Living in the greater Los Angeles area, I was lucky to have three Japanese markets: Seiwa, Mitsuwa, and Tokyo Central all within 6 miles from where I lived.
Unfortunately, not everybody is that lucky, so here are some of the most reliable online marketplaces to be able to buy Japanese products: food, dinnerware, to appliances online.
ATTENTION: DUE TO COVID-19 (3/24/20)
There is a significant increase in site traffic for online sales, so many of the vendors listed here are having a hard time handling the large influx of orders. Although a local market in Colorado can currently sell and ship without issue, so if you are looking for food products (a Tokyo Central alternative), please also check out http://www.pacificeastwest.com/.
I just reached out to Pacific Mercantile to get turnaround times on Monday, March 6th at 10:51 PM. It is now Wednesday afternoon on March 8th, and I have not gotten a response from them. So I do not recommend Pacific Mercantile, and suggest you stick with the vendors below (keep in mind Tokyo Central has long turnaround times).
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).
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).
- 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 vendors might sell everything under the sun, while others will focus on a specific niche of products. It pays off to know which online marketplaces specializes in which products to get the best price, selection, and service.
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 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 a 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 you are paying for it.
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 on 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.
3. Japanese Pantry (www.thejapanesepantry.com)
If you are looking for 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 never ordered anything from here, and the site lacks the support information 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 difference is 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 check them out.
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.
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.
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
6. Tokyo Central (tokyocentral.com)
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 you 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.
7. Umami Mart (umamimart)
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 also have a brick and mortar 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 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!
Am I missing any? If I am, let me know.
Click the link if you want to know the “Top Japanese Supermarkets in SoCal.“