“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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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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PDX – Hawthorne Boulevard

We got back into our car and drove over a few blocks to Hawthorne Street.  I thought Belmont Street was a little small, quiet and empty, but Hawthorne was filled with stores for a few blocks and was starting to buzz with activity in the late morning.  I really like the feel of Hawthorne.  It feels like a bigger street than Belmont with more shops and all, but it definitely had a hipster feel to it with many a unique shop dotted along each side.  There was a giant Fred Meyer down by Hawthorne and 39th Avenue, but that definitely hold any interest for me.  We drove into the middle of Hawthorne Street near the Umpqua Bank (I just love saying that name) and Ben N’ Jerry’s, parked the car and walked around.

One of the first things I encountered on the side street was a bicycle shelter fancily labelled as a Bicycle Parking Oasis.  The “oasis” consisted of a metal frame with glass roof to protect precious bicycle saddles from the elements.  A neighbourhood map was splashed on one side to orient cyclists to where they were and to where they could go.  I must say that Portland has some neat bicycle parking ideas.  We just need a pond of water for the oasis.

Bicycle Parking Oasis

The biggest and most noticeable landmark on Hawthorne is the Bagdad Theater.  The tall sign topped with an outline of an onion dome dominates the front of the building and the streetscape.  It’s apparently a part of the McMenamins group of pubs, hotels, breweries and more.  We didn’t step in, but apparently the interior is quite a treat.  I’d check out the website for the photo gallery.  I may have to add this onto my next Portland to-do list.  Apart from being a theater, there is also a pub on-site. That’s something that we’ve struggled with in Vancouver with liquor laws prohibiting movie theatres from serving alcohol.  The Rio Theatre being the case-in-point in Vancouver.

Radiating out from the Bagdad Theater are an array of shops ranging from quirky to trendy.  I love the feel of the street because it’s filled with small, local, independent businesses.  Some are small individual buildings with a lot of charm.  Others are within larger brick buildings, but equally as enticing to visit.  It’s also a real mix of different styles all along the street.

There were two particularly off-beat shops. There was Naked City.  If that names doesn’t get your attention, then what will?  The window display also grabs your attention complete with mannequins talking via speech balloons.  It’s basically a clothing and accessories store.

Another attention grabbing store is the Red Light.  A poster in the window advertised a Naked Shopping Spree.  It’s a vintage clothing store.  It’s blog proclaims it sells wacky, wild and wonderful vintage clothing.

And no Portland street is complete without its selection of eateries and coffee shops.  There’s shortage here in this part of Stumptown.  All of them looked completely comfy and delectably delish.  My coworker had recommended a Mexican restaurant called Cha, Cha, Cha! (Sorry, no pic). It was too early in the day to be open, though.  However, walking around cafes and restaurants with a full stomach is not recommended.  I couldn’t try anything.  I must plan meal times better next time.

So we didn’t grab a bite along Hawthorne, but we did come across a neat stationary and gift store called Memento.  It had a fun collection of Portland goodies to buy.  There was square wooden tile with a circle, neighbourhood map of Portland.  I thought that was cool.  The price was $40.  The coolness quickly faded with the price tag. And because it was Valentine’s Day, there was plenty of red and pink nifties to purchase for loved ones.

So if you’re travelling through Portland and want to find a local neighbourhood street to explore, Hawthorne Boulevard would be a great choice.  Drive over the Hawthorne Bridge from downtown and keep plodding along Hawthorne Boulevard until you see the giant Bagdad Theater sign and you’ll know you’re in the right spot. As with all travel, you never know what you might come across.

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.

Portland – Shopping

As a Canadian travelling into the US, one of the things that figures big on the itinerary is shopping.  Even with the exchange as bad as it is now (CAD$1.00 = ~US$0.80), we are still enticed by the great deals and discounts, as well as the larger selection.

I guess this is the consumerist part of me that I can’t really get rid of because it’s hard to pass up a good deal.  It’s turned out to be such a deal in the States that I leave a lot of my clothing shopping for the US outlets now.  Sad, but true.  My only problem, though, is trying to find the right sizes.  All the size S clothing is still too large for me at times, or too long.  XS would be nice, but hard to find, especially in Oregon it seems.

In Downtown Portland, there really wasn’t much shopping to speak of.  There was the Pioneer Place shopping center.  It has some high end stores like Louis Vuitton and Juicy Couture.  That definitely did not qualify as affordable for our budgets.  There were some more run of the mill stores in the basement floor along with the food court.  There was nothing spectacularly different than a typical Canadian shopping mall.  Shopping malls are pretty much the same the world over.

There is also Lloyd Center on the other side of the Williamette River in the Rose Quarter.  It was a free ride on the MAX to the Lloyd Center stop.  The mall was okay.  It housed a Macy’s, which didn’t hold any interest for me.  There were a whole string of your regular stores, as with all malls.  There was also a Made in Oregon store on the top floor, where I got a mug commemorating Oregon’s 150th Birthday.  (So is British Columbia or Oregon older?  B.C. just celebrated 150 years too.)

I was hoping for a Robson or Granville type shopping street, but there were no main streets with an easily walkable shopping strip in the area around my hotel.  Three blocks in any direction around Pioneer Courthouse Square did not produce any fruitful finds.  Just the odd store, like an Abercrombie & Fitch, here and there, but no whole string of stores to go through.  One of my friends who has relatives in Portland had actually recommended Hawthorne Street to me.  She said it was similar to Commercial Drive in Vancouver.  That would have been an interesting walk, but it wasn’t in our plans to explore the east side of Portland this time around.

Outlets are a big magnet for us, so we drove roughly 30 minutes south on I-5 to the Woodburn Company Stores.  It claims to be the West’s largest outlet mall.  If the line ups along the onramp and the shoulder of the highway are any indication, then it really is the largest.  There is only one highway exit available to access Woodburn Company Stores, so traffic was herendous on that Saturday.  Parking was okay.  The lot was huge.  Obviously, there’s no transit access to this place, but I guess that’s what makes it so cheap to run an outlet mall.  It has to be in the middle of nowhere to get the prices they have.  There may be a shuttle to and from the outlet, but I wasn’t aware of any.  The shopping was okay. I actually prefer the Seattle Premium Outlets in terms of finding things I want, but the stuff is almost the same.  They have a North Face outlet at Woodburn, which is different.  However, I didn’t really find anything I wanted at a reasonable price.  Some outlet store prices just aren’t that cheap. 

Leaving Woodburn Company Stores meant more traffic.  At about 5pm, there was a line up from the highway onramp all the way into the parking lot.  A serious design issue if you ask me.  I would imagine the municipality had gotten the required parking, but didn’t look carefully at the effect on local traffic.  I would hate to be a local just driving by and getting caught in all that traffic.

So shopping was fine in the Portland area.  Not earth-shattering by any means.  It helps that Oregon has no states sales tax.  However, as my friend across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA pointed out.  The prices aren’t all that different between Washington and Oregon.  He didn’t feel it was worth travelling across the Columbia just to save the tax.  But I must admit that psychologically, it’s nice not seeing tax on your bill.