Living in the greater Los Angeles area, I was lucky to have three Japanese markets: Seiwa, Mitsuwa, and Tokyo Central which were all within 6 miles away from my home. Not all of these markets allow you to buy Japanese grocery online although the places below do.
Unfortunately, not everybody is that lucky, so here are some of the most reliable online marketplaces to be able to buy Japanese grocery products: food, dinnerware, appliances, to industrial sushi and noodle-making machines online.
I just checked with Tokyo Central with my order placed on 4/4/20, and I have to say they have a poorly run online ordering system because they won’t notify you of anything (not via email or through their social media, so I had to reach out to them which is where they shine. Their one-on-one customer service is amazing, and they reassured me they are working hard to get orders out, but they are poorly equipped to do so which means I won’t see my order till about 4/27 (3+ weeks).
Marukai/Tokyo Central (they can’t even get this message right by saying “Marukai/Tokyo Central”) has shut down their online operations.
I have added a “quick guide,” along with Umami-Insider.store with a not recommended for Umamimart.com which I was initially skeptical of because even though I try to include ALL relevant places regardless if I have purchased products from them prior, I always want to make sure that you are buying from a reliable and reputable source. From my poor experience with Umami Mart, I will not vouch for them.
The Factors When Selecting Online Seller
- Location: If you are in the U.S., you will most likely want to buy as locally as possible to minimize the shipping cost and turnaround times to receive your product(s). One reason why you will not find UK or other sellers who are not in the U.S. or specialize in the U.S.
- Shipping Details: It helps to get free or low-cost shipping because who wants to spend $25 on shipping a $4 bag of chips from Japan.
- Specialized Online Retailer: There are a number of sites where online sales are an afterthought, so turnaround times, issues with your order, or the ease of being able to place a transaction and the processing of your order can very greatly.
- Product Focus: some online grocery vendors might sell everything under the sun, while others will focus on a specific niche. It pays off to know which online marketplaces specializes in which products to get the best price, selection, and service.
The Quick Guide of Who To Buy From
I can’t stand having to read through a bunch of gibberish, so I’m adding this quick guide so that you don’t have to read much either.
- Fastest turnaround times (typically): when you want it fast, Amazon is the place to go.
- The most common products that you and I use (soy sauce, mirin, dashi, to tonkatsu sauce, you can no longer rely on Tokyo Central. So the only place now is Amazon although I’m going to work on a new source.
- Best places to go for Japanese specialty food products: the Japanese Pantry, MTC Kitchen, and Umami-Insider.store.
- Best place for instant ramen/noodles: it used to be Tokyo Central, but now your only option is Amazon.
- Best place for dinnerware, knives, grillware, commercial restaurant equipment, etc: you can’t beat these two, MTC Kitchen and Korin.
- Best place for everything under the sun/cool chit: want cheap stuff that doesn’t suck? Well then, Daiso Japan is your spot.
- If you are looking for sake: these are the top online sellers to purchase from.
- Best place to buy Wagyu beef from: hey, I have a listing for that too, and you can find all the online Wagyu sellers here.
Listed in alphabetical order
1. Amazon (www.amazon.com)
There are some items you just have to check Amazon for due to Amazon’s reliability and fast turnaround times which can be as fast as same day or next day.
Location: Amazon has facilities all over the U.S. (that is the lazy answer because I’m not going to look it up because they are typically fast).
Shipping Details: if you are not familiar with or have bought anything off Amazon, you must be new to online shopping. If that is you, Amazon is constantly working on ways to improve their processing and fulfillment times, so you can get products the same day, to the very next day.
Specialized Online Retailer: there are a number of sellers who sell Japanese goods, but you need to be very savvy because some of the items can be ridiculously priced. One such item is a shiro shoyu that I can purchase for $15, but they have one seller who sells it for $109!
Product Focus: it’s a crapshoot and sometimes you’ll get lucky and find everything you want, but just watch out where it is being shipped from and what price you are paying for it. One such product is a product I love which is Sapporo Ichiban Tokyo Chicken by Iron Chef Morimoto (3.44 ounce), 10 pack goes for 24.99, yet during the height of the pandemic, some of these sellers had a field day jacking up their pricing. Although if you stock up on these ready-made curry sauce that you can store indefinitely, buying 5-packs for $22.12 or $4.42 each can be a little pricey, but they are worth it for a quick meal.
My Notes: it is the recurring theme you probably read previously which is watch out how much you are paying because there are some reasonable pricing and some ridiculous pricing.
2. Daiso (www.daisojapan.com)
Want to know what you get for a $1? This is the spot where you think you will just buy one or two things, but your shopping cart is filled at checkout.
Location: They are of course headquartered out of Gardena, but they have facilities in Hayward and La Mirada.
Shipping Details: their orders ship via UPS within 48 continental U.S. states and Alaska and Hawaii. UPS does not service P.O. Box or APO/FPO addresses. They are currently not offering services to U.S. Territories and international countries, and they only start to process the shipment after having processed the payment.
