Lots of Asian cities have what I call “tech malls”; in this part of the world technology just doesn’t have the same geeky stigma that it does in the west. But Japan? Well, Japan is on a whole other level. For anyone who’s ever endured a visit to their local Best Buy, what follows might blow your mind just a little bit.
To set the stage, I’m in Kyoto, and it’s just before lunch. The girlfriend and I have just transferred our bags to a new hotel, but we can’t check in until mid-afternoon, so we walk towards the train station in search of something to occupy us for the next couple of hours. We soon come across the Kyoto branch of Yodobashi Camera. To call it a camera store doesn’t do it justice; they sell cameras there, to be sure, but there’s so much more to it than that.
We head up to the 6th floor where the restaurants are. I’m not talking about a food court here—there are no less than nineteen places to eat, each with their own kitchen and dedicated seating area. There’s also a coffee shop. And a bookstore. And a travel agency if you need it. We decide on a ramen joint but could have also picked sushi, tempura, yakitori, curry and rice, shabu-shabu, even Italian. The eating establishments here are apparently legit; by the time we finish eating the entire floor is packed with locals on their lunch breaks.
It’s now time for yours truly to hunker down and do some serious shopping; my camera bag is annoying me and I’m looking for a new one. “No problem,” says the girlfriend, “I’ll be at Uniqlo.” She won’t be leaving the building, as the 5th and 4th floor of Yodobashi are devoted entirely to clothes and footwear. Later I will meet her on the 3rd floor in the capsule toy section; I didn’t count but it seemed to me that there were about a hundred different machines there, so it will take a few minutes to find her. But keeping in touch isn’t an issue, even with only one of us being in range of our rented mobile hotspot. This is because Yodobashi also offers its customers free WiFi on all floors.
On my way to see camera bags I take the escalator past the 2nd floor (home theatre and audio, also musical instruments and bicycles) to the ground level. I get a little overwhelmed by the three full aisles of camera bags, so I head over to the watch section to check out the just-released Casio WSD-F20. Then I take a deep breath and descend into the basement level dedicated to mobile phones (and also PCs); here every carrier has display units, flyers, full catalogues and dedicated staff at your service.
At this point both the girlfriend and I both need to sit down, so we walk just outside the front doors to the street-level entrance to Délifrance, a chain of cafés that I know from Hong Kong. We grab some coffee and a couple of pastries and take a seat on the patio to watch the world go by. And we’re not done yet—before we leave the complex we pick up some supplies at the supermarket in the second-level basement.
Bic Camera is a separate electronics chain that offers a similar experience; chances are you’ll find at least one of each in every major Japanese city. For a female perspective on shopping at Bic and Yodobashi check out this 2014 report on The Huffington Post.