February 5, 2011 | Japanese
Field Trip: Japanese Convenience Store, Williamsburg
In which I enjoy reading Japanese food packages.
When I was a kid, I loved eating breakfast cereal (especially Corn Chex, Rice Chex, and Rice Krispies), and I loved reading the cereal boxes while I was doing it. I would read every item on a box, even though I had read these boxes probably hundreds of times before. That included not only obvious text such as the marketing copy, but also nutritional information, ingredients lists, and whatever other words—or even numbers—were on there. I couldn’t eat cereal without reading the cereal.
This afternoon I read food packages in Japanese. And I loved it. Besides carrying on a long tradition of reading packaging, I was reading Japanese!
The location: Midoriya, a newly opened Japanese mini-mart in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They sell all kinds of Japanese foodstuffs, kitchen items, and other miscellaneous useful things.
Williamsburg: Yep, Another Grim Winter Day
It is an amazingly clean, orderly, tidy place. I happen to love amazingly clean, orderly, tidy places, but I myself am kind of messy, so it is a good thing I am married to someone who is not. I find it satisfying to stand in the middle of organized, aesthetically pleasing rows of things.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Hello Kitty Even Has Biscuits
Michi, the general manager of this store and its sister store (located in Queens), was my tour guide. He was extremely polite and friendly, and indulged my requests to test my language skills during the tour. I read the sides of cans and packages and asked him if I was reading them correctly, which he said each time I was. Though he didn’t seem all that impressed.
I also said informative things like, “My name is Ellen,” and coughed up a few basic courtesy phrases, in Japanese, and understood basic courtesy phrases in return. That was fun. But I confess the tour was conducted almost entirely in English, as I am unable to have a conversation in Japanese about lotus root or quail eggs or rice ladles and still come away understanding what has been said.
Michi, General Manager
High-Volume Rice Offerings
Quail Eggs (I Read From These Cans!)
Ramen: Kind of High in Sodium
Current Japanese TV Shows, to Buy or to Rent
You Can Even Buy Lotus Root Here
Michi said 20 percent of the store’s customers are Japanese, in contrast with the Queens store, where only 20 percent are not Japanese. The difference in patrons, he said, meant they had to stock the stores differently. Japanese customers don’t like to buy things with English-language packaging, and American customers generally want at least some English text!
As someone who appreciates the literary merits of food packages, I guess I can understand those inclinations.