Posts Tagged ‘local shops’

Nishiogi Shopping (2)

March 15, 2011

As of 12:45 PM, the Coop in Nishiogikita had fresh fruits and vegies.  Still no milk, bread or rice and the shelves are nearly empty of many other things.  As I left, a large delivery truck was unloading refrigerated goods, so perhaps the shelves will be replenished soon.

Many shops are closed, and those that are open, like convenience stores and the Coop, have turned off many of their lights.  The interior is dim yet perfectly adequate, which makes me realize how much electricity we use unnecessarily.  Do convenience stores and supermarkets really need to be so brightly lit even when conditions are normal?

A sign in front of the train station confirms that the areas in our neighborhood which will experience blackout are Shoan 3, Zenpukuji 1 to 4, and Nishiogikita 3 to 5.  The blackout will occur from 3:20 to 7 PM.  I saw a train go by on the Chuo Line heading toward Mitaka about 10:30 this morning, and it was nearly empty.  Buses are not so full either, and there seem to be plenty of taxis around.

I have not yet found milk, but bread of various kinds can be found in smaller bakeries, all of which have lines in front of them.  I waited 10 minutes in front of Lisdor Mitsu, just south of Nishiogi Station.  They have bagels and several fresh baked loaves of their popular brewer’s yeast bread.  There was a line at Dila’s Asanoya Bakery (in the station building), made to wait outside.  A young man at the door would let people in periodically.  This seemed a good arrangement to let people buy their bread  in comfort.  The shelves, seen through the windows, were piled high with their products.

Seiyu at Nishiogi Station has reopened.  I did not go in, so I don’t know what they have available.  The post office in Nishiogi 2-chome has a sign out front announcing that they will close early today, at 2:30 PM.  Various small eateries near the station were open and serving lunch.



Nishiogi Shopping

March 13, 2011

I just got back from another tour of the ‘hood.  Nishiogikubo’s Seiyu—proud member of the “WAL*MART Family”—is closed.  A sign on the shuttered entrance says they are closed till further notice due to the earthquake and refers shoppers to other Seiyu stores in Kichijoji and Ogikubo.  What do you suppose happened?  Possibly I was the last person to buy anything there before they closed.  At that time, while things had fallen off shelves, I saw no signs of damage to the building itself, which, after all, the recorded announcement kept assuring us was “safe.”  I would venture a guess that they were all sold out of everything, were it not for their referral of shoppers to nearby Seiyu stores.

If you hurry, maybe you can get that last set of tissue paper.

Moving on to Seijo Drugs to pick up some vitamins, I found the place crowded with shoppers and the line too long to stick around and wait in.  Out back the shelves normally full of tissue and toilet paper were nearly empty.  There’s a run on these items, and I passed people loaded down with them on the street.

Yesterday I had done a big shop at the Coop, but there had been no bread, bananas, strawberries or broccoli.  Today too no bread, and the fruit section was empty except for a few lonely kiwis and avocados.  Fresh vegies too were wiped out except a couple of bunches of celery, asparagus, and cucumbers.  Milk all gone, eggs all gone, rice all gone.  Shoppers were wandering around exclaiming, “But there’s nothing here!”  There is still some processed packaged food left, though, and for some reason lots of fresh flowers.  Signs above the empty compartments apologized for being sold out of just about everything due to the earthquake.

I then checked out Fuji Garden, right next door to the Coop, across the street from Daiso.  They’ve got lots of everything there, especially in the fresh foods department.  So if you want something besides kiwi and celery, pop next door for more variety.  What Fuji Garden is out of, though, is milk, bread, tofu, and fresh noodles. [The Coop (Seikyo) is located at Nishiogikita 1-2, next to the railroad tracks.]

Is this just a temporary glitch in the system?  Or are we really in for long-term shortages?  That remains to be seen.  I’ve got four and a half rolls of toilet paper at home and five box of tissues.  Let’s see what happens when I run out…

Jimbocho (2)

October 26, 2010

After dropping in on the Bean Book Carnival the other day [see “Jimbocho (1)” post], I wandered through the back streets of Jimbocho in search of Kissako, a coffee shop I’d visited before.  In the busy noisy outer world, Liu Xiaobo had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Norway was taking a lot of flak from the Chinese government as a result.  But in the quiet slow-paced inner world of Kissako, I found Norway being appreciated, like a cup of very good java.

To find Kissako you have to get lost first.  You go down the street you think it might be on, or off, and then you don’t find it, so you follow your instincts and turn left or right at the next corner and the next until you find yourself in a narrow back alley with no idea where you are or by what route you got there.  You have left behind the rushing traffic and crowded sidewalks of Jimbocho, and are now alone.  At that moment, an old house with lots of potted plants out front and a sign that says 喫茶去 appears in front of you.  This is Kissako.

