The Pros and Cons of 5 Japanese SoCal Supermarkets from San Diego to Los Angeles

If you Live in San Diego, Orange County, to Los Angeles, there is no need to rely on the limited and pricey “Oriental” aisle or the ethnic section of your mainstream market/grocery store any longer.  

Originally posted on July 13, 2017

If you live in SoCal, you’ll be happy to know that this region has plenty of Japanese supermarkets and grocery store chains operating here. Although if you are not living here, you will be happy that some of these markets have an online presence (“best places to buy online Japanese food/products online“).

Going to a Japanese market in SoCal is like a little piece of Japan in our backyard: one filled with Japanese goods, foods, beauty products, and some Japanese services such as travel agencies to phone carriers.

The grocery icons denote summaries for a quick read.

5 Japanese Supermarkets with Approximately 25 Locations Throughout SoCal

Listed below are the best markets for you to pull off that recipe on Just One Cookbook or stockpile up Japanese ingredients and foodstuff. They have it all from edamame, ramen, Japanese craft beers/sake, beauty supplies, or well, umm, a stuffed Korohamu plush hamster.

Photo Description: the "deli" sushi, sashimi, and prepared foods area of Tokyo Central market. This is the newly renovated area that was in constant change regarding their product lineup.
It’s great to be in a market where every aisle is the “oriental aisle.” Pictured is the renovated Tokyo Central in Costa Mesa, CA.
Listed in Alphabetical Order (not rankinag)
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One of, if not the oldest Japanese American markets in the United States, so Marukai has a loyal following and a massive customer base that spans several decades.

Also the spot for Hawaiian goods like Portuguese sausage and lau lau (both Ono and Keoki’s).

Established in 1965, Marukai Corporation was the first international Japan-based retailer to offer a wholesale market and membership system. In 2013 Marukai joined the Don Quijote Group, which has over 150 stores domestically that carry more than 45,000 products.

Photo Description: I took this pic of Marukai from the upper floor of this MASSIVE Japanese supermarkets which looks like a village of sorts inside due to the wooden roofed structures throughout the interior. Below you can see the shelves upon shelves of products that stretch from wall to wall.
Pictured is the 45,000 sq. ft. Marukai “Forum” which was opened in 1996.


Marukai has been in the U.S. market for quite some time, so they have a well-established name and reputation, which is for having a large variety of items at competitive pricing.


With all the recent changes, what the management here fails to do, is to differentiate Marukai from their Tokyo Central stores (the Japanese know nothing about branding). That is a branding issue because they have some Marukai stores converted to Tokyo Central stores, yet they do not rebrand them all.

So why not make it clear with what the differences are between the two? Otherwise, long-time shoppers of Marukai are left to wonder why their beloved store was converted into a Tokyo Central whereas other regions got to hang on to theirs (they never do things that seem to make sense).

Image Gallery: Marukai Gardena

  • Headquarters: Gardena, CA
  • Founded: 1965
  • Number of locations in SoCal: 5
  • Locations (link to Google Places/Maps): Gardena, Cupertino, Little Tokyo LA, Gardena (pictured), San Diego, West LA.
  • Operating Hours: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm
  • Notes: I’ve long relied on Marukai to come through with Hawaiian food products like lau lau (pork, chicken, etc), and I’m sure I account for one of the bigger buyers of that product. It’s also the reason why I’ve noticed that Keoki’s lau lau went from roughly $11 for a 3-pack to the Tokyo Central price of $16+ ($13.49 at other online stores). So, if they’re both the same company, why the price increase? Or would this product be cheaper at Marukai? EDIT 7/15/2017: tried to look up the pricing on their online store, but it’s not listed (because it’s a freezer item).
  • Website: www.marukai.com
  • Online store: www.tokyocentral.com CLOSED AS OF OCT 13TH, 2020
  • Social: none

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I would say Mitsuwa is a go to spot because of their food court. The restaurants will vary from one location to another, but the most notorious would be Santouka ramen although I highly recommend Gyutan Tsukasa in Costa Mesa.

The other spots include an udon, green tea (Yamari/Torrance), katsu curry, ramen (Santouka/multiple locations), tempura, to Chinese (Sky Express/Costa Mesa) restaurants.

“Mitsuwa Marketplace is the largest Japanese Supermarket in the U. S.” is what they tout on the Mitsuwa marketplace website. That sounds impressive and all, but if grocery shopping is not your thing, Mitsuwa is your market. The reason being? You do not have to be much of a cook to want to visit Mitsuwa because you can easily get a pre-prepared meal or something from the food court for roughly a couple of bucks to an average of $8 (and no tipping is required).

