Posted by: patriciamar | April 26, 2019

After-work Impulse Buys: Tokyo, Japan

Have you ever heard of Kinokuniya?

The store that I will be discussing today is a Kinokuniya Entrée.  The Kinokuniya that I frequent is in Shinagawa Station, although when I see another Kinokuniya, I often stop in for particular Kinokuniya products that I like (for example, the fluffy custard-filled Kinokuniya biscuits with crunchy slight sweetness on the outside, or maybe the Kinokuniya strawberry butter).

I may have mentioned Kinokuniya too many times.  I may often mention it too many times.  The look on your face is probably the same look that I get from my Japanese coworkers and acquaintances when I tell them it’s my favorite store.  They are confused.

I can’t help it; I love this type of store.  It’s not large, but it is stuffed with shelves of the weirdest items, from Japan and from around the world.  The prices are not very good, but the quality is high, and the diversity of weirdness is absolutely top notch.  When I came to Japan last year, this store was the place where I purchased all of the unidentifiable Japanese snacks that I brought back to Davis.  (These are the sort of products that you’re not sure are vegetarian or not, that you’re not sure are sweet, or savory, or a fermented root vegetable. Gelatinous? Fruit?  Yam?  Sake stuffed?)

It just so happens that the Kinokuniya Entrée is on my way home from work.  After a stressful day, there is nothing like wandering around a crowded (super crowded) Japanese fancy(ish) food store and walking out with ¥2,500 worth of weird snacks, yogurt, dried meat and fruit spreads.  It’s like a dream.  They are also the only place in Japan where you can buy bubbly water that is hop flavored.

Hop flavored!  It’s like it was made especially for me.

I already mentioned the fluffy biscuits, and there is also chirashi (Japanese poke), a pretty decent Japanese craft beer section, really nice produce, and so many other unidentifiable goods and spices that I’ll be going back every stressful Tuesday until the end of my Tokyo time.

Whenever I spend time in a foreign country, I find that I discover and cling to a certain store.  Here, it’s Kinokuniya.  In Leiden, it was a little shop near the C1000 on Diamantplein that we referred to as the “European delicacy store.”  They had black pepper salami, tons of great cheese and for the holidays, they made and decorated 50 cm circular trays of paté.

In Guadalajara my spot was a tiny ma and pop convenience store run by an auntie with a harsh but real smile.  She made her own spicy refried beans and sold them in a clear plastic solo cup for 8 pesos.  You could also get storemade sourdough bread fresh in the morning and when you bought something with a returnable bottle, they wrote it down on a signed piece of paper.  Heaven help you if you tried to bring back a retornable without that receipt.  

I guess it seems that for me, living and surviving abroad is not necessarily about the big names and the flashy spots (though Kinokuniya is a fun word to say).  When you have a new home in a new community in a new city in a new country, you discover something that you like.  You discover something that fits, and you go when you need to.  Eventually, not everything feels all new.

Except the Kinokuniya unidentifiables.  There will always be more of the festively unknown there.


  1. I love the Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, specifically their stationary and bookstore floors! When I lived in the Hachioji area, kindle was in its infancy, so in order to get reading material (in English), I depended on Kinokuniya to keep me entertained. I believe there’s a branch in Japantown in SF, but it pales in comparison.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: