J-TOWN BEAT: The Importance of Supermarkets

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By GWEN MURANAKA

In Gardena, besides having some of the best down-home Japanese food in Los Angeles, we are blessed with quite a few supermarkets, each targeted to a different segment of the diverse city.

I am just old enough to remember going to the old Meiji Market in the 1970s. Back then Meiji was located on Denker Avenue in the building across from Sakae Sushi and Spoon House restaurant. When it moved to Pacific Square it became Pacific Supermarket and years later, Marukai.

Since Don Quijote, the large Japanese supermarket chain, purchased Marukai in 2013, the market has been called Tokyo Central & Main and has morphed into a kind of quick food/toy store, which is Don Quijote’s model.

Curious how many Rafu readers have been to Don Quijote in Honolulu. It was the only place I could pick up a bakatare T-shirt for eight bucks, cheap souvenirs and an impressive variety of poke.

Tokyo Central & Main in Gardena’s Pacific Square was originally Meiji Market, then became Marukai.

Honestly, I have a hard time shopping at the Pacific Square market, since they cut the amount of fresh meats, vegetables and other staples that were once sold there. These days, we’ll usually head to the big Tokyo Central on Artesia if we’re doing Japanese shopping.

Besides a Japanese market, we also have 99 Ranch and Superior, as well as the mainstream outlets like Ralph’s, Vons, Albertsons and most recently, Aldi.

In Little Tokyo we also have several good markets and I think it’s why the area is one of the most livable neighborhoods in Downtown. Since The Rafu is located at Third and Alameda, the market we go to most often is Woori in the Little Tokyo Galleria, but we’ll also frequent Nijiya in Japanese Village Plaza and Tokyo Central in Weller Court.

Woori is an interesting study in how this neighborhood has evolved.

As a business, they have to cater to as many folks as they can, and so it sells products that appeal to Koreans, Japanese and increasingly, Arts District hipsters. Their shelves might be the best representation of what Little Tokyo has become.

A few years ago, we reported that the galleria would be developed into multi-unit housing and it immediately made me wonder what would happen to the many residents, particularly seniors, who have come to rely on the supermarket and the other restaurants and shops there.

L.A. Times columnist Frank Shyong recently looked at Chinatown as it loses its last full-service grocery stores. The reasons are familiar to anyone following what’s been happening in recent years in Little Tokyo: thin profit margins, rising rents, lack of parking.

Down in Torrance, Mitsuwa Market is relocating to Del Amo Shopping Center, and it makes me wonder what will become of the shops and restaurants that have established themselves there with the supermarket as a reliable anchor.

Shyong writes: “Change is inevitable, and that’s especially true for immigrant communities, which have always risen and fallen according to immigration patterns. But that just makes it all the more important for us to decide what we’d like to keep around and act on it.”

What’s true for Chinatown is also true for Little Tokyo and other Japanese American communities.

The time to act to preserve what it most precious is now.

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My dear friend Yuka and I are true foodie friends, who over the years have shared some incredible meals together, trying out new places, often those with Japanese fusion influences.

Dobin mushi with matsutake mushroom at Inn Ann restaurant in Hollywood.

One of our earliest favorite places was Hamasaku in West L.A., then managed by the late Toshi Kihara, who always showed such grace and attention to every detail that made each meal special.

Yuka travels from Ohio and so the meals are less frequent, so we try to make them special. We had a late-night supper at Bestia at the busy counter as we watched their young chefs prepare pizzas and toss salads.

This last time I booked a reservation at Inn Ann, the Japan House restaurant hidden away above Hollywood Boulevard. It feels far removed from the touristy vibe of Hollywood and Highland that surrounds it.

Each piece of sushi prepared by chef Morihiro Onodera was exquisite, each a perfect, tasty bite. But I think I most enjoyed the matsutake dobin mushi, served in a small teapot, adorned with a single lime. Inside, hearty chunks of matsutake mushroom and tiger shrimp were a warm welcome to the autumn season.

Can’t wait for our next foodie adventure!

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Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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