I have quickly discovered my favorite place in Japan. A place so magical, so exciting, so exotic - I am put in a right tizzy every time I visit. The department store. Yes, the department store. The tenth floor to be exact. But let's start at the beginning: Floor One.
When you walk into an American department store, you are confronted with a maze of glass cases filled with makeup and perfume, manned by a sweet smelling army of rosy cheeked ladies.
Walk into a Japanese department store and the same glass cases are filled with the most delicate, fancy-looking, absolutely artful sweets and savories. There are rice crackers with perfectly edible, tiny Autumn leaves pressed into their centers. There are chewy, pastel colored sweets filled with chestnut puree. There are hundreds of hand crafted delicacies, and I cannot even begin to detect what most of them contain. They are all certainly works of art, floating on colorful tissue and carefully packed in pretty gift boxes. The best part? There are samples! I stroll slowly through the aisles, toothpick in hand, brow furrowed, unable to ask the sales clerks about what I have just tasted.
When I get bored of this, I take the escalator to the tenth floor (or the basement, depending on the store) for the real culinary thrill.
I leave the prim and proper, orderly and dainty, first floor behind and step off the escalator into the loud, chaotic mishmash of what we in The States might call a food court. Luckily, there is not a Hot Dog On A Stick in sight.
As I walk through the aisles of unidentifiable foods, stall keepers holler staccato sales chants at potential customers, and thrust toothpicks and tiny spoons under my nose, urging me to try a bit of this and a bit of that. It is all delicious, these mystery snacks. Most of it is fish: chopped up, sauced, spiced and mixed with other tasty things.
I buy a scoop of cucumber kimchee, fiery red and laced with sesame seeds. I taste spoonful after spoonful of various fish eggs, popping the tiny orbs between my teeth as I marvel in my good fortune. I crunch ribbons of dried kelp and
am surprised by the crisp snap of cold, marinated sea snails.
Then there are the raw meat and fish counters, a selection of seasonal produce, the prepared foods section boasting freshly fried tempura by-the-piece and glimmering sashimi. People line up for made-to-order okonomiyaki, a savory pancake of sorts nicknamed "Japanese Pizza." Old ladies crimp the edges of tiny, pork filled dumplings while college students ladle crepe batter onto hot, black grills and wrap the elastic pancakes around whipped cream, chocolate sauce and bananas. There is an amazing bakery with golden baguettes, crusty rolls and pastries. I even spy a Japanese bagel dog!
All. On. The. Tenth. Floor.
Us Jewish folk don't believe in heaven or hell. In college, I asked my mom where we go after we die. Unable to answer the question, she promptly mailed me a copy of Where I Go After I Die: The Jewish Guide to the Afterlife. It basically likens the afterlife to a Choose Your Own Adventure. Awesome. I'll choose Floor Ten, please.
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