The Japanese grocery store

There is a Japanese supermarket in Rolling Meadows called Mitsuwa. I have never been to Japan, and certainly haven't bought groceries there, but inside this enormous store, I felt I had been transported to the other end of the planet.

Mitsuwa has everything. Tons of unique groceries from Japanese and American companies, plus a huge Shiseido makeup counter, plus a pharmacy, a travel agency, restaurants and a bookstore. You can order sushi from the chefs on hand - or you can purchase fresh fish to make your own. The formats and layouts are nontraditional for the U.S. - some areas have giant stacked displays and other sections are under tents like an indoor flea market. Signage is all in Japanese. The pharmacist wears a fancy blouse. The checkout counters are all painted pink.

Standing inside this store, I was hit hard with a realization: that every grocery store I've ever been to is like, exactly the same. The produce, then the cereal, the meat counter, the dairy, the paper towels, the frozen pizza, the checkout. Sure, some stores are a little more exciting or original (Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, for sure) but even they conform to the American notion of what a grocery store looks like, feels like, and sells.

Mitsuwa caters to the large numbers of Japanese people who live in Chicago's northwest suburbs. Perhaps to many of them, it feels like home. To me, it was a refreshing change of pace. I bought some Mochi, walked into the parking lot and drove back into America.

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