Friday, May 29, 2009

Variety Friday: Where the Action Is

I'm sure that many of my readers have spent hours speculating on the glamorous life of a Japanese snack food reviewer. You're wondering what it's really like hunting down salty and sweet treats for review in the land of cosplayers and robotic dogs. Well, thanks to the magic of Google Maps, you can see where I shop and virtually pound the pavement of the same streets that I do.

I frequently refer to a 99 yen shop where I pick up various goodies. Every time I refer to that place, it is this particular store:

The Japanese written on the street on the left says "tomare", which means "stop".

The street to the left goes down an alley into an all residential area. The one on the right is a major street through Tokyo which will eventually lead directly to Shinjuku, a major business and shopping district.

If the shop looks a bit dingy and rundown, then the picture is showing you the absolute truth. This place is no more than 500 square feet in size and located in a building that used to house a Family Mart convenience store. This location, incidentally, is marked in my personal history as the exact spot where I fell off my bike, hurt my back, and set myself up for a lifetime of serious back pain about 16 years ago.

The shop is named "Shop 99" in this picture, but it used to be called QQ. "Kyu" which sounds like "Q" is "9" in Japanese so QQ is a clever way of referring to 99. I guess that the shop's owners though that was too subtle though and change it to the numbers. I go to this shop more often than any other because it's about a 3-minute walk from my apartment and sells useful food items in addition to snacks for relatively cheap prices. In fact, low-fat milk, bread, and eggs are actually cheaper here than regular supermarkets. Snack-wise, it's good for cheap, off-brand goodies and products that either sell regularly, are nearly off the market, or didn't sell well enough to begin with and have been relegated to the bargain bin. It also carries nearly every Tirol assortment that has ever been released.

If you'd like to travel along the virtual street with me, you can follow the path down the street on the right with me. That's where my other two major haunts for snack shopping are located.

The next snack hotspot on my journey as we travel down the same major street is Family Mart:

Family Mart is very rare among the shops in my area because it actually has a parking lot. Very few places have one.

Family Mart is the best place for finding new products that have a short run of it or limited edition products. They tend to carry the latest Tirol Premium chocolates (but not the assortments), new KitKats, and smaller size, esoteric flavors of sembei and salted snack foods. Everything is about 30-50% more expensive than in Shop 99, so I only buy the types of things which I know I won't locate elsewhere in Family Mart.

And, as we journey further down the street (if you want to follow along, Family Mart is here on Google maps), we get to my last regular haunt, Inageya supermarket:

If I mention picking something up at a local market, this is the place. It's good for family packs of sembei, the occasional limited edition cookie products and Pocky as well as bean cakes and other more traditional snacks.

These are by no means my only options. The truth is my husband probably buys about 20% of the items I review at other places like New Days (which is only located in Japan Railway "JR" stations) and various shops near where he works. There is also a discount snack shop near another market that I visit infrequently. However, the lion's share of what I review comes from these three rather dismal, grey, and boring places. I'm betting that ordering your snacks via mail services seems a lot more exciting now by comparison.


Sharon said...

Actually, you shipping me interesting snacks is even more fun. :-D. The benefit of being the sister of a snack reviewer.

ebidebby said...

Thank you for the tour of your area! It may not be very glamorous, but the selection is much better than the what's available on the internet or in Japanese specialty markets. My husband and I will be visiting Japan again in July, so we're looking forward to getting the snacks that don't always make it to the US.

pika23 said...

lucky!!! In New Jersey, well in my part of New Jersey anyway, there are only the one or two little asian markets that have mostly Fillipino or Korean items, with a token box of pocky thrown in for good measure.

I am happy to report though, there is an Epically gigantic Japanese market shopping center/mall/fleamarket called Mitsura Marketplace. It's an hour away, but I plan on going there within the next month or so. I'm as excited as if I were going to Disney world.

Anonymous said...

Nope, ordering snacks online is the most boring-est thing ever. I would rather step inside a shop and become awed with all the colors and quirky packaging designs. Thanks for sharing these shops with us. It's quite nice that the places are small and home-ly. I personally think those kinds of shops are more special than the giant, elaborate superstores. There's more sentimentalism going through petite shops. If you know what I mean. Sorry my English is deteriorating.

anak_mama No.3 said...

I'm so loving your blog right now. 1. It's fasting month and I somehow get a kick out of food related blogs. Keeps my tummy tame.
2. My mom is currently living in Kyoto, and she's coming home for the holidays (end of Ramadhan). I asked her to bring me some Kaki no Tane...hehehe... And I posted your post'slink onto her FB page so she won't get the wrong ones.
3. My major is Japanese Studies and I lived in Kyoto for 6 months in 2005.
4. My mom and I just loooved 100yen shops. There are several here in Jakarta. But the prices are just ridiculous.