Why can’t you find as decent western tea pot in Japan (or suburban Yokohama to be more specific)? Could this be a rant coming on? Yes it is.
So the story’s this. My old tea pot broke it’s spout in the dishwasher, so the missus and I set out to buy a new one. Off we marched to new town shopping mall paradise “Center Kita” with our hopes high.
Center Kita – the very name (“Center North”) conjures up images of modern Japanese blandness. Twenty years ago it was nothing but rice paddies, now it’s the home to not one, but three air-conditioned mega indoor malls, and all of them are filled with the same old chain-shops you’ll find everywhere else around the city – Starbucks, Gap, Sanrio, Orange House, etc etc. Together with the next station down the line (the equally imaginatively named Center Minami (you guessed it – “Center South”), where there’s yet another big duplicate shopping mall, the area is a stark example of the Japanese fixation on shopping. For there is utterly nothing else to do there, outside the malls the land is a windswept concrete nightmare of train lines, dual carriageways and stark apartment blocks. I dread to think what would happen to the area if people stopped shopping, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Anyway, back to story. I’m looking for a large, 4 to 6 cup traditional teapot, but can we find one? No. In all these vast palaces of retail overindulgence there’s not one shop that sells a good sized, well designed teapot. What do I mean exactly by “well designed”? This:
Yes we found teapots – we found square ones and we found triangular ones. We found glass ones and aluminium ones. Pots without steam holes, pots with big fat bases that will render the contents cold within minutes. Maybe fine for sticking flowers in, but useless for making tea. I found one teapot which had the shop/company logo emblazoned all over it, but I will not have my kitchen turned into free advertising space for some chain conglomerate company. Most frustratingly we actually found a lot of good miniature teapots – good for two cups, but nothing bigger. And that’s where the crunch of realization finally hit me.
Shops don’t sell larger teapots than two cups because, according to the rules of fashion, black tea is something for trendy housewives to occasionally sip with a girlfriend, consumption is not the cultural cornerstone multi-cup guzzling of your average Brit.
For all Japan’s obsession with accumulating things foreign, western lifestyles are a different thing. Tea-drinking culture in Japan is focused on green tea, not black. These department-store malls are selling not only products, but also lifestyles, but these lifestyles are still only transient fashions, largely targeted at young women. It’s easy for a Westerner to be misled into thinking that because all the shops are corporate chains or outlets filled with trendy international goods, that consumers themselves are becoming more “international”. Even after twenty years in this country I still fall for it. But the truth is that for the average consumer (and these malls are all focused entirely on Mr and Mrs Average), it’s all just shallow fashion. For the Shelley’s, as an authentic quirky international family, if we want to find items to match our lifestyle we need to go shopping in quirky international towns, but they have become a great rarity in Japan now, squeezed out or transformed into these souless money-spinning malls.
So why can’t I find a decent western tea pot in Japan? Because, despite the appearances of the shopping malls, this is still very much the East!