At this point, I don’t remember when or how exactly my obsession with all things Japan came to be. I just know that it wasn’t something that I had in common with anyone else. No one I knew shared my interest. I was all alone.
Not that that really bothered me. I have always been kind of quirky and loving Japan was just one of those things offbeat about me. (THAT is something that a lot of Japan otaku (nerds) have in common. We seem to like to think we’re the only ones. Hahaha. Like we think it makes us special or something.)
Being alone in my interests did have its drawbacks though (apart from being made fun of or being called a “weeaboo” or something similar – which also never bothered me). The main hurdle was that finding source materials, information, programming, etc. was really difficult. Back then, someone like me – being from a small town – didn’t have much at the local video store or library to choose from. Once the Internet became a thing, it got a little easier, but due to lack of interest and awareness, it took many years before there was the cornucopia of online content there is now.
But it wasn’t until the last few years that Japanese things became trendy and started to spill out into the real world. Before, when I wanted to buy import items, I had to shop online, pay exorbitant markups as well as shipping, or travel quite a distance to the few and far between shops available that had only a handful of products. I used to use Ebay quite a bit for music CDs (I am aghast as what I paid for a few of my import albums), and J-List.com for trinkets and character goods. There was also a cool service called Flutterscape (now defunct) that would act as a middleman for people in Japan who could pick up items for you and mail them out. Again, pretty pricey.
Finally, ‘all things Japan’ is gaining in popularity. It’s much more mainstream now. I think that’s partly due to the increase of Japanese anime being shown overseas and in part due to the availability of information about really any aspect of Japanese culture now on the Internet.
Anime seems to be a gateway into interest in Japan. (That’s always been the case, probably, but it’s much more prolific now than it was when I was young.) It’s not uncommon to run into a kid in North America who loves anime. When I was younger, it was seen as something dorky. Now it’s normal. Maybe we’ll get into that deeper at some point, but for me, it was the opposite. I was interested in Japan and found anime through that.
Back then, I never would have thought my local mall would become a place to grab some goods from Japan or an authentic Japanese meal or snack. I thought I’d always have to hunt for that kind of thing. It’s so easy now.
More and more places are popping up all the time – and Japanese styled shopping experiences seems to be the newest trend and copycats are also on the rise (as you’ll see in the descriptions below).
We briefly mentioned Square One in our Kariya Park video since it’s a destination for tourists and locals alike and is just a few hundred metres down the street from the park.
It’s the largest shopping mall in Ontario and the second largest mall in the whole country – although as Jason points out in Part 1, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta is only bigger in square footage, not in the number of retail stores.
Currently, there are only 6 options in Square One for shoppers looking for the Japanese shopping/dining experience but our fingers are crossed this is an upwards trend.
We introduced the first 3 in Part 1 and the rest in Part 2. They are listed below along with some more relevant information.
Miniso is a “variety store” which combines the aesthetics popular in stores such as Muji, Uniqlo and Daiso.
From their Canadian website: miniso.ca
MINISO is not just a brand name but also a way of life. In an economy polarized by luxury brands and low-quality counterfeits, shoppers are divided into two extremes and opposing consumption pattern. MINISO delivers on this unmet demand in Canada and provides shoppers with good quality products and aesthetically pleasing designs. Affordability and competitive pricing is also a key principle in MINISO’s philosophy. Through the development of quality products and living goods, MINISO strives to become a global leader in providing excellent products for a better life.
Driven by simplicity and nature, MINISO aims to continually improve and innovate the processes for designing and manufacturing quality goods at honest prices, while considering the environment, energy saving, recycling and resources. Under the scale of global procurement, MINISO sources the best materials from all over the world while ensuring the health and safety of products and materials.
*CONSPIRACY: It’s actually a Chinese company “pretending” to be Japanese. ??? Maybe because the popular view of products from China being cheap and from Japan being better quality? The sign/logo itself is written in English and Japanese (although in Japanese, it reads as “Meisō”) but not Chinese (outside of China). Regardless of where it originated, they do sell a lot of Japanese products (snacks, etc.)
On their website, it states they are a Japanese based company: miniso.com/EN/Brand
MINISO, a Japan-based designer brand, was co-founded by Japanese designer Mr. Miyake Junya and Chinese young entrepreneur Mr. Ye Guofu in Tokyo, Japan, with the former serving as chief designer.
There is actually a very interesting article outlining the dubious aspects of the company.
Even with the controversy, their expansion is a success and their stores are very popular. They do carry Japanese snacks and much of their packaging is in Japanese. We’ll leave it up to you whether or not you consider it a Japanese store or not.
Miniso was founded in 2013 and in 2017, they opened their first Canadian location. There are currently 48 stores in Canada.
17 in Ontario (1 in our city, 2 in Mississauga, 1 downtown)
14 in BC
11 in Quebec
5 in Alberta
1 in Nova Scotia
There are only 3 locations in Japan listed on their website (but only 4 of the 48 in Canada, so there may be more).
