I found a Japanese book store in London.
After spending a few years in Japan, it was a real change to get to London, and suddenly not have any Japanese people around me. There were people around, but they were of all nationalities except Japanese. I even managed to find Koreans, and the ubiquitous Chinese, but the Japanese were suspiciously hard to spot.
Until I decided to pop into this book store. I found it on the net, and apparently it was in a store called Mitsukoshi on Regent Street. The area itself isn’t Japanese, just your ordinary British street with big red buses and obnoxiously high-class clothing stores. But the second I stepped inside Mitsukoshi, it all changed.
It was exactly as if I had stepped back in time half a year to the middle of Tokyo. Instantly I was surrounded by Japanese people of all sorts, wandering the crammed aisles of the Mitsukoshi department store, which looked just like any other big department store back in the motherland. Apparently Mitsukoshi is actually Isetan in Japan (a huge department store chain), which was sneaky of them, changing the name like that and catching me offguard. Apparently the Mistukoshi stores in Germany, Italy and France have all closed in the last few years, so we may have had the entire Japanese population of Europe fussing about this one store.
Fifty metres up the road, all the same stuff is being sold in ordinary stores, yet there is hardly a Japanese person in sight. Instead, this is where they all were, crowded into this tiny little patch of Japan bang in the centre of London. The layout was the same, and the way customers and staff interacted (all Japanese) was all in that style I hadn’t really realised was very Japanese until I saw it again after having been out six months.
It actually freaked me out, to be honest. I totally wasn’t ready for it, and felt like an intruder so I quickly made my way to the back where the bookstore was. The bookstore was again, ripped directly out of Japan with the distinctive signage and colourful coordination characteristic of the place. It was so Japanese the prices weren’t even listed in pounds – everything was still priced in Yen.
The whole experience was totally surreal, and a bit worrying. Do the Japanese people here feel so insecure about being overseas that they won’t even do their shopping in local stores? Do they not even carry pounds, despite being in England?
I got my book and made my way the hell out of there, and heading back through the aisles towards the front doors I passed the final piece to make the tranformation complete – a tour group, cameras at the ready.