So you’ve come to Japan and are expecting it to be a place where Japanese cuisine reigns supreme; where perhaps even school kids eat sushi in their school lunches and every meal includes miso soup and green tea. True, in certain parts of Nippon, this can be the case. But the opposite is definitely true for the Tokyo area; the Metropolis is home to one of the largest culinary experiences in the world. One can find themselves eating bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, Spanish tapas for lunch with coworkers, and enjoying a traditional East African dinner of braised beef, stewed spinach, and black beans.
Sometimes though, you’d rather exercise your own skills in the kitchen, like you did before you decided to move here. If you’re like me, you don’t mind bustin’ out the pots and pans and frying up your own burgers, and you can make a pot roast that your mom would be proud of. You’ve gotten up the nerve and made some space in your smallish kitchen area, tied on your apron, and have your favorite spatula in hand. But wait! Where are your ingredients?
The hardest obstacle to surmount when cooking in Japan, is the trip to the supermarket. Endless rows of things you can’t even read, much less guess as to what it could possibly be. What’s an armchair culinary expert to do? You’re lucky to be living in one of the biggest metropolitan areas on the planet – if you can’t find it in metropolitan Tokyo, it may not exist!
With this many foreign nationals in one area, of course there’s going to be some enterprising folks out there who felt the need to open up a market that looks like the ones we’re accustom to shopping in. Here’s a short list:
National Azabu: Probably the most well-known import supermarket in Tokyo, and one of the oldest too; it opened for business at its Hiroo location in the early 1960s. It just re-opened its doors after a yearlong complete rebuild of its complex just around the corner from Hiroo Station on the Hibiya Line.
National Den’en: The sister store to the Azabu location. You’ll find the same selection here, but it’s slightly off the beaten path (located between Jiyugaoka and Den’en-Chofu on the Tokyu Toyoko line) and that means less crowds. Access is easy; just a short 5-minute walk north along the Tokyu tracks from Den’en-Chofu station to Kanpachi-dori.
Costco: Chances are you already knew this American member’s warehouse chain has a big local presence before you arrived in Japan – especially if you’re a member already. Note that your overseas membership card is also good in Japan, and you can pick up a separate JPY 4,200 membership here. But it’s truly worth it. You’ll find much of the same selection as back home, the remainder being Japanese goods in bulk. Don’t worry if you don’t have a car either; you can have your purchases shipped to your home for an additional fee.
Seijo Ishii: This market is actually a chain that can be found around major train stations and commercial districts, even in the ‘burbs. They have a wide selection of breads, spices, drinks, liquors, and condiments from around the world.
Web: (Japanese only) http://www.seijoishii.co.jp/stor_index.html
Lastly, there’s Kaldi Coffee Farm. Despite the name, coffee isn’t the only item this chain of small food stores sells (although they have a wide selection from around the world, as one might guess). They’re also known for having a deep selection of world and ethnic foods as well. Locations are rather plentiful; they’re usually located in many major malls and shopping centers throughout the Kanto area.
Next time, we’ll tell you how to find certain things in the regular Japanese supermarket near you. A lot of times it’s just as simple as knowing the Japanese name for what you’re looking for.
Written by Jason Gatewood