Specialized Online Retailer: nobody can resist going into one of their brick and mortar stores and not buy anything. I am sure it is the same way with their online store, but the best way to not find out, is to not go on it when you are trying go avoid going off on a shopping spree.
Product Focus: With 2,800 stores in Japan and over 4,000 stores worldwide, Daiso is often called “the Japanese dollar store,” and their cute, “kawaii” designs and unique kind of value simply cannot be compared to other dollar stores. They pride themselves on the quality, variety, and uniqueness of our wide-ranging product line, which includes everything from stationary to cosmetics to home goods. So if you are looking for polyvinyl chloride penguin or polar bear pouches, you can get 8 of them for $12 although if that is not your thing, a rice ball mold may be calling your name. For only $12, you will get an 8 pack of cute (kawaii) dog and cat molds. Your kids lunches will definitely outshine those kids whose parents who just pack a bologna sandwich.
My Notes: I don’t have any specific ones for Daiso online, but I will say that you will have to buy in “bulk” for online purchases although I think that’s a lot smarter than buying a dollar product and having to pay some ridiculous price for shipping and handling.
3. Japanese Pantry (www.thejapanesepantry.com)
If you are looking for artisanal Japanese sauces to basic ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else other than in Japan, this is where you go to buy it.
Location: I assume San Francisco/Bay Area (415 number).
Shipping Details: I have in the past ordered a couple of items from theJapanesePantry.com, and I have absolutely no issues. The site may lack support information that other sites provide although I am sure if I give them a call or email, they will respond quickly.
Specialized Online Retailer: they are not as refined as the other online markets, but their e-commerce solution is through Shopify. So if you are familiar with or have ever bought anything on any website that utilizes it (a lot of sites out there), you won’t have any issue purchasing anything from here.
Product Focus: if MTC dominates at wholesale, Korin dominates with events, then the Japanese Pantry kills it with the very niche products they carry. Their content, imagery, and online presence via social media is also where they excel at because most Japanese companies suck in that respect. Maybe the reason for that significant and welcomed difference is due to Greg Dunmore, a Michelin starred chef and co-founder Chris Bonomo who is passionate about Japanese food (yea, it comes through). So if you are looking for pottery, sauces, seaweed, sesame, soy sauce, spices, or vinegar, you have to check them out because where else are you going to find smoked soy sauce by Yugeta Shoyu for $16.
My Notes: I have purchased a couple of products from theJapanesePantry.com, and they not only delivered the product within a respectable amount of time.
4. Korin Japanese Trading (www.korin.com)
If you are looking for kitchen equipment from dinnerware to cutlery, this is the company for both Western and especially Japanese knives, accessories, and service.
Location: New York, NY
Shipping Details: Ordered on a Saturday at 9 am (orders need to be received by 11 am Eastern Standard Time), and the order went right out on Monday! Aside from how quick they are, the way they ship the products is top-notch, and you don’t have to be afraid of any damaged items.
Specialized Online Retailer: yes, and they have been in business since 1982.
Product Focus: knives, kitchenware, sushi, and ramen bar tools and equipment, tableware, grillware, and barware. Out of all the products they sell, they have a lot of notoriety for their cutlery and Korin branded kitchen knives. Beyond that, any specialty item not found at MTC can be found at Korin such as charcoal konro grills by Kaginushi to ramen noodle-making machines by Yamato (try finding that at your local Walmart).
My Notes: You can not beat the customer service from either MTC Kitchen or Korin, and these two companies exemplify the service you would get from a Japanese company.
5. MTC Kitchen (www.mtckitchen.com)
If you are in the restaurant industry, you will know who this company is because they are a dominant competitor for food products to ramen bowls and rice cookers/warmers.
Location: New York, NY
Shipping Details: They have a quick turnaround because I placed a 5-piece order at 11 pm on a Wednesday, and they shipped it the next day by 11 am (have your order in before 11 am Eastern Standard Time). I chose UPS 3-Day select, and I got my order on the following Tuesday. The best part, is they notify you all along the way of where your package is.
Specialized Online Retailer: Yes, this company just kills it on so many levels from wholesale to online sales.
Product Focus: Japanese Knives, Sharpening Stones, Sushi Supplies, Kitchenware, Tableware, Bar Tools, Disposables, Uniforms, Decorations & Books, Clearance Foods, Free Shipping with over $100. Out of all the products they have, they are all very distinctive to them because they are most likely the source for many of the products as a major distributor in the U.S. for restaurants and the foodservice industry. Where else can you find an Auten maki sushi cutter ASM 250A for a measly sum of only $5,800, but if you think that is too pedestrian for you, they also carry the Sushi Master ASM 865A for $14,000.
My Notes: As I said before, both MTC Kitchen and Korin exemplify the service you would get from a Japanese company that is really good (attentive).
6. Tokyo Central (tokyocentral.com) ONLINE STORE CLOSED
They have everything under the sun from Japanese ingredients, instant ramen, various food products, kitchenware, beauty product, etc. (my #1 go to place, but keep in mind their turnaround times are very slow).
