July 10, 2012

Super Tamade: An interesting supermarket in Osaka

Back home in New Zealand, I had a part time job as a supermarket checkout chick. It was rather dull, at times. Our uniforms were grey. The walls were painted grey. The shelves were neatly arranged, with all the products stacked in straight rows. It was more like a clinic than a supermarket, with the persistent beep of the checkout scanner sounding like a heart monitor - and I was ready to die of boredom.

In Osaka, there is a discount supermarket chain called Super Tamade. As far as supermarkets go, it goes against everything I have ever known.
The gaudy bright exterior of Super Tamade
Often described as resembling a pachinko parlour, Super Tamade stores stand out boldly against a background of otherwise downtrodden, gloomy neighborhoods. A fixture in Osaka's seedier areas, Tamade's low prices attract the low rungs of society. You learn a lot about people from what they purchase at supermarkets. I used to love analyzing my customers' trolleys. At Super Tamade, I couldn't help but notice the impressive range of cheap alcohol, and the packets of instant noodles being sold for 1 yen (about 1 cent). There was also a wide variety of marked-down bento lunchboxes and pre-packaged meals, probably catering to the working class families who don't have time to make meals, or the lonely labouring bachelors who don't know how.
Alcohol sign, surrounded by neon lights.
Surprisingly, there was a good amount of fresh fruit. I thought these watermelon colours went well with Super Tamade.
The interior of a Super Tamade store is somewhat chaotic. No perfectly stacked shelves or luxuriously wide aisles here. The shelves are full to bursting, products are all mixed up, and the width of the 'aisles' barely allow room for one person. Regular shoppers somehow manage to skilfully weave their way through the store, brandishing their bright yellow shopping baskets like armour.

Many Super Tamade branches are open 24 hours, and this apparently calls for every store to be fitted with a spectacular neon light show. We went during the daytime, so this wasn't so obvious - but according to the Japanese Super Tamade Wikipedia Page, the 'flashy exterior' of Super Tamade at night is a major source of light pollution. Even within the store during the daytime, though, you could see traces of Super Tamade's love for light. All of the supermarket categories were written in neon. Milk and meat have never looked so... exciting.
Our friend looking slightly bewildered against a glowing background of 'fruit'.
If I were a travel writer for the New York Times, I would probably try to convince you that visiting foreign supermarkets should be a compulsory part of all off-the-beaten-track travel adventures, for what they reveal about local people and their culture. When it comes to Super Tamade, this might be true - the rows of bicycles parked outside, the old, toothless men sitting and having a smoke on the rusty benches out front, and the worn-out checkout chicks in cotton candy pink aprons all show a slice of everyday Osakan life.

Or you just should go because it's really bright and sparkly.
Super Tamade brightens up your day (and fails to adhere to copyright laws)
Former checkout chick in her unnatural territory.

4 comments:

  1. Super Tamade!!! Only in Osaka.... and so fitting! I used to photograph them all the time, and I applaud your brilliant blog post!! Tamade has such a bad rep in Japan. I heard stories about a cockroach in a bento box, but eh, maybe it's just an urban legend.... who knows.

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  2. Do the people wear sunglasses inside when working, or just go blind?

    And while I'm here, have you tried the new "brand name"? It's the best "brand name" you'll get! I'm not being paid to say this.

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  3. i wonder if your store over there also comes with its on set of customers that are insane and visit the store every night? That would be cool :)

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