Let’s imagine that you’ve just moved from North Carolina to Manhattan, and you’re craving some barbecue and hush puppies. You could attempt a meal at an overpriced and underwhelming version somewhere in the city, or you could stop by the North Carolina store, where Lexington-style bbq sauce, pork shoulder, and those fried bits of cornmeal are shipped in weekly.
Does such a magnificent type of store exist in the U.S.? Not quite, outside of a smattering of things at niche supermarkets … though, I could see it as a pop-up creation.
However, this store concept is thriving in another part of the world. For foodies and gift-givers to truly appreciate it, you’ve got to head to Japan.
Called antenna shops (アンテナショップ antenna shoppu) in Japan, they are stores that showcase some of the most famous/unique regional products from a particular Japanese prefecture (roughly equivalent to a state or province). Those regional products always include food and drink, and sometimes arts, crafts, and live events. Oh, and lots and lots of chirashi, or brochures.
Think dairy and Yubari melon from Hokkaido, peaches from Okayama, nihonshu (aka sake) and rice from Niigata, and gourmet tea from Kyoto.
But if you didn’t read Japanese, how would you know the shop was different from any other?
That’s a fair question.
For starters, Tokyo is by far the most likely city where you’ll encounter an antenna shop. Other large cities such as Osaka and Nagoya also have their share, but Tokyo is unquestionably in the lead, sometimes having multiple branch of an antenna shop. More specifically, if you’re in Nihombashi, Ginza, or Yuurakucho — neighborhoods close to Tokyo Station — those are your safest bets for randomly encountering one.
And if you’ve got some Japanese language skills under your belt, try out this page for a list of all antenna shops throughout Japan. Google Maps does an o.k. job of listing some of them, and if memory serves correctly, this tourist information center in Nihombashi might have an English map.
For those of you who dig video tours, have a look at this brief tour of four different Tokyo antenna shops— Ishikawa, Kochi, Hokkaido, and Okinawa.
With any luck, this could be your haul at the end of the day:
Whereas I mentioned that Japan does the antenna shop concept best, other countries do have their own lesser versions. In China, the stores most likely have the characters 特产 (tèchǎn), or (regional) specialty, in the name, and I’ve even passed by a Sonora products (Sonora being a Mexican state) outlet somewhere by the Barranca de Muerto metro station in Mexico City.
It might be fair to say, “but Jonathan, you don’t speak every language, how would you know if most countries don’t have antenna shops?” Where possible I have checked, but I also know that Japan takes them to another level.
n.b. JNTO, if you need an antenna shop ambassador for North America, count me in!/在北米でのアンテナショップ代理人になったら良かったーのに
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