Do anybody else’s grandparents think that living and working abroad equals one very long vacation? When is a good time to break to them that most Sundays are spent rolled up in a blanket burrito?
Living in Tokyo doesn’t mean we get to travel all that much. Domestic trips can be affordable if you have time to spare. If you try to squeeze it all into a three-day holiday weekend, it becomes everything but a holiday. There is, however, a way around that if you live in the capital – and if you’re looking to keep up the persona of a well-traveled expat.
Prefectural specialty shops, affectionately called “antenna shops” in Japanese, were established in the early 1990s to drive tourism out of major cities and into less visited regions of Japan through the promotion of the cultural richness unique to each prefecture. Whether it’s famous for its seasonal produce, luxurious handmade fabrics or distinctive ware, antenna shops are sure to be stocked with popular, traditional items reflecting craftsmanship and agricultural prowess. One might say it’s like traveling outside of Tokyo… without leaving Tokyo.
Though it did start as a marketing scheme (further developed with the appearance of prefectural mascots in the early 2000s), today antenna shops aren’t a rare sight. They’ve become essential in establishing a consistent prefectural brand and for working Tokyoites, a viable resource to get your hands on snacks and gifts otherwise unavailable in neighborhood supermarkets and shops.
Forty of Japan’s 47 prefectures have representation in Tokyo, with most of them located in Ginza, where crowds of tourists and traveling businessmen come and go. A lot, if not most, of regional specialties surround food and its many presentations, and it’s not rare that antenna shops take the form of glorified supermarkets from the outside. Venture inside to find high-quality home good and unique gifts that can complete a care package.
Hokkaido & Tohoku
A plane ticket to Hokkaido can be expensive depending on the season. It’s a popular destination all-year round; cool and colorful in the summer and covered in powdery snow in the winter. It’s also home to some of Japan’s delicious seafood delicacies, including hair crab, a variety of dairy products and, of course, the famous Royce chocolate-covered potato chips. Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza, located right outside the JR Yurakucho station, is great if you wanna stock up on snacks, but exceptional if you want a scoop of rich ice cream to cool off during Tokyo’s excruciatingly hot summer.
The prefectures of Tohoku, on the other hand, offer a vast selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, apples being the highlight of the autumn months. For those who indulge in a glass of red in the evening, you’ll enjoy these shops’ wide range of wines and liquors. Whether you’re looking to decorate your room with Fukushima’s adorable kokeshi (limbless wooden dolls) at Midette or splurge on Iwate ironware for your next dinner party Iwate Galaxy Plaza, these prefectural specialty stores are filled with a selection of the region’s best cultural exports.
Tokyo is easily the biggest and most populated area of the Kanto region, but outside of the metropolis lay a few hidden secrets. Here too you’ll find supermarket exclusives, from kitchen cupboard essentials like rice to comfort food like gyoza if you stop by the Tochigi antenna shop. If you’re interested in the phenomenon that are the cute prefectural mascots, visit Gunma-chan’s House, the prefectural specialty shop of Gunma Prefecture. A must-try item is cream daifuku, but you’ll also be happy to find shelves filled to the brim with merchandise starring Gunma’s famous pony. Represent your fandom with a T-shirt or baseball caps, or bring home branded stationary and edibles.
A lot of prefectural speciality shops are, as mentioned above, for all intents and purposes, supermarkets. But, once in a while, you find the few that offer nothing short of an elevated experience. At Chubu Prefectures’ antenna shops you can buy local products, art and even taste signature dishes before strolling through their small, charming galleries. Niigata’s N’Espace, located in posh Omotesando, has an elaborate spread set up across three floors, which includes an exhibition space and a restaurant, offering visitors an approach to the prefecture from every angle. Ishikawa’s antenna shop lets you sip tea in classic Ishikawa ware, which you can take home if you aren’t already purchasing some luxuriously packaged gift sets.
This region’s history goes back many, many centuries and is one of the most visited areas in Japan. To this day, locals and foreign residents alike will state confidently that it is the home of Japanese culture. Kyoto alone has 39 official antenna shops in Tokyo, stocking everything from quality fabric, cosmetics, and of course, matcha powder for all your cooking needs. This is perfect for those who might lack time to visit the region on their trip to Japan but want to take a piece of Kyoto back home. Nara’s prefectural speciality shop comes in surprisingly modern architecture contrasting its historical temples, as beautiful from the outside as on the inside. Visitors can browse their selection of fine glassware and can take a bite out of original dishes from the country’s former capital.
Chugoku & Shikoku
While often neglected by travelers, who go straight to Hiroshima before continuing their route to Fukuoka, this region’s landscape ranges from beautiful, lush gardens to sand dunes. In Tokyo, however, Tottori and Okayama share an antenna shop in Shinbashi in the form of a cosy bistro.
Shikoku has distinguished itself for its potent yuzu export in the winter, which can be found at the Kochi prefecture antenna shop. Meanwhile, much-appreciated handkerchiefs from Ehime can be found at an antenna shop shared with Kagawa Prefecture near Shinbashi station. A trendy and nicely curated Shin-Ehime store in KITTE Marunouchi also has everything you might be interested in.
Kyushu & Okinawa
While certainly the region with the most prefectures, Kyushu is sadly forgotten when it comes to representing itself in Tokyo. One explanation might be that they are already doing well in attracting tourists; their prime location makes it a very popular area of Japan to visit for Korean and Chinese travelers. Among the few that jumped on the antenna shop bandwagon are Nagasaki, which has a very thorough tourist information corner for those aching to go south. The shops representing Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Miyazaki bring a wide variety of food products that visitors can try on the spot. The Oita antenna shop offers a fine dining experience with an impressive selection of imported drinks if you’re looking to really go all out.
Finally but not least, Okinawa has an adorable antenna shop with every Okinawan snack and ingredient you could dream of in Ginza, as well as a smaller store in Shinjuku. Okinawan food is one that is much different from the rest of Japan, as is their culture. This store also stocks traditional musical instruments that would otherwise be nearly impossible to find in Tokyo if that’s your jam.
There are many antenna shops in Tokyo, it was impossible to name them all. Let us know your favorite ones in the comments!