“Kissa” means coffee shop or tearoom.  Our translation staff found the “ko” part trickier.  By itself, it means “gone.”  So they googled around and came to a website featuring information on the Japanese tea ceremony [ Japanese)].  Here they learned that kissako is a word in its own right, a Zen term meaning “Nice to see you! How about some tea?”  (It does not mean, the website warns, “Drink your tea and be gone!”)

Green tea is on the menu at Kissako, but its specialty is coffee.  The aroma of fresh-ground beans greeted me as I entered.  Though the street outside had been empty, the shop was full, except for one table right inside the door, which the Master (proprietors of coffee shops are called “Master”), who was working alone, quickly cleared up for me.  I sat down facing the wall to the immediate left of the entrance.  When I’d come here before that wall had been covered with an enlarged print of Art Kane’s famous 1958 photograph, “A Great Day in Harlem.”  It was gone now, and in its place was a collection of CD covers.  Then I noticed the music.  It was not jazz.  It was fiddles, playing something that might have been the accompaniment to a barn dance somewhere in Appalachia.

Kissako is a jazz-kissa, a coffee house that plays jazz recordings, hence the wall-sized print of “A Great Day….”  But today, for whatever reason, it was fiddles.  The menu was inside an old 45 album cover: “Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic, vol. 9” from CLEF Records.  Various coffees and teas were available from ¥600 to ¥700 [$7.00 to $8.50], and something out of the ordinary:  a piece of cake called mor monsen made from a Norwegian recipe.

I ordered my coffee and the cake.  Then I noticed the windowsill to my left.  It was piled high with CDs—I counted over 100—with a little note explaining that these belonged to the Norwegian Culture Cafe, and I could choose any CD I wanted to listen to and request it (kind of like a non-mechanical jukebox).  Now I was confused.  Had Kissako changed hands and become the Norwegian Culture Cafe?  A closer look at the CD covers on the opposite wall revealed that these too were from Norway.  In front of them was a stack of Norwegian picture books.  I concluded that the Master had made a recent trip to Norway, fell completely in love with the place, and returned with CDs, picture books and mor monsen recipe, determined to remake his jazz-kissa into a museum celebrating Norway.  (It turned out this conclusion was wrong.  Read on.)

The door kept sliding open and people poked in their heads—where were they all coming from?—only to be told that the downstairs was full but they were welcome to sit upstairs, reached by a narrow, steep and creaking stairway opposite the entrance.  It took a while for my order to come, so while the fiddles fiddled on and on, I browsed through the pile of CDs.  They were all Norwegian jazz.  I had heard of none of the groups or musicians.  There was Embraceable You:  The Warm Symphonic Moods of Bjarne Nerem, which included standards like “Stardust” and “What’s New”; The Zoo is Far, by the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble (piano, harmonium, toy piano, trumpet, violin, Hardanger Fiddle, viola, cello, baroque harp, drums, percussion and glockenspiel), which included intriguing titles like “Music For One Cat” and “Need Elp”; Bushman’s Revenge Cowboy Music, with titles like “Bad Feng Shui,” “Supersonic Macho Blues,” and “Makes It Worth a Beating.”

The coffee and mor monsen arrived:  six small cubes of butter cake laid out on a plate and sprinkled with powdered sugar, with a daub of plum jelly on top and 2 small triangles of pineapple to the side.  A feast for the eyes and the palate.

When I went to pay my check the Master asked me if I were from Norway.  I told him no, but that I had enjoyed being in Norway for the past hour.

When I got home, I googled Norwegian Culture Cafe and found out what’s going on.  The is an “imaginary cafe” which circulates in “volumes” around the Tokyo area, manifesting now and again at a local cafe and occupying it for a while.  It is the creation of the Society of Japan-Norway Musicians and aims to introduce Norwegian culture through its music CDs.  At its website [ (in Japanese)] I found a recipe for mor monsen, which uses the following ingredients:  unsalted butter, sugar, flour, eggs, grated lemon rind, currants, almonds and powdered sugar.

On Wednesday, October 27 there will be an exhibit at Kissako of aurora borealis photographs by the Japanese photographer Hiroyuki Kudoh.  Norwegian Culture Cafe, Vol.4 will be in residence at Kissako through Sunday, November 14.

[Kissako:  Kanda Jimbocho 2-24, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Ph.: 03-3229-6969.  Open every weekday, 7AM – 9PM; Saturday, noon – 9 PM; Sunday, noon – 6PM.]

What If?

