A few months ago, my family and I had the opportunity to visit a very interesting place in the Chicago area: a Japanese Mall. At least, that is what it is commonly called. (Its real name is Mitsuwa Marketplace). In fact, it is an indoor shopping center, which includes a Japanese supermarket, liquor store, bakery, video store, home supply store (more like touristy cups and plates store!), and of course a bookstore. All of these are around a central "food court," though I find the expression "food court" too "mall-ish" and Americanized. But this area contains a central eating area, surrounded by maybe a dozen Japanese (and maybe one Korean) style food houses or kiosks. The air is rich with the vapors of steaming ramen noodles, bathing in pork or chicken broths in some monster-sized kettles behind the kiosk curtains and back kitchens.
For those of you looking for an afternoon adventure, this is surely the place. The grocery store, for example, offers a rather interesting shopping experience, as there are many, many food options that you might not otherwise find in your run-of-the-mill grocery. And it all seems fairly priced. One can buy probably a dozen varieties of tofu, seaweed, or soba noodles here, or any combination of Asian cuisine sauces. Admittedly, I ended buying more than I probably needed, since it was a novelty for me, but I did eat well for the week following! There were also a lot of frozen items, as well as a specialty bakery in the back corner of the store.
Below, is an image of the eating area of the "food court," not far from the ice cream kiosk. This is where we enjoyed some steaming hot bowls of noodles and ton-katzu (sliced Japanese pork steaks, breaded and deep friend) with fresh cabbage, miso soup, and pickled vegetables.
Above and below, images of the book store. The book store was one of the larger establishments in the mall. It had a sizable inventory, mostly Japanese language materials. It had a little area dedicated to English language and other language dictionaries. And its magazine section was fairly large.
I'd wanted to visit this place for some time--years, in fact. Finally, the opportunity arose, and we all went. It was quite a place, and surprisingly, we spent much longer than I'd imagined wandering around and looking at all of the goods and wares of the place. The Mitsuwa Marketplace is, according to its website, the largest Japanese market in the United States. It has branches in California and New Jersey. Now even though I didn't buy a book about Japan, Japanese history or language, or any other book, for that matter, I was lucky enough to have such a pleasant afternoon, enjoying a new place, some new food, and some new culture with my family. And of course, discovering yet another bookstore is always an added treat.