I had heard, a few years ago, that way out in New Jersey, there is a legendary Japanese superstore called Mitsuwa Market. I finally went out there, checked it out, for the first time yesterday, largely on account of the fact that they were having a Kyushu-Okinawa Fair; this is a relatively standard thing to see at the large food markets at department stores in Japan, and elsewhere. They call it a “fair,” but really all this means is a few extra booths/stands offering, for a limited time, a variety of regional/local specialties. I’ve seen a Hokkaido Fair at a major shopping center in Naha, Okinawa, and constantly rotating regional fairs just outside Yokohama Station, for example, as well as these same types of events at Shirokiya in Honolulu, and in a Kyushu/Okinawa Month at the cafeteria at Dôshisha University in Kyoto.
Having been to all these events, I guess I should have known better than to expect any huge production. There were no performances, and very few non-food offerings, such as sanshin (musical instruments), music CDs, textiles/garments, or books about the region. But, that’s okay. I don’t mean to be too negative – it was actually really cool to discover such a place so relatively close
to home. Granted, it did take more than 2 1/2 hours to get there, but on a day when traffic wasn’t so terrible, I can imagine it going a lot quicker and more smoothly. Besides, there’s a free shuttle to and from Midtown Manhattan, too. And, once we got there, it really felt, in some ways at least, like being back in Japan, which is a wonderful feeling. I’m not sure what other shops there are in the same complex, the same parking lot, as Mitsuwa, but inside, it’s not just a nice big supermarket; there is a food court with at least five or six places, including ramen, donburi, soba, and a couple other options, plus a bakery, and a few other shops, such as a cellphone booth (I wonder if one can get a phone that works in Japan there, thus circumventing the in-country Japanese policies of only giving cellphones to those with alien resident cards, and not those with a shorter-term visa). The only thing that could have made it feel more like really being back in Japan would be if more of the staff were (or acted like) native Japanese. A little more of the Japanese style of immaculate customer service, and a little less of the American “hey, how’s it going” casual attitude. Which is not to say that the customer service was bad in any way – not at all – but just that in terms of cultural flavor, it was markedly different, shattering the illusion of being in a wholly Japanese space. Or maybe it’s inappropriately Orientalist of me to even talk on this point at all.
In any case, I introduced my best friend to andagi (Okinawan donuts) and a few other such things, enjoyed some special “Tatsunoya” type of Kyushu ramen the noodles in which were a new type, a new texture for me, and some other nice foods, including beni-imo (Okinawan purple sweet potato) soft serve ice cream. It certainly could have afforded to be a bit more extensive, with more different goods on offer, but, with Okinawan food & culture being one of the more difficult things to find here in New York (as compared to how ubiquitous Okinawan culture is in Hawaii), it was great to get to introduce a dear friend to a little of what I’ve been engaging with and enjoying in Hawaii.
The supermarket itself was pretty keen. I’d love to have something this large and extensive more conveniently located, closer to the City. I wonder if it’s out there in Jersey simply because that’s where it’s easier & cheaper to find the space, or because of the large Japanese community out there (for some reason) in Edgewater, NJ. Or, if the Japanese community is gathered out there because Mitsuwa is there…