by Teresa Cowan

There are two kinds of shoppers: those who shop till they drop, and those who avoid such experiences at all costs. I’m of the latter variety. The mere thought of shopping makes me plumb irritable. It’s not that I don’t like to spend money; just ask my husband! It’s the process which irks me. The nightmare begins once I enter one of those North American shopping malls. Inevitably, I can’t find the information board. Even when I do, I’m overcome by the sheer magni­tude of the complex itself, never mind the number and variety of stores to choose from. I literally need to take pen and paper and chart out a course of action.

But the nightmare doesn’t stop there. The ordeal is magnified by the fact that I have two excited children in tow. In this situation, there is without a doubt plenty of activity to fuel any child’s expectations.

Indeed, store managers have a keen sense of child psychology. Ask yourself: why are the most enticing trinkets placed directly at the cash register? Any parent with an empty pocketbook can tell you! However, the truly wise shop owner understands that mom is the real target consumer. Case in point: a children’s store which provides a basket of playthings for the sibling wins over the establishment which offers only the “fancy designer displays” for the child to manhandle. In the latter case, sales­person and mom are frazzled, the kids frus­trated.

Well, relief is at hand—right here in Tokyo. Most large department stores provide sample toys for the kids to play with and rest areas where they can view videos. Furthermore, many offer adequate diaper change areas. Nice, ne?

The most dynamic example of a department store which caters to the comfort and entertainment needs of the consumer is Takashimaya in Nihonbashi.

Nihonbashi Takashimaya Department Store com­pletely renovated its entire children’s floor based on the original bilingual story The Adventures of Shiny and Sparkle, written by Teri Suzanne. Teri also served as chief adviser in the remodeling phase. The concept she developed includes bilingual floor-theme songs, an event space, staff uniforms for events, a family membership program, toilets just for kids, a baby snack area, babysitting service and an infant changing and nursing area. She remains active at Takashimaya, providing original ideas.

The beauty of the fifth floor children’s shopping area is three-fold: convenience and comfort, entertain­ment and atmosphere.

First and foremost is the convenience and comfort provided. Those with infants can retreat to the “Baby Room,” an area equipped with state-of-the-art chang­ing tables, hot and cold water, vending machines for baby food and diapers, plus an area for nursing.

Now, if you want to shop carefree, you can leave your child (6 months to 5 years) with the babysitting service. Reservations are required and the fee is ¥1,800. In addition, you might visit the “Baby Snack Bar” where you can feed your child (high chairs are the norm) with the latest in baby foods.

Furthermore, the floor plan is arranged by age group and around specific themes. For instance, the “Hello Baby Salon” keeps expectant mothers and newborns in mind. While the ” Aurora Magic” area offers a wide variety of up-scale clothes for the junior and high school consumers. It’s interesting to note that the more private purchases are situated so that they do remain private. All areas are easy to distinguish and access.

The second feature is the availability of toys with which kids can have hands-on experience. For instance, in the “Tomorrow Train,” older children can enjoy all the lat­est computer games. My kids’ favorite space is the see-through bridge walkway where little ones can crawl across the bridge to y observe from above the workings of a rail­way system. Takashimaya hosts numerous events and crafts in the “Space Together” area.

Last but not least is the atmosphere. When you enter the fifth floor and glance upwards, you can only be mesmerized. The entire length of the ceiling is a blue mesh river complete with lights that flow back and forth—it’s the Milky Way! There is a rainbow which radiates neon lights—yet nothing is too over­powering. Throw in lots of stuffed animals in the “Yesterday Train” and a grand tree in the shoe area which changes with the seasons and …well, what more can you want? Drop in and register your child at the “Star Circus” counter—it boasts 31,000 members. How can you go wrong? Come and discover the magic!

You can locate Takashimaya at 2-4-1 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, near Nihonbashi Station (Ginza and Tozai Lines) Hours: 10 a.m. till 7 p.m.; closed Wednesdays.