My friend Tomo knows I have a hard time finding clothes that fit. So, she took me to Isetan.
Isetan is a high-end department store in Tokyo’s hyper-commercialized Shinjuku ward (the department store is located next to Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world). The leather and laces lining the walls of its shoe section, alone, overwhelm, not to mention the collection of couture on the rest of the seven floors, which occupy an entire city block. And that’s just the men’s department. The women’s department is in a separate building. Boasting an amazing roster of labels, Isetan is a sartorial wonderland that offers a glimpse into the Japanese obsession over quality, exclusivity, and variety.
While the upper floors at Isetan are devoted to treads and threads, the basement caters to your bec fin.
The food halls beneath Japanese department stores are legendary. And not surprisingly, the one at Isetan is particularly impressive. Not unlike the fine collection of stitches assembled on the floors above, on the lowest level are gathered the highest quality food products from around the world: jamon from Spain, seafood from Hokkaido, caviar from Russia, and, because the Japanese have a love affair with the French, a cellar of premier and grand cru wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy (on tap, up to ¥5,000 for a taste), confections from the top names in Paris (you’ll find both Hediard and Pierre Hermé, for example), and more.
You will find counters specializing in rice (you can buy rice with varying degrees of polish), cheese, miso, pickles, kasuzuke (fish marinated in sake lees), bread, sake, shrimp crackers – the inventory is both incredible and endless. And of course, because the Japanese also love anything that’s cute and pretty, there’s an indulgent sprawl of square footage devoted to sweets, both Asian and European (besides macarons and French pastries, buttery baumkuchen, for example, is wildly popular among the Japanese).
The place is immaculate. Everything is packaged beautifully and arranged with mechanical order. Aided by the fact that much of the food on display is represented by odorless plastic models, there are no errant smells. And the clerks are efficient and incredibly polite.
Every aspect of the Isetan experience is thoughtfully designed with the customer in mind. The only thing missing is a place for customers to sit and enjoy the food they buy. But then, I suppose, no one would ever leave.
Continue reading ‘travel: scatter my ashes at isetan…’