“Ekinaka” – Shopping complexes at Japanese train stations

My Flipboard feed turned up an article on ekinaka at It was not a new idea me because I’ve seen such ekinaka first-hand on my visits to Japan. However, the term is new to me. Ekinaka literally means “inside the station.”


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The Covered «Galeries» of Paris

July 2, 2016 (Thursday) – One of my personal interests in Paris was to explore the covered shopping galeries, or passages couverts, of Paris. Because we had a lot of other things planned for our one week trip, I ended up seeing only one of these famed galeries. If I ever go back, then exploring more of these galeries would definitely be on my list.


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小樽 Otaru Day Trip

We had finished our first week of Japanese language classes at JaLS and we were upon our first full weekend in Hokkaido. We originally tried to get bus tickets to Hakodate for the Saturday, but all the times we wanted to take were sold out. So we decided to visit Otaru this Saturday instead.

Rapid Airport at Otaru Station

Otaru is a about a 40-60 minute train ride on the JR train. If you grab the Local train, then it stops at every single station. However, if timing works for you, then you can grab one of the express trains and bypass all the smaller stations. Regardless of the speed of the train, the ticket still costs ¥640 for a one-way ticket. The ride from Sapporo to Teine is all above ground and offers a view of the city from high above the streets. However, soon after Teine station, we are travelling right along the coastline of Ishikari Bay until we reach Otaru.

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The Shopping Mall Next Door – Ario Sapporo

After we had finished up at the Sapporo Beer Museum, 3 of the 4 of us who had been at the museum had decided to check out the mall right behind the beer museum. The shopping mall next door is Ario Sapporo.  Now most people travelling avoid shopping malls, and rightly so. A shopping mall is a shopping mall is a shopping mall. That’s mostly true the world over. However, sometimes it can be neat to walk through a shopping mall to see another culture’s take on this 20th Century shopping phenomenon.

Photo from Welcome to Sapporo page

I must say that Ario holds pretty true to the North American feel of a shopping mall. One. It occupies a large swath of land surrounded by a parking lot. Two. The aforementioned parking is free. (There’s free parking in Japan??? What?!?) Three. There’s a large department store that anchors the mall. That department store, in this case, is Ito Yokado. Finally four. Most of the stores are run by large national and multinational chains who tend to be the only ones who can afford mall rental rates.

However, there were a few fun things that I discovered at Ario Sapporo.

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LCx at Harbour City

One of my days in Hong Kong, my family and I ventured down to Harbour City on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong.  The entrance is right by the Star Ferry pier on the Kowloon side.  It’s a large complex that comprises of a cruise ship terminal and shopping. This is Hong Kong after all.  There’s shopping almost everywhere you go. So if you are a classic mall rat and love to gawk at commercialism at its pinnacle, then Harbour City is not a bad place for you to start.

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Walking Boston – Quincy Market

After the horrid Brutalism of Boston City Hall, we crossed the street to Boston’s old market, the Quincy Market.

It’s really a tourist attraction with all the tourist trappings, but it’s all in good travelling, and all in good walking too.  The sun was starting to set and the chill was starting to set in.  This had been the warmest afternoon of our whole stay in Boston thus far, but the late March evening chill was starting to set in.

There was a giant crowd surrounding a street performer and his unwitting child volunteer.  I couldn’t see at all at my level.  The photo had to be taken with my hands up in the air.  It was a Hail Mary photo in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the performer.  The crowd was laughing along with the performer.  It was clear from their faces that they were enjoying the show.  I just couldn’t clearly see what was going on from my 5-foot-seven perspective.

Quincy Market is primarily one long narrow corridor down the middle with shops and eateries lining either side.  The inside was very modern and very commercial.  Note the ubiquitous Starbucks Coffee. It was just after 6pm, so all the food places were really busy.

The center rotunda was set up as the sitting and dining area.  It was large and open complete with an inscription proudly proclaiming Quincy Market’s service to the people of Boston.  The walls also sported the signs and names of occupants of years gone by.  The brick wall helped to give a sense of warmth and age to this part of the building.  The corridor felt a little whitewashed with its commercial presence.

