By Yukari Sakamoto
One of the best ways to explore the regional foods of Japan is to come to Tokyo. The Kotsu Kaikan building, near Yurakucho station, is a short walk from Tokyo station and the popular Ginza shopping district. Inside the Kotsu Kaikan are several “antenna shops”. Disregard the silly name as antennas as not sold here.
Each antenna shop showcases regional food and sake from one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture, is a collection of tropical islands with unique cuisine. At the Okinawa antenna shop (Ginza 1-3-9), you’ll find the largest selection of awamori, the local distilled spirit made from Jasmine rice, outside of Okinawa. Pair it with umi budÅ, a unique sea vegetable that looks like green micro-grapes and burst in your mouth leaking the flavor of the ocean. Fresh produce, tropical fruits and the bitter melon that Okinawa is famous for, gÅya, is also a reason why shoppers flock to this shop. Many of these products are not sold in neighborhood supermarkets.
The northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido (Yurakucho 2-10-1), is represented a short walk from the Okinawa shop. And quickly it is easy to see the distinct contrast between the regional foods. This cold climate prefecture is ideal for cultivating grapes, which are used for making wine. Hokkaido also is known for its dairy products, which is represented in soft ice cream and cheese.
The best way to understand the different regional foods in one shop is to visit Mura Kara Machi Kara Kan (Yurakucho 2-10-1). This shop does not represent one particular prefecture, but is a collection of various regional products from around Japan. A visit to the refrigerator section will be the most revealing. Here you’ll see more than twenty different forms of miso made from soybeans, rice, and barley ranging in taste from sweet to earthy. The store has toothpicks available so that customers can sample the different varieties.
Who is shopping at the antenna shops? Enthusiasts looking for premium sake and shochu that is unavailable at their local liquor store, or customers who have traveled to a prefecture in the past and became hooked on a local pickle, confectionary or other food product.
Antenna shops often have a tourism corner with brochures, and a staff that can offer advice and answer questions about locations and products.
About the Writer
Born in Tokyo and raised on the shores of Lake Wobegon, Yukari Sakamoto trained as a chef and baker at the French Culinary Institute. Following that she trained as a sommelier at The American Sommelier Association and worked as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She also worked at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi as a sommelier in the saké department of the depachika. While at Takashimaya she passed the exam to be a shÅchÅ« advisor. ShÅchÅ« is a distilled spirit native to Japan. Yukari apprenticed at Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi. Yukari also offers market tours with Elizabeth Andoh’s Taste of Culture. Yukari’s writing can be found in Food & Wine, Saveur, The Japan Times, and several other publications. She is a regular contributor to Metropolis magazine in Tokyo.
Photo by james_bond_mi6_jp