Monday, June 27, 2011

Mitsu-wa: Japan in New Jersey/Part II

Disclaimer: the cell phone pictures were not really of great quality, so no pictures. The Hello Kitty one will be on Facebook. Future posts will have pictures, but I need to fix my camera first.

Mitsu-wa’s main attraction is its supermarket: an enormous expanse of Japanese food products, a Japanese-style butcher, a fishmonger, Japanese confectioners and produce, all in a warehouse-sized space. For those who like products as diverse as matcha (green tea powder), tsukemono (pickles), and individually-wrapped fruit gummies with whopping aromas, the supermarket is really quite a paradise.

We went from the food court directly into the Masha went off to do her own shopping – she had judged this trip as a great opportunity to do a normal shopping run. Meanwhile, Aaron, Sharon and I began to wander.

First stops: the candy sections. Sugar is awesome, and the Japanese know it. Mitsu-wa has three stops for candy: two dedicated candy aisles in the main supermarket, and then two independent candy shops across from the main supermarket section. Our first stop was one of these separate shops, Minamoto Kitchoan, which specializes in rather elaborate and elegant confections of various types. Sharon bought some of the small sweets as a gift for her mother, including a rather beautiful rice-flour pastry crafted to look like a fish.

We also went through the supermarket aisle, where I found some delicious mango-flavored gummies. (I just ate one right now. The aroma screams, “MANGOS! WOOT!”) Following that, we traipsed through seaweed, crackers, tea, and other packaged goods. I bought packaged miso for my sister, rice crackers, and sencha  - a type of green tea that I am rather fond of. They also had amazing oolong tea from Fujian province in China for sale, but it was mad expensive, and in the interest of my financial solvency, I declined.

I didn’t go too crazy – I’ll be in Asia quite soon. These things were either for family, or for the next month before I leave.

Then the three of us made our way to the bookstore, and looked around there. It seems to stock a full range of novels, non-fiction, periodicals, stationery, learning materials, and a ton of manga. Aaron was really happy and did quite a bit of browsing. As a Mandarin speaker, I have this weird frustration when I see printed Japanese: I can understand most of the characters (sometimes Japanese uses them differently or uses obscure or Japanese-only ones), and sometimes whole book titles, but I can’t understand the text because of the hiragana and katakana (phonetic writing) interspersed and the different grammar. It’s sort of like when you see a text in a language with lots of English-like words, but you can’t understand it.

Sharon and Masha left, but the two of us spent a good amount of time wandering about the bookstore, chatting and comparing the pronunciation and usages of various characters in Japanese and Chinese (For example: , “sun,” is romanized as ni in Japanese and ri (zhr, sort of) in Mandarin. ) It was a good, nerdy conversation – something that you Egal readers are probably familiar with from our inadvertent torture of you at Shabbat dinner. The two of us then walked around on the waterfront a bit, and continued our conversation. Mitsu-wa has a great view across the Hudson to the tony apartments of Riverside Drive, and beyond that, the Manhattan skyline. I headed back to Manhattan and the commuter rail on the epic shuttle.

All in all, it was an awesome trip. It was really nice to see Aaron and Sharon again, and it was really great to step into this half-Japan half-American island in the middle of Jersey suburbia.


  1. You should really learn the hiragana and katakana alphabets. They're quite easy, so you could probably learn then in an afternoon. If you had to choose just one alphabet to learn, choose katakana. That's the alphabet used for foreign words and onomatopoeia, and the Japanese LOVE using English words, so you'll understand half of what you read just from learning katakana. (Although, often you have to sound out the word several times before you can figure out that it's an English loan word -- Japanese is quite creative in its pronunciation.)
    To practice your katakana, look at this map of all the states in America printed in Japanese:
    Also, the Japanese LOVE onomatopoeia. In manga you'll see sound effects for things that make no sound at all, like a smile. In Japanese class we laughed really hard one time because our teacher taught us that the onomatopoeia for being energized and feeling great is "pin-pin," which we all heard as, "Pimpin'!"

  2. I disagree with your notion that the torture was inadvertent, at least all the time.

  3. I can say on my part the torturous aspect was inadvertent. Bringing it up on the other hand...hehehe. *We will restrain ourselves next year*. I at least.