Muji is a company that carries items for everyday life – clothing, cosmetics, home goods, furniture, etc. – that are simple and basic yet good quality.
From their website: www.muji.com/ca
MUJI, originally founded in Japan in 1980, offers a wide variety of good quality products including household goods, apparel and food.
Mujirushi Ryohin, MUJI in Japanese, translates as “no-brand quality goods.”
MUJI is based on three core principles, which remain unchanged to this day:
1. Selection of materials
2. Streamlining of processes
3. Simplification of packages
MUJI’s products, born from an extremely rational manufacturing process, are succinct, but they are not in the minimalist style.
That is, they are like empty vessels. Simplicity and emptiness yield the ultimate universality, embracing the feelings and thoughts of all people.
Japanese site: www.muji.net/store
The company (Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd.) was founded in 1979 and they opened the first independent Muji store in 1983. They operate several other branches of the company such as hotels, home design, camp sites and they even made a car at one point.
Although they opened their first international store in London back in 1991, Muji stores didn’t come to Canada until 2015. (The first store was the downtown Toronto location and it was recently renovated and is now the biggest store outside of Asia.)
There are now 5 locations in Ontario. Only 3 in BC.
476 in Japan.
Uniqlo is a Japanese brand clothing store.
From their Canadian website: www.uniqlo.com/ca/en
UNIQLO is a new Japanese company that ensures it provides casual clothes for all kinds of people.
The basis for the company we now know as Uniqlo first started as a men’s clothing store in 1949. In 1984, they opened a unisex casual clothing store called “Unique Clothing Warehouse”. It wasn’t until 1988 that the name Uniqlo (a contraction of Unique Clothing) was born.
The first Canadian stores were opened in 2015.
There are now 7 stores in Ontario and 4 in BC.
835 in Japan.
Tsujiri is a café/shop that sells matcha drinks and sweets.
TSUJIRI was founded in 1860 by Riemon Tsuji who was renowned for his spirit of “YUWA”, meaning “continue to innovate and sustain the tradition”. His statue was built in Kyoto, Japan to honour his contribution to the Japanese tea industry. Mr. Tsuji has refined the cultivation of Gyokuro (the highest grade of Japanese green tea) and his method is still being used to this day. He is also the inventor of the tea box that preserves the longevity and freshness of the tea leaves during transportation, making fresh tea from Kyoto available to other Japanese cities a century ago. In 2010, CHAHO, which means tea ship in Japanese, were first established outside of Japan to carry on our founder’s spirit and to serve fresh tea to our customers worldwide. Welcome to TSUJIRI CHAHO.
6 stores in Canada (3 Toronto, 1 Mississauga, 1 Edmonton, 1 Richmond) – 3 more opening soon
I can’t find any information on Japanese locations. Only one shows on the map on their website, in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka.
Japanese website: www.tsujiri.co.jp
I found a chain of shops called Tsujiri (Uji, Gion Kyoto, Osaka and Ginza) but the logo isn’t the same. www.kataoka.com/tsujiri/shop
From what I understand (I think…), Kataoka is a company that serves as a go-between for importing overseas brands to Japan and exports their own brands worldwide from Japan, Tsujiri being one of them. The description of their Tsujiri brand is very similar to the overseas Tsujiri stores.
From the Kataoka website: www.kataoka.com/en/business/original
Tsujiri was founded in 1860. The founder, Tsuji Riemon, invented the tea chest and perfected a method for making Gyokuro green tea. These innovations enabled Tsuji to revive the good name of Uji tea, which had been threatened with disappearance amid the upheavals that ended the Tokugawa Shogunate. Today Tsujiri continues the tradition of Tsuji Riemon’s passion for perfecting great tea. With assured skill and commitment to quality, Tsujiri continues to deliver a delightful variety of excellent teas today.
In the video, I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t have any of my favourite treats available that day. Lucky for me, when I was at the mall a few days ago, they had them! Kinako Daifuku are thin layers of mochi wrapped around a delicious dollop of kinako-flavoured mousse, with kinako flour sprinkled on top. They also have matcha-flavoured ones, which I’ve never tried but look just as yummy, as well as traditional daifuku, which are usually filled with red bean paste and a strawberry.
Sansotei is inspired by traditional ramen from various regions in Japan. We source the highest quality ingredients both locally and direct from Japanese suppliers. Sansotei was founded in Toronto, Canada in 2012 with our first location in the heart of the city.
There are currently 9 locations (2 outside of the GTA), and 1 more opening soon.
A store that carries “a little bit of everything” – snacks, character goods, cosmetics and some art prints.
Currently 2 locations (Kensington, SQ1) – Royal Bank Plaza opening soon – STC was a pop-up but permanent location is opening soon
Sukoshi Mart is not a Japanese company but it carries good from Japan (and Korea) including snacks and character merchandise. It’s a good place to get items that are hard to find or can only be ordered online from overseas.
We hope you enjoyed our little virtual tour! What Japanese stores are available near you?