Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ninja Quest: Japantown New York

Stop looking. It’s not there. There is a Chinatown in Manhattan, another in Queens, a Koreatown a few blocks away from the Empire State Building, and an unofficial Senegaltown just up the block from my Brooklyn apartment, but there is no Japantown in New York City.
I’m sure I just discouraged many potential Hawaii-to-New Yorkers like myself from setting foot on these city-islands. Denizens of the tropical islands need Japanese culture the same way New Yorkers need a 2nd Avenue subway line (see
previous post on pushers). Hawaii is closer geographically and culturally to Japan than to the mainland US. We get choke Japanese-Americans and you can’t swing a surfboard in Waikiki without hitting three Japanese tour groups. Sushi, sashimi, mocha, Bon Dance, Hanamatsuri, Girls Day, Boys Day—all widely-used vocabulary in Hawaii Nei.
Of course, I’m biased toward all things Nippon. In fact, I’m a little otaku. I love Hayao Miyazaki, Fullmetal Alchemist, and miso soup. I love sushi, hot sake, and
cats that slide into boxes. I’m a taiko player, a member of the Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission, and a secret initiate of the I Love Ninja clan. Oh, whoops—better finish this post before my ninja overlords come for my blood.
Where can a Hawaii transplant go in New York City to satisfy her cravings for Japan? When I first moved here, it was fine to get the occasional care package from home stuffed full of arare and a month’s supply of Kikkoman miso mix, but I was always afraid the freakishly large Brooklyn rats would get to the package before I did. So after much arduous searching and travel—actually, I was kind of lazy about it. I ran into these places and many more in my regular ramblings around the city, and these are the ones I’ve been able to find my way back to after discovering them.

Sunrise Market, a grocery store in SoHo on the corner of Broome Street and West Broadway. Distinguishable by the red flags in the doorway. Good deal: $1 bags of frozen edamame. You can get all the staples: shoyu, cooking sake, nori, arare, myriad Pocky treats, and Kirin and Saporo beer. It’s small, but thorough.

Katagiri & Company Japanese Grocery, 224 East 59th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Sunrise Market’s pricier Midtown cousin. Also has a Katagiri household goods store next door. Edamame is twice as expensive here—it’s near Central Park, what can you expect?—but they have a good selection of thin sliced beef and pork for shabu shabu. Household store next door has dishes, books, and hashi. I bought a paper wallet there of a naked woman playing with a kitten for $3. Cheapest boobs in New York.

Pearl River Mart, 477 Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. This department store is more Chinese than Japanese, but it’s so awesome I’m amazed it doesn’t implode under the weight of its own awesomeness. When I needed red envelopes to feed to the lions at New Years—Pearl River. Sake set for under $10—Pearl River. Cotton yukata—Pearl River. Bamboo curtains, rice cooker, Buddha statue, desktop fountain, samurai sword, rattan laundry hamper, rubber ducky, reflexology slippers, fancy macha tea, Christmas lights shaped like paper lanterns, teak nightstand, Chairman Mao propaganda poster—Pearl Freaking River, baby.

Pylones, 69 Spring Street between Crosby and Lafayette. There are actually 5 Pylones stores in New York, but I know how to find this one. The doodads, geegaws, and tchatchkes here not specifically Japanese, but you can get an egg timer shaped like a ladybug, a panda tape measurer, a cake server shaped like a Schnauzer dog, and flower-handled gardening shears, along with little windup toys and other miscellaneous, useless things whose cuteness factor is off the charts. And if that isn’t Japanese, I don’t know what is.

MUJI, paired with Museum of Modern Art. 44 West 53rd Street between 5th and 6th, 81 Spring Street between Crosby and Broadway. MUJI Store, 620 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Street in the New York Times Building. They sell all sorts of household and design items, which are useful, but understated—even a bit bland—and prohibitively expensive. When I write the Great American Novel and get my advance from the movie studio that’s making it into an Oscar winner, then I’ll be able to shop here.

Chopsticks NYC, a free magazine you can pick up at Sunrise Mart, the New York Buddhist Church, and probably other places too. It’s a guide to Japanese Culture in New York City, and while the writing is bad and it’s mostly advertising, Chopsticks NYC is very thorough in terms of Japanese-oriented establishments. I wouldn’t use it so much for events, but if you want to find karaoke, spas, and restaurants, this is the place.

I also found a good Japanese bookstore, but I’m going to save it for my next posting, which will be on—you guessed it—bookstores. In the meantime, domo arigato and aloha!

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