The Great Osu Kannon Shopping... Swindle?
NB.. For those of you who have stumbled on this page looking for directions and aren't interested in a review of the shopping district of Osu Kannon (to wit: is it really the best place to go for cameras et al.) - scroll down to a little above where the photos begin.
Okay, I'm not actually accusing any person or persons of deliberately spreading propaganda but false impressions have definitely been made. If at any time during your stay in Nagoya, however short or long that may be, you happen to ask anyone where the best place to buy [insert anything at all except fresh food and furniture] you will no doubt be given the same answer: Osu Kannon. In fact, one of Superman's colleagues during his orientation day asked where he could buy a camera and was either sent or taken to Osu to do that that very day. When I was planning the purchase of my new camera I was given the same answer "Osu Kannon" however, in every case, that is where the specific advice ends.
Follow up question: Oh? What shops should I go to?
Answer: Any of them, there's heaps.
FUQ the second: Is it cheaper?
Answer: Yeah. (Now, no Japanese person would actually say "yeah" but I'm trying to get across the non committal nature of any further statements about Osu.)
FUQ the third: How do I get there?
Answer: Osu Kannon station - you'll see it.
This vagueness isn't limited to humans in the real world either, NOONE and I am including the ENTIRE INTERNET AND IT'S COMMUNITY could give me a specific place to go (as in which shop to go to for a camera or even for electronic goods) or even how to get to this plethora of shops. The best I could do was that it was near the temple but the general idea was that the shopping area was easy to find. The truth is if you aren't with a local and you aren't that interested in temples, or are hell bent on finding this easy-to-find-thing and so don't have time for temples - you won't find it easily at all. So, before I continue with my review here is the thing I couldn't find anywhere on the net:
PRECISE, ILLUSTRATED DIRECTIONS TO OSU KANNON SHOPPING DISTRICT FROM NAGOYA STATION
1. Take the Higashiyama Line (the yellow one on the maps) going towards Fujigaoka (not Takabata) and get off at the next stop which is Fushimi - if you hit Sakae you've gone too far.
2. At Fushimi follow the signs from the platform to transfer to the Tsuramai line (the light blue one on the maps) and get on a train on the side that says "to Toyotashi" (not Kami Otai) I say "on the side that says" because the trains will have various destinations on them including Toyotashi because it is a line which goes beyond the subway system(Toyotashi is the Toyota station). You can get on any of the trains on the Toyotashi side except one that is express or limited express or the like.
3. Take the Tsurumai line train one stop to Osu Kannon.
4. At Osu Kannon, exit by exit 2 (if you haven't worked out the extreme importance of station exits in Nagoya for both locating places and avoiding the extreme weather well, now you know.)
5. Upon reaching street level and not being able to see anything that looks particularly like what you were expecting, walk forward for about 10 metres, if that, (you'll be on the left side of the road from your point of view) till you come to the first corner - it has a konbini (convenience store) on it and, when looking slightly to your left, gives you this view:
6. If it is hot I heartily recommend you go into the konbini which is ooc to the left of this shot and get yourself a large bottle of drink to take with you on the journey that awaits you.
8. After passing through the gate, take a moment to enjoy the view and be reminded that you really, really are in Japan and it really, really has places just like in the pictures! Also note the lady in the bottom left of the picture has a parasol - if you are coming to Nagoya in the summer buy one when you get here and use it - no matter how silly you feel. My scalp was sunburned while taking these shots and I was in the sun for all of 5 minutes!
9. After you have or have not been inside the temple (there's a free handout with history on it in English inside and the woodwork inside is beautiful but I'm not one for taking photos inside sacred places, sorry) follow the pale concrete path past the temple and you will see this at the end:
10. Welcome to Osu covered shopping district! See? You're not silly if you couldn't easily find it from the station! Under the soaring roof you will see lots of shops, some tiny and shallow some double-fronted and deep and lots and lots of people! Not that all of Osu is undercover, many cross streets are not and so there is plenty of light and fresh air (I don't think it's actually air conditioned at all.)
It really is very nice IF it's not too hot and IF you're not "on a mission" to find something specific and get home and out of the heat again. In one cross street we found the Fuji Sengen Shrine which dates back to 1495...
...but is made minute next to the shrine to commerce!
While I said you can't get everything you can get a large variety of things though sometimes you have to look hard - is this a gun shop in low-violence Japan?
Actually no - it's a bike and scooter shop - of course.
And if your aquarium needs stocking...
... not much of a range but at least you can officially include fish in the list of the "Everything" Osu Kannon has and it was certainly unexpected!
Below is the biggest electronics store we found though there are a few small ones less easy to see as you push your way through the throng (which doesn't look that much of a throng at this point in time.
Cleverer shrines than the poor little Fuji Sengen know how to keep themselves relevant... get themselves swept up in the crowds!
Yes, that is a shrine! On the right of the above shot there are tables which were set up with things for kids to do though whether this had anything to do with the shrine I don't know. Still, despite the better traffic flow, not many people were paying any attention to the shrine itself and just whizzed by - though maybe that's because its guardians had their bibs on for lunch and looked hungry!
THE REVIEW - IS OSU KANNON THE BEST PLACE TO BUY ELECTRONICS OR, INDEED, ANYTHING?