There were souvenirs aplenty here.  I perused a t-shirt stand that had some unique Bostonian themed clothing.  I ended up not laying down any money, but the t-shirts may be of interest to some people.  Also in the Quincy Market is a complete mock-up of the Cheers Bar as seen on TV.  This is not the original Cheers bar which is across from the Boston Common.  The line up was really long to go in and we weren’t all that eager to wait for a canned experience of Cheers.  So we skipped out on it.

There are also two halls that flank Quincy Market – the North Hall and South Hall.  We found ourselves gravitating towards the Christmas Store in the South Hall.  A couple of my coworkers collect Christmas ornaments wherever they travel.  Some people collect Christmas ornaments and I collect transit smart cards.  To each their own.

With the Quincy Market done in our books, we started to make our way to the North End in search of dinner.  And of course, we had to have Italian if we were in the North End.

Walking Boston – Newbury Street

Newbury Street is Boston’s High Street.  All the major clothiers and boutiques can be found along this stretch of road.  To be honest, though, with our limited time, my coworkers and I weren’t all that interested in shopping at this time.  Newbury Street was simply on our way to the Public Garden and the Boston Common.

However, it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  This was the warmest of all the days that we had spent in Boston. During the conference, the wind was crisp and would send a chill down my back.  It didn’t help that I was sick at the beginning of the conference.  Bostonians were out and about along Newbury Street.  Lots of shoppers and walkers just taking in the spring warmth.

Newbury Street shoppers

The sun was shining beautifully down on the street.  It was between 5-6pm, so the sun had the beginning of that beautiful sunset quality to it.  My photos don’t do any justice to the atmosphere of the afternoon.  I need to work on my sunset (backlight) photo skills.

 The most interesting shop that we came across was a high end clothing store, called Allsaints Spitalfields.  There were all these old sewing machines in the window.  There were 5 rows high of sewing machines and it took up the whole width of the window. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea.

Newbury Street also had its share of great, old buildings. What’s great is not so much the age, but that Boston has been able to preserve so many of these old buildings.  Plus, it’s not only individual buildings.  It’s entire blocks and neighbourhoods that look like they’ve plucked out of a bygone era.  These are pieces of living heritage.  Each and every one of them.  Each one is still active and is alive with history.  I guess this is fascinating for me coming from Vancouver, where developers have a tendency to knock down heritage buildings rather than restoring them.

Portland’s Brewery Blocks

We left the central part of Portland’s Downtown. It was still too early to search for dinner and we just had our “unhappy hour” meal. Originally, I thought we’d walk around Powell’s City of Books for a while. As we circled around the block for parking, we came across the Brewery Blocks.

The Brewery Blocks are on the southern edge of the the ever-gentrified Pearl District. It’s a five-block section of the Pearl District which used to be the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery. The stores are mostly higher-end retail such as Whole Foods Market and Anthropologie. Even though, we weren’t likely to buy anything in the stores, we still decided to explore some of these funky shops.

We did venture into Anthropologie. It always feels like an upscale Urban Outfitters when I walk into Anthropologie. We didn’t really find much in there. Two stores really got our interest, though.

West Elm is a stylish, high-quality furnishing store. There was a lot of furniture, which wasn’t exorbitantly priced, but it would still make your wallet a lot lighter. It’s a part of the Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn family of stores, so you’d expect a certain price tag to be attached to it. One of the displays near the entrance was how to create your own indoor garden of succulents (cactii and friends) which made for interesting perusal. My wife didn’t want to buy any since she had managed to kill an aloe vera plant in our care. Then there alphabet art scattered throughout the store. It must be the trend to decorate one’s place with one’s own initials these days. If you are looking to find your initials in as many different font styles possible, then West Elm may just be your answer.

Another store we really enjoyed (and actually bought stuff) was Storables. The Storables store is not actually part of the Brewery Blocks, but it is right across the street from one of the Blocks where you can find a Chase Bank branch. It doesn’t look like much of a store from the outside; however, we loved how it was a home organization store with everything. Most places you go into, there’s a small section of shelving and a small section of bathroom organizers and so on. It was a simple, no nonsense warehouse of home organization goodness. We bought a nice Umbra behind-the-door clothing hangar and a kitchen sink pad amongst our purchases. Wifey kept asking why we don’t have this kind of store in Vancouver as we made our way through the aisles. Good question. Hey Storables! Open a store in Vancouver, BC.

