It wasn't so long ago that most staple products were purchased in Japan in bulk. The grocer, dry goods shop, or other shopkeeper had a scale, upon which he measured any amount that his customer wanted to purchase. The item would be put into a container, usually one that the customer brought to the store. Everything from rice, flour, soy sauce, miso, and tea to beans, sugar, salt, and many other things could be purchased this way. This type of store was predominant in Japan until after World War II and until at least the mid-70s, when supermarkets became the primary source of home supplies. Now, it seems, the only thing people buy in this manner is gasoline.
Tomizawa Shoten (shop, or merchant), however, is successfully bringing a bit of this kind of buying back into the limelight. There is a twist, of course, enough to make it high style, but at its core, Tomizawa is a dry goods bulk goods merchant.
Success by any measure
Tomizawa opened its first store in Machida in April 1919. In June 2014, Tomizawa opened its 45th store in the Iotetsu Takashimaya store in Matsuyama, located in Shikoku. In fact, 40 of its stores have opened since January 2000, testimony to a well measured success.
While Tomizawa offers a very wide range of products, most of them are pre-measured. However, in each of its shops, Tomizawa features products that can be purchased in any volume (over 100 grams). In my visit to its 43rd store, in Kichijoji, the store featured granola, dried fruits, cooked and dried coconut, and some nuts. These featured items were sold at 10% off their regular price. The granola was only slightly sweetened so mixed with the dried fruits was perfect, much less sweet than the packaged varieties sold in most supermarkets in Japan.
The most interesting aspect of Tomizawa, to me, is that it features items that are endorsements for real homemade cooking. While some of the items are ready made mixes for some baking - such as for bread or pasta - they still require the user to actually cook what is in the mix.
But the vast majority of the products I found were things like millet, soba grain, kudzu (arrowroot), and beans, which are raw ingredients used in a variety of dishes, including soups, pasta, and desserts. In addition, while the base of supplies in the store are for very traditional Japanese cuisine, there is a wide range of products for international cooking, including Italian, French, and some Asian foods. The spices, including a variety of curries, were very enticing.
Apparently, Tomizawa has become extremely popular among restaurateurs and other professional cooks. In particular, cooks that write for magazines and television are big fans of Tomizawa. Rather than shopping for the perfect flour for a particular recipe, it is easier to buy from a store that stocks as many as 20-30 different varieties from different specific regions in Japan and around the world. By providing a broad range of specialized products, Tomizawa has certainly struck a chord among gourmet cooks throughout Japan.
In Kichijoji, Tomizawa is located inside a very posh art boutique - Artman Artman - that is itself located in the new Keio Kirarina department store. It seems, at first, somewhat out of place, a section filled with cooking supplies amidst upscale towels, bathroom supplies, stationary, and home furnishings. Slowly, however, it became clear to me that the "back to basics" in home cooking is directed at the same upscale clientele who buy organic cotton towels and natural cosmetics.
For me, though, the availability of a wide variety of beans, seeds, dried fruits, granola, millet, buckwheat is pretty darn cool. At Tomizawa, I don't have to buy a bushel, either, and store it in a (imaginary) cellar. I think I'll celebrate and make a buckwheat and millet soup!
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