It's easy to forget I'm in the Bay Area—or, indeed, in North America—when I visit San Francisco's Japantown. For one thing, it's big: the largest Japantown in the United States. It also draws a lot of Japanese tourists who do things like pose for photos next to a scale model of Osaka Palace (not unlike American tourists who go to Las Vegas to see New York, New York).
Then there are the shops.
I spent a happily bemused hour recently in the Najiya supermarket, which was crammed with Japanese-speaking shoppers of all ages. The store is tiny by U.S. supermarket standards but well stocked with spectacular produce (including the most massive daikon I've ever seen), a near-infinite selection of tofu, and gratifyingly weird packaged goods.
I gazed for several minutes at this display . . .
. . . marveling at the sheer oxymoronism of "Vermont Curry" (a hitherto unknown-to-me native delicacy). And why "Vermont" at all? Did the marketing department confuse honey with maple syrup?
The personal-care aisles yield more treasures:
Because when you need Kare for your Crack, nothing smoothens like a moisturizing patch.
Gatsby products occupy a large share of the shelf space devoted to men's grooming.
I'm not certain what this stuff is, but I deduce that in Japan, "Gatsby" connotes glamour and hipness rather than doom and required reading. Gatsby appears to be a huge brand in Japan; I found many more Gatsby products online, such as the Mandom Gatsby Moving Rubber Wild Shake, which seems to be hair goop. What a name! Mandom! Is that a man-word for "random"?
The ladies get their own odd brand name:
Moving along to housewares, I discovered this festive instrument of death:
There is so much to love about this package, is there not? The imperative name. The pointy-handed conversation bubbles. The "special Foot Mat." The bug-eyed betrapped bug. And how about "Hoy Hoy"? I'm not sure what it means in Japanese*, but in English it's very close to the way Mr. Burns answers the phone—"Ahoy-hoy!"—on "The Simpsons." (It was, after all, the telephone greeting that Thomas Edison preferred.) The whole package looks like it serves double duty as a game board.
I finished my tour in a gift shop in the Kinokuniya Building, where I espied a table heaped with products bearing the enigmatic features of "Bonao."
* UPDATE: In a tweet, Rochelle Kopp of Japan Intercultural Consulting explains that "HoyHoy" is the Japanese term for "roach motel." It's not in the dictionary, she adds, "but when I first learned it I was told it means 'beckon'."