October 24, 2010

Almost every neighborhood in Tokyo has a Seiyu—part department store, part supermarket—located right near the train station.  When I first moved to Nishiogikubo in the early 1980s, there were actually two Seiyu’s:  one next to the station, and one diagonally across the street.  The former had a more up-to-date atmosphere in the groceries section, while the latter, two stories high, had a greater selection of housewares and furniture.  The one next to the station is still there but the one across the street closed down long ago and is now the site of a pachinko parlor.  The items you could buy in Seiyu in those days were not discounted but they were reasonably priced, and among all the cheaper sorts of women’s clothing, I often found something unique and to my taste: a winter jacket in black and white tweed—the only one on the rack—or 100% wool shawls in interesting patterns and colors to cover my shoulders and add some warmth to a Tokyo winter day.

Since the bursting of the bubble in the early ’90s, the merchandise available in Tokyo stores has slowly and subtly undergone change.  The riot of color that used to greet my eyes when I visited the appliance or household goods section of the supermarket has faded to white and gray or a limited choice of anemic pastels.  Jackets, like all the other clothing, come in two or three styles and colors, all subdued and ill-fitting and made in China.  Everything looks the same as everything else.

Seiyu, in the meantime, has been bought out by Wal-Mart, which may also account for the deterioration in quality and variety of the goods on offer.  As the Seiyu shopping bag proudly declares in English, they are now “part of the WAL*MART family.”  Prices are boldly advertised as being boldly slashed, and the racks and shelves have sprouted large gaudy red and yellow tags boasting the items’ low cost.  They hurt the eyes.  And no doubt hurt the earnings of smaller shops who cannot afford to discount their goods as drastically.  One by one they close down and leave the neighborhood:  the hardware store where you could buy a small pot for heating up milk, with flowers painted on the side; the boutique that sold women’s clothes in all sizes, all 100% pure silk; the corner fruit and vegetable store with all its wares out on the sidewalk so you could easily pick up a bunch of bananas as you walked by.

An article in the Daily Yomiuri, “Wal-Mart to open smaller stores in U.S.” (Fri., Oct. 15, ’10) tells us that Wal-Mart “sees a ‘true need’ for stores smaller than its supercenters….’After years of development we are now prepared to accelerate growth’ of smaller stores, [U.S. stores chief] Simon said.”

Let’s get this straight.  First you build these huge stores outside of town that offer merchandise at such low cost that you drive the in-town shops out of business and turn main street shopping centers into ghost towns; and then you decide that after all there is a “true need” for small shops in “urban markets”?  Well, if Simon says so, then I guess everyone else will just have to go along with it, but we here at the Tree are refusing to play the game.  Instead, we’d like to pose a “What If?” for you to ponder.

What if one day we go out to do our shopping and find that the only stores around are all “part of the Wal*Mart family,” and are all selling exactly the same thing as each other?  And what if, because they now own and operate every possible outlet for goods and food, Wal-Mart has a brainstorm and realizes that if they are the only game in town, and therefore there’s no competition left to put out of business by underselling them, then there is no longer any need to keep their prices so low?  Think about it.

Gallery of Store Fronts

July 13, 2010

Last year, when I discovered that a favorite small coffee shop had disappeared almost overnight and that a frame shop I had used the services of several times had also closed down, the latter to be replaced by a 13-floor apartment building, I decided to start keeping a photographic record of those small store fronts still remaining in our neighborhood.  Several of these photos have already been published in the Tree—before it became a blog.  So we decided to archive them here under the title of “Gallery of Store Fronts.”

We recently came across an article by Bryant Simon, American Studies professor at Temple University, in which he claims that “the spread of …branded symbols of globalization”—such as McDonald’s and Starbucks—“raises the value of the local.  Everywhere multinationals go, they generate a grassroots pushback, an assertion of the enduring value of particular places, tastes and traditions.”  By this same screwy logic, one could also claim that the spread of nuclear weapons serves to generate the anti-nuclear weapons movement.

What Professor Simon fails to appreciate is that while it may be true that the value of our local shops and businesses is raised by the encroachment of fast food chain stores and Starbucks outlets and their imitators, there is not much that anyone can do to “push back” against them.   Unable to keep up with the competition, small shop after small shop in our neighborhood goes out of business and pulls down its shutters for the last time.  Some of the store fronts appearing in this Gallery have already folded but are still standing.  Others are happily still with us–for the time being.  Let’s enjoy them while we still can.

Nihil Cow crafts and gift shop

Tanuki (badger) yakitori (chicken kebab) restaurant

a second-hand bookstore

No longer open for business

a former tatami (straw mat) maker

antique shops