Family Market brings Tokyo taste to Astoria

(Clockwise from above) Family Market Manager Mitsuru Kosaka says working at the Japanese grocery store makes him less homesick. Family Market sells many foods imported from Japan that can be hard to find in the United States as well as other Japanese products such as dinnerware and beauty supplies. Photos by Karen Frantz
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In the heart of Astoria, amid scores of Greek eateries, stands one of the city’s first Japanese grocery stores: Family Market.

“It’s like a Japanese community here,” said the market’s manager, Mitsuru Kosaka.

The store, at 29-15 Broadway, mostly sells Japanese food, such as tofu, ramen, green tea and rice cakes. But it also features a number of other Japanese commodities, such as Asian beauty products, teapots and other cookware, and it rents out an impressive video selection of Japanese movies and TV programs.

Customers can also pick up newspapers in Japanese or browse through a community bulletin board, where others have posted fliers advertising private English lessons or rooms available for rent.

The market opened about a decade ago, when there were only two or three other Japanese grocery stores in the city, Kosaka said.

At that time, the neighborhood had a larger Japanese population, he said.

“When we started it was mostly Asian [and] Japanese people” coming to the store, he said.

Today, Astoria’s demographics have shifted some and there are fewer Japanese people living in the area. But Kosaka said there has been a larger interest among Americans in all things Japan in recent years, which has bolstered business.

“A lot of Americans are interested in the Japanese product,” he said, saying about half the customers now are Japanese and the other half American, a shift from several years ago.

The owner of the store, Yuki Hayashi, is no stranger to Asian-themed businesses in the city. He also owns another Japanese grocery store, Midoriya, in Brooklyn, and a karaoke bar in Manhattan.

Kosaka said for a long time the store imported all of its items from overseas, although recently it has started to go through a Japanese vendor located in California for some items.

He said he likes working at the store because he enjoys talking with people about the food of his homeland.

“I want people to know what’s good about Japanese food,” he said.

He said he moved to the United States from Japan 13 years ago and has worked at the Family Market since it opened. He said working there has also helped to ease his homesickness.

“When I first came here, I missed Japanese food so much,” he said, but that working at the market means “I don’t feel I have to go back to Japan to get stuff.”

He said he particularly loved the fermented soy beans, although he said others often found it unpleasing.

“I ate this every day when I was a child,” he said fondly. “I grew up with this.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 1:32 pm, May 1, 2013
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