Location: products are shipped out of Gardena.
Shipping Details: you should try to order over $120.00 worth of product because you will qualify for free shipping! If not, a $4 bottle of okonomi sauce will run you $13.88 to Colorado via FedEX. Not to mention that they do not ship to either Alaska or Hawaii. Although on the upside, you can place an order in either English or Japanese.
Specialized Online Retailer: due to how slow they are, I would say they do not specialize in being an online retailer because they say it can take upwards of 4-12 days just to process your order!?! This makes Tokyo Central the slowest way to get products online out of the businesses listed. Not only are they slow, but their online ordering process only provides you with a receipt of your order, and notification that your order has been shipped which does not include any notifications or ability to easily check on your order.
Product Focus: Everything under the rising sun. I mean everything since the parent company is Don Quijote (Donki). In Japan, this company is notorious for having stores filled floor to ceiling with products, and they back up that same experience online. Except on October 13th, they were one of the best places to buy Japanese food online, but now you will have to go into their stores to purchase any products.
7. Umami Insider (umami-insider.store)
I never heard of or bought anything from this company before (gluten-free and organic is why), but they have a cool ass dude who reached out to me to answer all the questions I had about them. That right there goes to show you how gangsta this company is, and why I plan on making some purchases from them in the future.
Location: products are possibly shipped out of the Bay Area (why do they never state this?)
Shipping Details: I looked up Honda Shoten’s Izumo Soba Noodles for $6.90 to see how much the shipping cost on just one product would be. Since I am unfortunately in Colorado at the moment, a USPS shipment will cost $3.56 for an approximate total of $10.46. I don’t know the fulfillment times from order to doorstep as I do with the others, and maybe I should have taken their gift card to test out their service. Except I don’t need to when they cite 2-3 business days from the time-ordered which I hope is padded to give them wiggle room. I hope that because nowadays with some online entities from Amazon to small companies/businesses, the product goes out the day I placed my order to the next day.
Specialized Online Retailer: yes they are, and they say they launched their online store only a year ago, yet they are quickly on their way of becoming one of the biggest online Japanese specialty grocery stores in the U.S.
Product Focus: Well, it’s limited, but everything is uniquely Japanese with a focus on gluten-free to organic b.s. What that consists of is categorized as “pantry staples,” sauce/mayo, dashi/seaweed, noodles, drink/dessert, to easy kits & ready-to-eat. That last one caught my attention because the products have to be shippable/non-perishable, so I had to see what they consider “kits” or “ready-to-eat.” One of those products is a douchey 4.94 oz gluten-free arrabbiata pasta sauce for $5.40 which is just the eff’n sauce. They sell their gluten free brown rice pasta separately that are not ready to eat unless a pot of boiling water and a stovetop are considered ready-to-eat. Although regardless of how they categorize their products, this product is distinctive because it uses a rice puree instead of using wheat flour for thickening. The product is by Akitakomachi Company.
My Notes: the reason why I say dude was cool and that they are gangsta AF is because the Japanese are morons when it comes to digital marketing, and I think they are the only ones that call social media “SNS (social networking sites).” Not only that, marketing and having an English speaking staff are not common which is why their guy who reached out to me is cool because he is the opposite of everything I just said about Japanese in general. I mean, everybody else could be dicks/clueless at Umami-Insider, but at least I know one legit contact that gives me a lot of faith in their company.
8. Umami Mart (umamimart) – WARNING: I Do Not Recommend.
Started as a blog, but they later went into the importing of bar tools, glassware from Japan, along with sake, shochu, Japanese whisky, and beer which are all curated by a couple of hipster Japanese.
Location: products are shipped out Oakland, CA (SF Bay Area).
Shipping Details: I do not see any special incentives for shipping, so if you were going to be crazy enough to order just one item such as the Momoya Taberu Rayu, you are looking at $14.20 to $19.87 to Newport Beach, CA (92663).
Specialized Online Retailer: yes they are although they are also a brick and mortar market where you can do curbside pickup at 4027 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611 if you are in the Bay Area. If not, they utilize a Shopify based website which not only allows for your typical credit card payment, but also ShopPay, Google Pay, and PayPal.
Product Focus: barware, glassware, sake, spirits, kitchen, living, and gifts, so if you want to take your bar (home/business) up a notch, this is the spot to get everything at. Although, Umami Mart would not have been on this list if it were not for Ev R. who said “I order from Umami Mart frequently, and my entire household has gone crazy for their Taberu Rayu (Seasoned Oil With Red Pepper And Garlic). Both shops (Japanese Pantry) are highly reliable and I strongly recommend them,” thank you Ev!
My Notes: I am really skeptical of this company because the businesses I am not familiar with as a customer, I will go out of my way to reach out to them to gather more information because I am not familiar with them as a customer. Unfortunately, the two times I have reached out to them, they have failed to respond to either message, so I can not imagine what would happen if you had an issue with an order – my guess you are focked.
Am I missing any? If I am, let me know.
Click the link if you want to know the “Top Japanese Supermarkets in SoCal.“