Photo Description: Mitsuwa market food court is a large octagon shape with several individuals restaurants in each segment of the wall. Each restaurant has it's own unique style although they are all very traditionally Japanese looking. In the center is the seating area, along with a large faux stone brick wall.
This is a huge draw to Mitsuwa Market which is the “food court” (Torrance location pictured).


The pricing for the market isn’t the most competitive, but the food court is the big draw to the marketplace. “Food court” doesn’t necessarily conjure up positive thoughts for most (my first thoughts are Sbarro, Hot Dog on a Stick, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but Mitsuwa has a good one. The popularity is partially due to restaurants like Santouka Ramen, which have upwards of 2k reviews and a 4.5-star rating on Yelp. If that isn’t enough for you to check the place out, some stores also have a book, stationery, toy, video stores, and a hair salon.


The Torrance location has ample parking, but Los Angeles and Costa Mesa are short on it during peak hours. Lack of parking can make parking a challenge when you’re looking to have a quick lunch or dinner, so you’ll want to factor that in, along with the fact that the food court closes a half-hour earlier than the market, which makes for a short window on dinner for you late-night diners.

Image Gallery: Mitsuwa, Torrance and Costa Mesa

  • Headquarters: Torrance, CA
  • Founded: 1998
  • Number of locations in SoCal: 6
  • Locations (link to Google Places/Maps): Torrance (pictured), Irvine, Costa Mesa (pictured), San Gabriel, Santa Monica, San Diego, San Jose, Chicago, Plano, New Jersey, Waikiki.
  • Operating Hours: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, Food Court: 11am to 8:30 pm.
  • Notes: later in the evening, they discount a lot of their pre-prepared meals and sushi down by as much as a $1 or more, woo hoo! Saving money is good, but the best part is the quality. Mitsuwa does some of the best sushi out of any of the grocery store chains.
  • Website: www.mitsuwa.com
  • Online Store: no
  • Social: Facebook, Instagram

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This should sum up the Nijiya experience in their own (incoherent) words:

“In 1986, San Diego, California, all started in hopes of contributing to the local society through Japanese food, and make this wonderful Japanese taste known to the people of America. It was long, long before Organic Ingredients healthy became the trend of American culinary scene.”

– Nijiya
Photo Description: large bins of vegetables to fruit can be seen. The same produce you would find in any mainstream market from a variety of mushrooms, green onions, carrots, cabbage to tangerines, mango, kiwi, and apples.
Nijiya owns their own farm that grows organic vegetables.


You have to dig to find this, but Nijiya owns and operates a farm in San Diego to grow their own “organic” vegetables (not sure what degree they are organic). Aside from that, their products tend to have a healthy or organic focus, such as their pre-prepared sushi, which comes with an organic soy sauce packet.


An American business started in San Diego in 1986, yet the English used on their corporate website in 2017 doesn’t reflect that. Not only is copywriting an issue, but this market just seems to be behind because of the old and antiquated website. The site is not web 2.0 (mobile browser compliant). To make things a little harder, the website is in both Japanese and English, but they have it mixed together which can make navigating the site somewhat cluttered.

Image Gallery: Nijiya Torrance

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This is the new kid on the block, but you’re not dealing with a noob here because this chain is owned by Hidejiro Matsu who is the founder of Marukai.

Except, now Marukai is now Tokyo Central, bought out by DonQi (Japanese company).

His first Seiwa location is in Costa Mesa may have a limited selection, but if you’re looking to buy in bulk, or you’re looking for some killer deals, Seiwa is your spot.

Photo Description: the newly designed and built Seiwa market that took over the old Fresh and Easy. The green and muted yellow color palette is in the background with several pallets of rice in the foreground.
Just some of the goods they have placed in front, near the checkout.


If you never really purchased that many frozen foods, shopping at Seiwa will make you want to reconsider starting (it did for me). Frozen goods can be extremely convenient and cost-effective when buying proteins like chicken, pork, beef, and fish (so far, I’ve done salmon, salmon collar, eel, to mackerel) in bulk where you can package individual portions for future use.


The newcomer to the group, so they are still making tweaks to the business, especially the Costa Mesa location, which I have informally nicknamed the “Japanese Costco.” Unfortunately, they made some recent changes to that store to turn it into another “me too” location with more pre-prepared foods and non-frozen meats.

