In the Teeth of the Typhoon

August 22

Kids, don't try this day at home.

Our plans for a Tokyo day trip were kiboshed when a typhoon sweeping up the northeast coast of Japan led to heavy rains and wind in our area. And yet the prospect of staying cooped up in the house all day while on a short vacation was just a little too much to bear. Sure, we could have used the day to help my in-laws clean out a dresser filled with empty day planners from 1989 while the kids wiled away the day on their screens, but we were not to be denied.

Our children are not immune to the appeal of Pokemon, so even if we have dodged the Go fad for now, they weren't going to turn down a chance to see the new Pokemon movie in the theatre. Due to vehicle space limitations, my wife went ahead with them to make the show time. I received a ride to the train station where the foolish nature of our decision started to dawn on me. A metal garage door was in tatters, flapping in the wind as though the gremlin from the Twilight Zone movie was dining on it. Trains weren't running on time, Limited Expresses were stopping at stations they normally breeze by, and even though I only needed to go one station over, we were delayed twice while the train sat on the tracks between the stations.

In an effort to find one of the few sports stores in the area we stumbled on one of the region's newest malls (which happens to be a part of the same chain as the one we went to Sunday). Walking around the pristine shopping centre, utterly protected from the raging storm, I couldn't help but feel that something was being lost in the utter disconnection from the outside world. There is a generic quality seeping into the Japanese shopping experience with indoor and outlet malls widening their footprint in a process familiar to North Americans over the last thirty years.

Mind you, I don't begrudge Japanese consumers from wanting similar retail experiences to those embraced here. I just wonder what happens to the famed Japanese department store concept that seemed more successful to me than similar stores in North America, not to mention the unique mom and pop stores that dot the shopping strips in older parts of town. Looking at our family spending it was probably divided 45/45/10 between small shops/box store retailers/and malls. Basically, we were motivated by a combination of unique products and price—neither of which the malls seemed able to deliver.

When we left the cocoon of the mall to walk back to the train station, it was with the knowledge that the local monorail had stopped running. Stronger winds had us walking backwards at times to beat the weather. By the time we reached the station, trains were no longer running either. Fortunately, my father-in-law was able to pick us up and shuttle us home to safety. Along the way we saw objects large and small, heavy and light, blown onto the road. If there had been any doubt that we were not on the outer fringes of the typhoon like we had hoped when the day started, they had been pretty much been erased by now.

On our last day in Japan, my youngest cited braving the storm to see the movie as one of the highlights of the trip. Was it worth the effort? Yes. Would I risk it again? No.

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