Authentic Japanese Flavors Arrive In HonoluluCover Story Features
February 23, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabuolo
For most people in the importing business, price is a key factor when determining which products to ship from point A to B. Industry veteran Hideyoshi Takasawa is known to break away from the norm, however, holding on to a different set of priorities when choosing which edible goods to bring from Japan to sell at his Young Street store J-Shop.
“Lots of people ask, ‘Who chooses these products?'” says Takasawa, when describing his Japanese grocery store stocked with 95 percent imported items from Japan. “I do.”
Many in the community trust his selections, seeing as he has been importing goods from Japan to Hawaii and the mainland for more than 40 years. Now that he’s able to supplement his ongoing job as an importer with a store of his own, he’s earned the right to be picky about what he wants to sell — a good quality to have when you are aiming to share the rich diversity of healthy and high-quality ingredients Japan has to offer with island residents and chefs.
“Sometimes it’s hard because for every item, I find what it contains, who makes it, does it look OK and taste good? Is it organic and what ingredients are they using?” says Takasawa, adding that he constantly flies to Japan to hand-select and sample the products, keeping his focus on taste rather than price. “That’s the kind of research needed.”
At J-Shop, the fruits of Takasawa’s labor may be found in a finely curated selection of fish, various cuts of highly rated A5 Wagyu beef, and prime fruits and vegetables, depending on what’s available seasonally. The owner and president is able to offer unmatched freshness with his imported goods — items like fish and natto are never frozen — because he has the products flown in three times a week, instead of by lengthy sea freight. As a result, he doesn’t need to keep an extensive back stock either, since he’s always replenishing shelves with new, fresh merchandise.
A great way to get introduced to J-Shop’s offerings is through its bento corner, a petite eatery located within the shop that serves affordable meals made with ingredients from the store (open from 10 a.m. to about 3 or 4 p.m.). Those who have never tasted the distinct flavor that comes from the beautifully marbled fat content of Wagyu beef will be in heaven with Wagyu Yakiniku Bento ($14.50), featuring meat from Japanese cattle. Classics such as Tonkatsu ($8.50) and Sashimi ($9.75) bentos also are made fresh there.
“We don’t want to pile up the ready-made bentos to just take; no. When people come down and (order), then the chefs are going to start preparing it,” explains Takasawa.
Bentos are straightforward with rice and authentic sides, but they’re complex in flavor. Patrons enjoy the unique taste Japanese meat brings to Beef Curry and Rice ($8.50), as well as the sizzling pork perfection of Katsu Don ($9.50).
The one-and-a-half-year-old shop also offers seasonings not found in other Asian grocers, fresh bread baked specifically for the shop and an exclusive brand of tofu produced by Aloha Tofu using Japanese soybeans.
While such first-class products can come with a higher price tag at times, Takasawa says his customers immediately taste the difference in the quality and find assurance in the research he has put into his products. In fact, the friendly owner can often be found engaging with his patrons, telling them about a particular piece of red snapper or rare seasoning that has just arrived.
And with that, a true taste of Japan now thrives in Honolulu.
EXCLUSIVE MERCHANDISE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Many of the imported Japanese products sold at J-Shop can’t be found elsewhere on Oahu. One such treasure is tsukudani, which can be made by stewing various ingredients, from seafood to vegetables, with soy sauce and sugar.
J-Shop owner and president Hideyoshi Takasawa recently brought a variety of tsukudani into the shop, which you’ll want to try before they sell out. He advises customers to try it the traditional ways: with sake, on top of warm rice or with boiling water as ochazuke.
Some of the tsukudani he imported is produced by Shinbasi Tamakiya, a famous Japanese retailer that has been around since 1782.
1513 Young St., Honolulu
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sunday