We had only put about an hour in the meter thinking it would be enough, but it wasn’t. So we went back to the car. The rain really started to pick up again and it wasn’t so fun to walk around in this weather. So we didn’t linger any more in the Brewery Blocks. However, the Brewery Blocks and the rest of the Pearl District would be a great place to explore if the weather was better.

I have one lingering question, though. Is there no longer an operating brewery in the Brewery Blocks? That’s quite a shame if that’s true. At least Portland has no shortage of microbreweries in town.

P.S. As I’m typing this, I realize I did visit the Brewery Blocks 3 years ago when I first visited Portland. We had dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. It was a great place for steak. Yum yum. We had stumbled across it when we were stranded by a streetcar going out of service.

PDX – Suburban Shopping

This post is not the most urban shopping you can do in Portland, but it is a common shopping experience for most Americans and for many Canadians who decide to drive south of the 49.

Oh the allure of no sales tax.  Alberta has it.  How those of in BC envy our neighbours on the other side of the Rockies.  Well, Oregon enjoys the lack of sales tax too.  What you see is what you get (wysiwyg).  So what is the favourite Canadian pastime when visting the US?  Cross-border shopping.

Most people go to outlets when they cross the border.  Seattle Premium Outlets in the big off of Exit 202.  It’s so big that most Vancouverites know about Exit 202 off the top of their head when going south down I-5.

In Oregon, Woodburn Company Stores in Woodburn, OR is the big daddy of outlets in the state.  Woodburn is a 45 minute drive south of Portland.  On our trip this time, we crossed the Columbia River into Portland just before 2pm.  We checked into our hotel, dropped off our stuff and headed back down I-5 to Woodburn.

Google satellite map of Woodburn Company Stores

We were down there on a weekday, so there were no crowds or line ups, but there weren’t any big sales to speak of.  The last time we visited this outlet, the cars were lined up along the off-ramp onto the highway.  We almost shot passed the end of the line of cars that time because all the cars were lined up along the shoulder.  None of that this time.  There were some deals, but I find the outlets have less and less stuff that I actually want to buy.  If you’re looking for something specific, you might find it.  We got a little something from Le Creuset, but not one of their famous iron cast pots.

After about an hour and half at Woodburn, we decided to head back north towards Portland, but we made a couple of stops in Tigard, a suburb just south of Portland along I-5.  We stopped off at another mall called Bridgeport Village.  This was one high-scale mall.  It made me think of Park Royal Village in West Vancouver, but with stores of a higher scale.  So this is where all the money in suburban Portland is.  We didn’t stay very long here because we weren’t going to buy anything here.

So our next mall stop was Washington Square, also in Tigard, but along Highway 217 (the Beaverton-Tigard Highway).  This is a very large mall with a very large parking lot surrounding it.  By the time we reached this mall, it was almost 7pm and we were getting hungry.  Not wanting to hunt around for food, we decided to grab dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.  Bearing in mind that American portions are much larger than Canadian portions, we order two appetizers, one main dish, and one decadent cheesecake.

Ahi Tartare

Spanish Fries (I can't remember the name of this)

Shrimp Scampi and Diane Steak Factory Combination

Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake

After stuffing down dinner, we proceeded to walk around Washington Square.  It always strikes me how much more cavernous American malls are than Canadian malls.  Our shopping centres tend not to have the high, high ceilings and wide, wide promenades like our American cousins.  The only mall in Metro Vancouver that comes close to Washington Square would be parts of Coquitlam Centre where the ceiling is about 4 storeys high.

There were the more typical stores in Washington Square such as Sephora, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, American Eagle Outfitters, and even a Sanrio.  So we did some window shopping until the mall closed at 9pm.  That’s when we drove back to the hotel in Portland.  That was a small adventure in taking one wrong turn after another.