Insight: Eating Your Way Through Tokyo’s Antenna Shops

antenna shops

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 budō, 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, gōya, 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.

Yukari SakamotoAbout 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 shōchÅ« advisor. ShōchÅ« 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



  • ces @ thrifty vagabond

    I’m curious about that sea vegetable thus I googled it. Aaaww it looks really cute! I wonder what it tastes like.

    • Yukari Sakamoto

      The umi budo are adorable, aren’t they? They taste like salty grapes that burst in your mouth. Usually umi budo is served with a tart vinegar dressing, a great contrast of salt and vinegar.

  • cris

    Between the awamori and umi budō, you’ve got quite a flavorful meal. I’ve heard that awamori has a sweet taste to it. I guess you only live once so why not try?!

  • Yukari Sakamoto

    Awamori is usually on the dry side. A bit of “amami” or sweetness from the rice, but very subtle. Regardless, awamori always pairs well with the local cuisine of Okinawa.

  • Mellisa Turner

    I don’t know why, but I feel awamori has a starchy taste to it, and the sweetness comes from the starch levels it has. I wish to try a fusion meal and pair awamori with some spicy sauces. Do you think it would be a good idea to pair awamori with spicy delicacies?