After having spent two days schlepping round Nagoya looking for the best prices on the specific camera I wanted as well as looking at pricing on denshi jisho (electronic dictionaries) AND the Wii, I am confident in saying that the thing about Osu Kannon is:
It is NOT cheaper and it does NOT have everything. It's a myth.
In fact, the range at all the electronics shops (once we found them) is remarkably limited in comparison to the large stores and the prices are no better than anywhere else in the city. I'm sure that if Japanese prices are better than in your home country and Osu is the first place you go to shop you would remember it fondly as a place for a bargain but it is an illusion.
Specifically on the things we were comparing:
We found the Wii in all but one shop to be 25,000 yen just as it was at Bic Camera and Eiden and 113 yen more expensive than our Tsuyata down the road in the one shop where it was different it was 24,700 - 87 yen cheaper than Tsuyata.
I wasn't able to find any DSLRs that weren't Canon or Nikon and they were the same price as Bic Camera (though a Nikon D80 was 10,000 more expensive than Top Camera in Sakae) - digital cameras were mostly just Canon but I have no idea about them since I wasn't in the market - I have a feeling anything truly commercial might be cheaper because they might buy it in bulk since they don't feel the need to supply different colours or styles of everything as other stores do. Though, of course, you can't get much more commercial than the Wii at the moment!
Denshi Jisho were much more expensive on their tickets (by up to 7,000yen compared with Bic Camera which is a lot for something which costs around 40,000yen) but the "discount" when you enquired (which many shops do and is the closest you'll get to haggling in Japan) brought them down to Bic Camera prices - and they didn't have the range that Bic Camera has (I couldn't have got the model I wanted in pink for example :) )
So, why is everyone sent there? Superman asked at work after our Osu experience and was, frustratingly, given the answer that it's one of those "you have to know where to go" places. To that my responses are a) fair enough but that means that what is being advertised to tourists is not accessible to non-locals and so it still should not have the profile it does among tourists and b) AARGH!! If you (whoever it was, I don't actually know so it's not personal but I know Superman was asking for days and I asked at a department dinner) knew that and you know which are those stores to go to why did you not tell one of us when we asked outright????? To which, of course, the answer is: the Japanese don't give straight answers ... sigh.
I have my own, kinder theory though and it means ignoring the issues of range and price which are what are likely at the top of a westerner's mind when they ask "Where's the best place to buy [insert product]?"
I think, and I may be wrong of course, that they think that it's the most entertaining place for a non-local to go. With very best intentions they are sending us to somewhere where we certainly won't get ripped off but which will be an experience we would not have where we live (and lets face it if you have that sort of money you live where you can "experience" a mall any time.) I think they want to show off the city and give us a good time here and Osu Kannon is definitely, infinitely more interesting than a mall - you just have to be in the right state of mind.
If you are looking to buy a very particular thing and you want to be able to get in, find out the price and get out again if it's not lower than the other places you've tried - this is not the place - it will drive you INSANE. If, however, you are the kind of person that considers "Shopping" a noun (which, at least grammatically, all Japanese do) and you enjoy spending hours wandering about among throngs of people in what is definitely a tourist-worthy spot rather than an air-conditioned, light-conditioned, character-less mall then it is probably an excellent place for you. It certainly looks like a giant market with cleaner, more professional stores rather than stalls - and it is - but that also means that the lack of overheads which allows market vendors to sell products more cheaply is missing and therefore so are the cheap prices. In fact, I'd bet the store owners are paying at least as much as anywhere else in the city, if not much more, for their position on this popular strip! You will be able to make all sorts of purchases from a $5 parasol to a $500 wallet or a $4000 entertainment system - but you will get the quality you pay for no more, no less.
For me, though, the shopping experience in Osu Kannon misses what I find to be the key to the Japanese shopping experience. The truly Japanese experience is found in the larger stores where the range is bigger than anything you find in Australia or my limited experience of the States. Sure, in the States you can buy huge amounts of things but they don't stock 37 different shades of the same felt tip pen, or give you the choice between plastic ties to tidy up your electrical cords or soft, velvety ones or Velcro ones with tiny soft animals on the end or computer mice which flip open transformer-style and become a Skype phone! When it comes to electrical goods at Osu Kannon, IF you find the model you want you're unlikely to get a choice of colour and they will only stock what ever everyone else is buying (except for those weird wild-west-style places selling oddly cumbersome and heavy things made out of thick, poor quality leather which I just can't imagine would have much of a market) - and the prices don't make up for the lack of that experience. If you are the kind of shopper that wants a bargain, get your camera/denshi jisho/whatever elsewhere and go to Osu when the heat is low and the day cloudy and you are in a lazy, wandering mood.
Note: My days of looking for the best price on the Pentax K20D and the Tamron 18-250mm with Macro lens took me to Top Camera in Sakae - they had the Pentax body for 20,000yen cheaper than anywhere else and the lens was also a little cheaper than Bic Camera (which was the only other place I could find that particularly new, 3rd party lens) Their prices on all the other camera bodies were also substantially cheaper except for the Olympus E520 which was cheapest at Asahido Camera. For kit lens bundles they were pretty good though some bundles were cheaper at other places and Bic Camera had the biggest range of lenses. Top Camera Sakae is super easy to find - take exit 6 at Sakae station (Higashiyama or Meijo lines) and literally pivot to your right as you reach street level - minimal time in Nagoya's extreme weather.