The first thing I noticed coming into Beppu’s YouMe mall was a cardboard catgirl advertising makeup. It was probably eyeliner; her wingtipped eyeliner played into the cat theme, along with her ears and leopard print dress.
I never get bored in a mall in Japan. Even the most mundane items are made interesting because of cute or strange packaging (e.g. cat litter showing a cat pinching its nose, Sailor Moon feminine pads). I love Japanese fashion, so every shop was filled with a motherlode of Awesome. Because I can’t buy every shirt with a cat on it, I settled for taking pictures of stuff that caught my eye instead.
The toy stores were nostalgic; I didn’t expect to recognize so many familiar characters. They had everything from those little bunny dolls to the plastic Go Fish game. Browsing the aisles made me realize how international the toy market is.
No Japanese mall is complete without an arcade center. I don’t like arcade games myself, because I’m convinced they are all rigged against me (I especially fail at crane machines). My APU classmates really enjoyed them, particularly Namco’s Taiko game. I tried it once. Although I was clearly an amateur from my poor score, hitting the drums in tune with cute characters’ instructions on a screen was fun. The game was like Guitar Hero with drums.
A prime feature of the arcade center is purikkura, picture booths. Schoolgirls love them, as I often saw uniformed groups hanging around the booths. Entering purikkura was a bit awkward for me, but my APU group wanted to take pictures every time we went by a machine. A cheery female voice tells you which poses to make, and afterwards you can draw or put stickers on the digital images. The photos then print out of the side of the machine. Each machine has a different theme, and all of them have auto-enhancing features that make your skin look smooth. I wish school photos were automatically surface-blurred for the yearbook.
I thought it was strange that outside one purikkura center there was a sign forbidding two boys from entering without a girl (escort?). There were male/female cutout shapes like those you see on bathroom doors. Girls? Ok! A girl and a guy? Ok! Guys and a girl? Fine! Just boys? Not allowed! At first I was put off by thinking it might be gay discrimination. I asked one of my teachers, and she supposed it was to deter rough boys who might mess around and break the machine. Perhaps, she said, the center had had trouble with groups of boys damaging their property. Apparently they assumed that as long as there was a girl in a group, guys would be calmer and less likely to abuse the machines.
As I mentioned a couple posts back, I love Japan’s creative use of English in their marketing. You-Me has a friendly connotation of “a mall for You and Me”. It also looks similiar to youmei, ‘famous’. A famous mall for you and me!