I walked past the park by my apartment the other day and saw something that caught me dumbfounded. A child was crouching in the bushes, another behind a tree trunk, a third held himself up behind a small wooden sign. One kid leaned his face into a flagpole and covered his eyes. This scene was at first surreal and I could find no possible motives for the actions of these children. Then the boy leaning against the flagpole shouted something, uncovered his eyes and began to survey the park. It occurred to me then what I was seeing. The explanation was so simple I could have kicked myself for the previous moments of mental struggle. They were playing hide and seek. The realization came at a most appropriate time as I had just come from the shopping mall.
Unlike the what I saw in the park shopping malls do not fill me with playful wonderment. They do not make me long for the carefree days of my childhood. Rather they remind me of the few things I hate about getting older.
For the most part I do like the process of aging. I like that I have a command and familiarity of my body. I enjoy responsibility and I am glad I have experiences to draw on as I try to juggle my responsibilities. I like shaving and I like knowing more than teenagers. I don't however like the fact being an adult means I have to adhere to the idea that life is not a game. I try very hard most days to reject such thinking.
In order to do this I try to think about my daily duties in terms of games rather than chores. When I clean the kitchen I try to stack the dishes in different and progressively more precarious ways. In sweeping the floor I imagine a game of shuffleboard. Squeegeeing windows and mirrors is a game and bliss all unto itself. Shopping is like playing hide and seek with the universe. The universe hides the things that I need and I go out and try to find them.
If the game is hide and seek, then these days I am the seeker and cultural discrepancies are the hiders. Japan has proven to be a suitable arena for this game because everything is new and particularly fun, even if it is relatively easy. Just like in hide and seek, it is always more fun if that which is sought after can find a really good hiding place. It is more fun for the hider and the seeker. Shopping malls reject this way of thinking entirely.
Shopping malls are like doing a crossword puzzle with the answers printed upside down next to the puzzle. They make the game so easy that it is hardly a game at all. It is for this reason that I don't often go shopping malls.
However shopping malls do not require that you shop, so that day I had chosen the shopping mall to play cultural hide and seek. I discovered that this shopping mall was not totally unlike the upscale shopping malls in America. It was neatly laid out and labeled.
There was a food court
and several clothing stores that I would never find myself eating or shopping in. There was an arcade and there were people shopping.
I did, however, notice a few obvious differences. The arcade for instance is not like those that struggle to survive in America.
The arcade in this particular mall bustles and strives. It is takes up about half of a floor
and has easily two hundred video games. It also has a bowling alley and a carousel. It has a scale model German village. The village was distinctly German not just from the architecture but from all of the shop signs and billboards. You can pay 100 yen to control one of many trains that run through and around it.
The arcade is also home to several high-tech photo booths that make me question the ideas being imparted on the Japanese youth of today.
The mall also contains a full scale grocery store. It is like any other grocery store I have been to since my arrival. It has a large produce section with even larger prices. Yes the rumors are true, cantaloupe in Japan can run upwards of fifty bucks. Next to the grocery store, but not inside of it, was another surprising addition to the shopping mall conglomeration, a liquor store. Beyond the liquor store were two things I didn't expect to see in a shopping mall, especially in close vicinity to one another; a place for mothers to nurse their babies and a smoking section.
My favorite difference is one that took me by surprise, or rather it nearly scared my bowels loose. I was walking through the mall trying to take in all of the little details and as usual was lost in thought. (This happens a lot to me, just today I was thinking so hard about my experience being panhandled by a middle aged business man that I walked into a tree branch and nearly lost an eye). I passed the edge of a department store when I almost ran into a little kid. Actually I only thought it was a little kid but when I turned back to apologize I realized it was a mannequin. It was then that I almost shat my pants. I would like to describe what I saw in words. Words, I am afraid, will fall short of the sight that lay before me, so I lay it before you.
Ultimately the shopping mall proved a good destination for the experience I desired. However in terms of shopping, malls are like playing hide and seek in an open field. They are kids who got allowances without having to mow the yard. They are dudes that get fit at the gym then struggle to pour concrete. They are the prefabricated rips on the jeans of people who fret when they tear their pants. Shopping malls are adults worn down by daily life who prefer convenience and conformity to experience and character. They are safe, warm, well lit and, if used for their intended purpose, they are very little fun.