Destination: Japan: Tokyo
It is a bit odd, to say the least, to find staff bowing when you enter a department store. And even stranger to discover that every single purchase is wrapped and given a neat little bow. It’s the Japanese way, at least in upmarket emporiums, where the concepts of the surly, wise-ass assistant and the bag-it-yourself approach never really caught on. Stepping into a major branch of a store such as Mitsukoshi is like going back in time; pause to look and a smiling, gloved assistant is at your shoulder, offering help and advice.
Younger Japanese have embraced the edgier and hip quick-service culture. Gap stores abound, as do those of the slightly cheaper, locally based Uniqlo brand. Every European and U.S. designer of note has a presence in Tokyo; the Ginza store of the American brand Coach, for instance, has a particularly striking frontage. Ginza shop assistants generally have a smattering of English or can summon a colleague who is more fluent, but if you venture far off the main drags, sign language becomes necessary. Unlike other Asian capitals, Tokyo doesn’t have a plethora of vibrant street markets; but it does have plenty of quaint, dinky little stores tucked in among the mega-malls.
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