All Hail the Japanese Grocer

All hail the almighty Japanese grocery store.  Yesterday I paid homage to Uwajimaya, the Seattle Asian grocer, and today my flattery extends to the East, to the original and quintessential Japanese grocer.

I distinctly remember my first return trip to the local American grocery store after returning home from Japan.  I remember walking around in a horrified daze.  I, with my slight OCD tendencies, was thoroughly abhorred by the produce – which I might add, was perfectly acceptable before my trip abroad.

Once you visit a Japanese grocery store, the hands of time will never turn back.  I tried in vain to explain this to my husband (who was on an elk hunting venture during my first trip to Japan) but it wasn’t until I returned to Japan with him that he truly understood why I fell in love with the highly organized, simple, yet amazingly elegant Japanese grocery store.

Beef - Japanese Grocery Store

My most memorable moment was when I discovered that I could literally in fact close my eyes and select the most beautiful, delicious produce imaginable.  Nothing is sub-par or imperfect in Japan.  They believe in putting forth only what is freshest and have the highest quality.  Everything is perfectly organized; all the labels face the same direction – heaven for an OCD fanatic, like me.  The meat aisle tends to hug the outer corners of the store, similar to how an American grocery store is organized.  They always have an incredibly fresh sushi section, which is complete with take-home sushi and sashimi platters.  The seafood is abundant, mostly fresh not frozen, and has a fragrant aroma of the sea, like little salty waves tickling your senses.  The beef is brilliant red in color, delicately marbled in texture, and it makes me crave a succulent Carpaccio.  The meat quality is beautiful and absolutely unsurpassed.

Japanese Bread

The bakery section is heavenly.  I found myself wanting to encapsulate the entire bakery, somehow permanently press it into a large mobile bubble, and bring it home with me.  You know … be the bubble girl who lives in a bubble bakery world.  I think I may have created my own definition of a worldly heaven.  No gold bubble needed for me, just give me plenty of sumptuous rice flour pastries please.  (On a side note, the key to Japan’s pastries is the light, airy texture of rice flour; wheat flour seems to be much denser.  I am of the strong opinion that Japan’s pastries actually raise the pastry bar to a level never before seen.)

So America, I’m giving you a challenge.  Can you create a grocery store that is equivalent to the standards upheld in Japan?  Can you uphold the standards of perfect produce, cleanliness, highly superior organization, and only stock the freshest seafood and meat?  Can you produce a bakery within the store that far exceeds any freestanding local bakery?

If you believe you have found the American equivalent to the Japanese grocery store, I implore you to take pictures and email me.  Who knows, I may even make a trip “out yonder” (as my southern heritage would beckon), to visit this unique American masterpiece that meets my challenging criteria.

And, for all you future travelers to the Islands of Japan, I implore you to visit a neighborhood grocery store.  It should be as highly decorated of a tourist activity, as sampling some of the greatest sushi the country has to offer.  I guarantee it will be a breath-taking, eye-opening, and mind-altering experience.

Japanese Juice


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