The Run Down
This guide targets a very specific demographic of people who love Japanese food and culture and are willing to travel to the Northwest Chicago suburbs. We're here to visit the largest Japanese market in the Midwest. Here are the highlights.
If you ever have the need to drive to Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, which you probably will when you take that annual visit to the IKEA in Schaumburg, what you’ll come across in the middle of suburbia is Mitsuwa, a giant Japanese market. In fact, it’s the largest Japanese market in the Midwestern US.
At first, it seems like a strange place to put a market like this, but it makes sense when you learn that the surrounding area is home to a number of Japanese companies and a sizable Japanese-American and expat population. It’s so large that there is even a private Japanese day school servicing the community.
As far as Mitsuwa goes, you don’t necessarily make the drive out here to grocery shop. No, you make the drive out here to satisfy your craving for inexpensive and authentic Japanese and Korean food. So head here for lunch at Mitsuwa’s food court, which has several different restaurants where you can get dishes like ramen, tempura, cold soba noodles, udon, and curries.
The food is good, but I think what makes the experience so great is that when you walk into the store it sort of feels like being at a food court in Tokyo — Yes, Tokyo, IL.
2. Books Kinokuniya
After you’ve thoroughly sampled all to be had at the food court, the next stop is just across the store to Books Kinokuniya. While the bookstore is in Mitsuwa, it’s an independent store that is part of the largest chain of bookstores in Japan who are known for building mega-sized stores. Books Kinokuniya has a few stores in the U.S., the most famous one being across from Bryant Park in New York City.
The location here is not quite as large, but they still have a vast collections of anime, graphic novels and Japanese periodicals straight from Japan. In addition, they also have a lot of random knick-knacks, toys, and stationary that you will have a hard time finding unless you’re in Tokyo. Take a walk around and browse through their inventory. After awhile you’ll be turning Japanese…I really think so.