Nov 22

By Kirsten Phillips (Niigata-ken, 2007-08) (from the Fall 2008 JETAA NY Quarterly Newsletter)

I had frequented many an urban Japanese supermarket in my college days, but a megastore like Mitsuwa always meant something special. Mostly because it required bus fare, a map, and a ranger with a sword to reach the distant shores of Edgewater, New Jersey. Crossing state lines just for konnyaku? A mad quest, indeed.

But if you want something bad enough, you’ll go the distance.

I can definitely say that it’s really not as complicated to reach Mitsuwa in New Jersey as some New Yorkers may think. There is a regular and convenient bus service that leaves from Port Authority directly to and from Mitsuwa. But, why bother hitting up Mitsuwa if you can get Japanese goods at Sunrise or Katagiri? Well, just for the sheer variety and size. Going to Mitsuwa is definitely a fun and less-cramped experience than going to the more local NY spots.

Besides, Mitsuwa offers a lot more than just quality yam starch jelly. It is the experience that makes me cough up the change and head on over. As well as an impressively-stocked supermarket, Mitsuwa also offers an authentic shokudo/kissaten cafe experience serving quickly made and reasonably priced Japanese dishes. Everything from tonkatsu to Japanese-style pasta is served in the often-crowded food court. There is also a delicious bakery for those who long for freshly baked an pan and miss eating toast as big and fluffy as a pillow. There’s even a small stall devoted to sweet festival treats such as tai-yaki and oban-yaki.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an authentic Japanese shopping experience without glass cases of omiyage, featuring seasonal delicacies from around Japan. I had forgotten how much I had missed seeing the shifting colors and textures of artfully-arranged Japanese sweets with the passing of each season.

Merely introducing a newcomer to authentic Japanese food can be done without a major trip if you live in New York. But walking into Mitsuwa is like giving a family or friend a slice of the life that you, the ex-JET, once cherished. (Except the food doesn’t sing at you on a recorded loop and no one is constantly yelling “irrashaimase!” every ten seconds. This is still Jersey, after all.)

“This place is huge!” My sister commented, “Isn’t Japan small? How can they have so much food?”

Japan is a country of wondrous variety and there is no better place to appreciate that than Mitsuwa. I was amazed at how much fresh and imported produce lined the shelves; products I had grown accustomed to buying at my own local depato. I squealed with delight at the rows of homemade rice balls, burdock root salad, and the lusciously sinful daigaku sweet potato. For me, it was like coming home again, clutching packets of tarako spaghetti sauce with a nostalgic sniffle. For my sister and her roommate, they described it as a fun albeit a tad pricey adventure.

There is one aspect of Mistuwa that isn’t nostalgic–the prices. You may raise an eyebrow at the cost of your favorite brand of bath powder or bottled tea compared with what you used to pay back in Japan. Again, if you want it bad enough, you’ll pay for it. Besides, it’s not a crime to let emotional attachment or one’s tastebuds sway reason every now and again.

“I don’t care how much it is!” I cried, seizing a bag of Burboun’s mini choco an-pans, my favorite late night JR vending machine snack. “This stuff is crack cocaine!”

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