Electronic Megastores: Where polite restraint goes to die

November 4, 2010

Akiba, Japan
photo credit: kadluba

I spent my second day in Japan acclimating to my new surroundings. To finally be in the country that I had spent years studying felt…surreal to say the least. And although I’m sure my fellow study abroad compatriots and I could have spent our first full day in Japan doing something cultural like seeing a temple or drinking maccha, we had other priorities in mind: getting a Japanese cell phone, or keitai, and a fancy electronic dictionary, or denshijisho.

I, for one, was looking more forward to the shopping experience than the actual gadgets we wanted to buy. I had heard stories about how exemplary Japan’s customer service was. I was told that salespeople used incomprehensibly polite language and that there were no pushy used car salesman types. Japanese stores were a perfect manifestation of that most Japanese of qualities: polite restraint.

So, with our shopping list decided and a picturesque vision of shopping in Japan in mind, my new friends and I walked into the closest electronics megastore…and then nearly fell right back out thanks to the sensory onslaught that greeted us.  Lights flashed, sirens blared, and customers were packed shoulder to shoulder. There were scantily-clad women trying to hock cell phones. There were isles and isles of alcohol right next to the TV section. And perhaps most bizarrely of all, there was a tiny little Japanese man standing on a stool next to a sea of washing machines who was screaming into a bullhorn that every appliance was “50% off for today only.” Perhaps Japan really was the land of polite restraint, but apparently these people never got the memo.