I’ve been going to malls for about 35 years. I’ve eaten in, shopped and generally hung out in malls in several countries, including the USA, The Philippines, Hong Kong and of course Japan. Malls in these countries each have their own unique features.
For example in the USA, it is usual to see a mall centrally located inside a city. Most of them are in the suburbs so having a car gives the best access. Where in the Philippines, most of the malls are right in the city and play a big part in the social lives of local residents. Hong Kong probably has the largest number of malls that I’ve seen in one city. There, people move from one to another seamlessly taking advantage of the best that each has to offer.
What can I say about malls in Japan? Well, they are a bit of mix of the culture I’ve seen in malls in other countries and I guess that mall culture itself is still formulating here, especially in a place like Okayama. This city is is in the process of transforming itself into a leading metropolis in western Japan and the last 10 years have seen major changes.
AEON Mall’s arrival in Okayama came as a shock to many local residents.In the past, if you wanted to shop at AEON it meant a long trip to Kurashiki that many were willing to take. If you wanted a bigger AEON, you had to go to Kobe. Now, none of that is necessary, as there is a massive one right here in Okayama City.
With approximately 350 stores AEON Okayama is the biggest of its kind in west Japan. When I say to took people by surprise, I mean there was no place like this. A place where people could shop, eat and simply gather. For 10 years, the overall social scene near the station was quite grim but suddenly changed in what seems like overnight.
People don’t exactly know how to approach it just yet. I’ve heard vibrant discussions on how people use the space but I get the sense that people are looking for a consensus on what is appropriate.
I see high school students doing their homework on the comfortable chairs and tables that overlook the lower floors of the mall. There are lush chairs everywhere so you are likely to see a company employee surfing the net on the their mobile at any time.
What I like best about Okayama AEON is that you can walk from Bic Camera (A shop that Michael Jackson loved) to Okayama Station and reach the mall all underground. This is a great convenience in the winter, besides the fact that you are spared the walk through street traffic.
Of course the mall has countless notable features that provide a great urban getaway for residents and visitors. The inner garden on the 6th floor is truly a special place, with trees and benches with a kind of Verona type feel as you can look up the surrounding restaurants and their terraces. The coolest thing about it is that in the winter it’s warmed by lamps which radiate heat downward.
What else? There is a movie theater and a great food court, apart from the other eateries that are spread throughout the mall. Clothing and accessories make up most of what is sold and I always find something that I want to buy.