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We almost walked right by at first, without even realizing that it was a food store. The only thing we could see was the outdoor seating area of what looked like a cafe, and of outdoor cafes, we were at the moment quite sated. But noticing a smallish sign-board with the legend 'Natural Foods' decorating an entrance down one side of the large building, I steered Sadako towards the opening ... "Do you mind I poke around in here for just a second? It looks a bit interesting ..." Interesting it was; we stayed for more than just a second, and it turned out to be a place to which we would return a number of times during our trip.

I have no idea at all why they chose the name 'Capers' for this astonishing store. It seems a bit silly to name an entire store after a little-used spice (are capers spices?). The dictionary tells us that the word also means 'foolish behaviour', but I think that's somewhat archaic now. Maybe it is simply that it was a Mr. Caper who started this business. If so, then he gets my applause, because as we strolled around inside the large building staring at the displays of things for sale, one thought persisted in my mind - "How can I get these guys to open some branches in Tokyo?"

To wander among these shelves here in Capers, is to wander among a whole new world of eating - and this isn't even specifically an 'ethnic' store. The sign outside says 'Natural Foods', and the emphasis is obviously on organic and 'simple' foods for health-conscious people. Fresh vegetables and fruits - goods for baking - dairy products - mixes and prepared foods of all kinds - every possible sort of spice - a million kinds of packaged drink ... the long high rows of shelving are jammed end-to-end with interesting foods.

The entire front section of the store is taken up by the bakery and deli counters, where all sorts of prepared foods sit behind the glass waiting for hungry buyers: salads, breads, muffins, quiche, lasagna ... more luscious-looking dishes than I could list here in ten pages. As I stand there staring in awe at the selection, one of the clerks behind the counter asks if she can help me, and when I say that I'm just looking at the moment, she smiles - I'm sure she's seen that same look of disbelief on many faces.

I don't think that I could have been more awe-struck by a food store if I had come from a famine-stricken country to be suddenly faced with such incredible riches. Perhaps in a way of speaking, I had. There is a 'health food' shop not too far from my home back in Tokyo, but the contrast between their display of rather scrawny (and very expensive) vegetables and the mounds of fat, juicy and very healthy-looking ones here couldn't be stronger. That Tokyo shop reminds me of the Vancouver health food shops of 25 years or so ago, back in the early 'hippy' days. I suppose it's all a matter of evolution. This 'Capers' store didn't just spring up overnight, but developed over time from those early precursors.

Ten years ago, when I moved to Japan, I found the local supermarket to be quite a wonderful and enjoyable place; on every shelf of every aisle were new and interesting products for me to inspect and try. It was very appealing at first, but over the years I discovered that there are a couple of major drawbacks to Japanese supermarkets. The first is that when you have seen one, you have seen them all; there isn't the slightest difference between any of them from one end of the country to the other. The Japanese diet has now become extremely standardized; on any given night x% of families eat 'House' curry rice, x% spaghetti, another x% sashimi ... and so on, and the food on sale in every supermarket in the land of course reflects these statistics. Each store is an absolute clone of all the others. This standardization of eating habits also accounts for the second 'problem' with Japanese supermarkets - the almost complete lack of 'ethnic' or 'minority' food available. If I want to make a cake ... sorry, there's no shortening. To make cookies ... no applesauce. To make muffins ... no wheat germ. Now of course one can't really criticize this; it makes no sense for a store to stock items that none of the locals will buy. You don't find much sashimi in Lagos, udon in Mexico, or wakame in Alberta either, I'm sure. But it is a reflection of how insular Japan still is, and of what a low level of immigration she permits, that her supermarket shelves remain so bare of 'exotic' foods.

Perhaps one day, we who live in Tokyo will see this type of store take its place next to our standardized supermarkets. Let's see ... if it took about 25 years in Vancouver for the early health food shops to evolve into this amazing store, and if Tokyo follows the same time scale, then by about 2021 we might have a 'Capers' in my neighbourhood. I'll only be 70 years old - still lots of time to enjoy some of those giant muffins from the bakery counter ...