 years old.  Her birthday is Nov. 2 when she'll turn 94.  I'm so glad that I can be there for her birth-day.  Birthdays aren't really important in Japan as they believe that everyone turns a year older on New Years, which is the really big celebration of the year.  (I just showed Mama-san her picture and she approves of it!)

I had just bought dessert at Seiyu Department Store (cream puffs---hers has strawberry whipped cream filling).

One of my first explorations out after sleeping for 10 hours is to go to Seiyu Department Store.  The department store holds a special importantance in Japan.  It has all the standard things that any department store would have but more.  When I was a student here in 1971-72, I saw a Renoir exhibit on the top floor of one of Ginza's biggest stores.  Those stores always have a gallery space and often exhibit calligraphy, ceramics or contemporary art exhibits that are excellent.  These shows seem to be much more exciting and worthwhile than those at the art museums.  (Although I saw an signboard about a Van Gogh-Gaugin exhibit at Ueno Art Museum which I will see before leaving.  Why not see it here in Tokyo since I probably won't see it in Paris or London.)

Display of chopsticks (Ohashi)
Seiyu Departo (Department Store) is connected to the train station and has everything a standard store like Meijers or Walmart (or any US store that has both groceries and everything else) would have, just with all the labels in Japanese, but also with sections that we don’t have like the Ohashi (chopsticks) display, gift boxes of green tea, or the animal picks to put on kids’ lunches, or the kitchen utensils for scooping out rice from the rice cooker.  
Little ceramic/plastic figures to put on kids' lunches
(usagi picks, on the left
Utensils for turning cooked rice (Oshamoji) and cooking

And then there’s the grocery store in the basement!  (I love grocery shopping, especially the vegetable/fruit section.) Again, there’s an area of prepared foods (already hot) set out in time for meals that evening with every kind of food selection from sushi to tonkatsu (breaded and deep fried pork steak on shredded cabbage and rice) to gyoza (potstickers--- this is what I bought for Mama-san and I), containers of cooked rice, cooked vegetables and more. 
Prepared containers of sushi at Seiyu grocery section
Along the other aisles are every kind of packaged food (some American labels, too, like Wether’s candy and Skippy Peanut Butter).  The only area that would be difficult for most Americans is the bread.  Japanese bread is sweet, soft and huge like Texas toast and only comes in packages of 2-5 slices. 
Packages of bread in 4-6 slices
You have to go to a French bakery to buy good bread but really good whole wheat or whole grain bread is still hard to find.  (Whole grains have traditionally been considered only for poor people with white rice and white bread thought of as more upscale.)

The dessert section of the store has cases of cut pieces of cakes of all types, cream puffs with strawberry whipped cream, and right, Halloween decorated desserts.  The woman at the counter were even dressed up as bats with bat wing hats and capes.  It’s hard for me to leave the store.  I’m exhausted but fascinated.  

I had to figure out why there were gray baskets being used and then yellow baskets (see the two images).  I stood for a while staring and realized that customers first took the gray baskets (some on carts) at the entrance when they came in.  Then, at the checkout, the cashier transferred their purchases to a yellow basket so they could put their items into the plastic carrier bags. Hmmm.

Onward to "tomorrow."

Customers shopping with gray baskets.

Customers have gone through the checkout and now have
yellow baskets...

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