The Japanese Mall: A Love Affair

Category: Culture

Like most of my colleagues in localization, I was drawn to this business because of my love of foreign languages and cultures.

My particular passion lies with Japan, a culture I’ve been fascinated with since my first trip there to study in 1993. My experience there had such a profound impact on me that I was seeking out ways to return on the plane ride home!

I’ve struggled ever since then to maintain my language skills and remain up to date on current events with the eventual plan of returning some day.

The bulk of my time was spent in a lesser known/visited area of Japan called Kyushu. It is the southern island of Japan which is best known for things like pottery, 田舎 (inaka,  “country lifestyle”), and 温泉 (onsen, “hot springs”).

There are still many remnants of traditional Japanese culture and life there that present a startling contrast to the hustle and bustle of glitzy, fashionable Tokyo. So, you can imagine my surprise when I came across an article touting its capital city, Fukuoka, as an up-and-coming fashion mecca.

When one thinks of fashion in Japan, images of punk fashion on the streets of Harajuku and Shibuya or the glitzy Ginza immediately spring to mind. But certainly not Tenjin, the main shopping drag of Fukuoka. However, I believe that Fukuoka has been on the rise for much longer than it’s given credit.

In the late 90s, the emergence of a mall called Canal City made quite a splash in the region. Part mall, part entertainment center, it drew locals and foreign expats alike for the uniquely Western-turned-Japanese experience. This mini city was built along an artificial canal which ran through the middle of the complex among the unusually colorful and uniquely shaped buildings. (See pictures.)

On the stage set up beside the canal, various performances and music shows were held almost every day. The trapeeze performance was my personal favorite. Back in the day, “foreign” food choices abounded (Mongolian barbecue anyone?) and a few brave foreign retailers, like Eddie Bauer, lived and breathed there.

Now I was never a big fan of camping or the outdoors, but I also was not a fan of Japanese fashion at the time. Add to the fact that my Japanese fashion options were often limited to a size “0” and smaller, I ran (not walked) to this mall for some must-have Western fashion items.

Today, the Eddie Bauer no longer sits in Canal City. In its place, however, you will find a sampling of both American and European brands like Kipling, Zara, and The Sports Authority. (And of course a plethora of Japanese fashion.) The Canal City of today is much more than a shopping destination; it is a commercial complex which seems to keep growing, both in size and popularity.

I look back fondly on my “road trips” to Fukuoka in search of fashions that were both palatable and actually in a size that I could wear. Though, I daresay that a trip to the Fukuoka mall today would result in my making Japanese fashion purchases. Is it the rise of Japanese fashion globally? Is it the popularity of Japanese stores and brands in New York City? Or could it be that the elusive size “0” is no longer the standard? I guess I’ll just have to take a trip back to Fukuoka to find out!