That might be in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, but they still fall short compared to Tokyo Central’s variety of goods which is only a couple of blocks away. Mitsuwa is also only 2.8 miles/8 mins away, and they just cannot compete against their food court or special food events. Except, that has not stopped the management from doing the same thing their competition is doing.

Image Gallery: Seiwa, Costa Mesa

  • Headquarters: Torrance, CA
  • Founded in: 1986
  • Number of locations in SoCal: 3
  • Locations (link to Google Places/Maps): Costa Mesa, Torrance, Houston
  • Note: They have a “1.5 lb, Wild Caught Opilio frozen snow crab” that used to be around $10-11, but they recently raised the price to $14.99 (almost a $4 increase). No clue as to why it was raised, but I suppose they’re still working things out although they always have stellar deals like the one with Kona Coffee which they sell for an everyday low price of .88 to .99 versus the competitor pricing of $1.29 to $1.49.
  • Operating Hours: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm
  • Website: www.seiwamarket.com
  • Online Store: no
  • Social: Facebook (Houston only)

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Aside from their great product labeling for English speakers, next to Marukai, you will not find the vast range of products that Tokyo Central carries.

This is the best Japanese market for “first time visiting a Japanese market.”

Originally Marukai, but in 2013 several stores were re-branded and remodeled as Tokyo Central because Marukai joined the highly successful Japanese-based company, the Don Quijote Group. That partnership led to significant improvements in the interior and in-store experience, which includes a massive increase in products. The expanded inventory includes toys, household products, makeup, and more.

Photo Description: the interior shot of Tokyo Central is FILLED with products from floor to ceilings. In this shot you can see a row with multiple shelves of rice cookers, along with maki su, and dinnerware.
If you want to go to the one place that has it all, this is the spot…well and Marukai (same or not the same, well both are Japanese SUPERmarkets)


If you aren’t a native Japanese speaker, there is one major reason you’ll want to come here over any other market which is their in-store labeling for probably almost all their products is in good ole English. Since most of the products carried were meant for the Japanese domestic market, Tokyo Central provides a brief description of the product, so that you don’t have to rely on the look of the packaging or the required FDA ingredients label on the backside of all the goods.


Before Tokyo Central’s acquisition of Marukai, the food court had never really measured up to the one inside Mitsuwa. Now with the entirely new Tokyo Central Delicatessen (sorry no cold cuts or cheese here. Only “unusual or foreign prepared foods”) and a buffet line with all their pre-cooked food and sushi offerings, it’s still a huge hit or miss with a lot more “miss.” Taking on a WholeFoods like approach but with an odd menu and without the foot traffic results in a lot of food sitting around. It doesn’t help that their sushi offerings are very mediocre.

The only redeeming change they had made lately was adding Toraji Ramen to the Costa Mesa location (CLOSED). The replacement is Hanzo Ramen, and they have locations in Costa Mesa, West Covina, and the Yorba Linda store. Along with these other shops and restaurants at Tokyo Central are Beard Papa’s (cream puffs), Steamed Buns, Kagura (tonkatsu), Croissants Du Tokyo, Tenkatori USA (Japanese fried chicken), and Gindaco (takoyaki).

Image Gallery: Tokyo Central, Costa Mesa

  • Headquarters: Torrance, CA
  • Founded in: 1986
  • Number of locations in SoCal: 5
  • Locations (link to Google Places/Maps): Costa Mesa, Torrance, West Covina, Pacific Square, San Diego.
  • Note: They have “Tokyo Central” and “Main” stores, but they don’t bother letting you know what the differences are between the two. Maybe one day, they’ll decide to officially disclose what the differences are vs. making you have to figure that one out for yourself.
  • General Operating Hours: 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
  • Website: www.tokyocentral.com
  • Online Store: no, tokyocentral.com CLOSED AS OF OCT 13TH, 2020
  • Social: none

If you have a favorite market, please let me know.

If You Would Rather Buy Online

I have the list of all the American online Japanese markets that carry food products, dinnerware, chopsticks, to Japanese cutlery.

Photo Description of an iPad with a screenshot of Umami-Insider.store. The sites homepage has an image of a ladle ladling what looks to be dashi.
If you want to shop online, click on the image to go to best places to buy Japanese food ingredients and kitchen products online.

Food icons created by amonrat rungreangfangsai – Flaticon


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