Well, it wasn't Japan, but it was a lovely jaunt anyway. My pals Erica and Patty, both of whom have been to Japan twice, dragged me off to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater NJ, today. It's smaller than I thought, but well worth catching the $2.00 shuttle from Port Authority and the half-hour ride. There's a large food court with several fab and cheap little Japanese fast food restaurants (noodle shops, tempura, sushi, hand rolls, etc.) attached to an even larger grocery store (where—happy dance!—I found a gigundo bottle of my favorite Kirin milky tea), which also containsa tea shop, and a very high-end bakery filled with exquisite Japanese sweets in their elaborate paper wrappings, all of which look too beautiful to eat.
Across from that is another mini-mall, in which there's a nice size bookstore (complete with comfy chairs) stocked with the latest magazines, manga, novels—even a few here and there in English—and stationery supplies. Erica, who's learning Japanese (she's a serious anime & manga fan) has a regular batch of magazines held for her there. Its a weird sensation for a bookworm like me to go into an inviting, well-stocked bookstore, and not be able to read anything in it. It's a little glimpse of what being illiterate must be like, and how frustrating it is when the alphabet is just a bunch of inscrutable, indecipherable squiggly lines. It's not at all like sussing out the Spanish headlines on the subway; it's like banging your head against Russian or Greek but worse, because there are so many more Kanji than Greek or Cyrillic letters and the differences seem (and probably actually are), to the unfamiliar eye, much more subtle: utterly maddening. For someone who relies on books to find her way around the world, it's like standing in the middle of an oasis in the desert and not being able to drink the water. All that information and knowledge locked up where I can't get at it, hidden in plain sight! Aiiieeeeee! Nonetheless, I came home with manga (in English), thanks to Erica's recommendation. This could be a large black hole I'm falling into here, with my innate love of comics.
The funniest thing I bought was actually in the grocery store, and it's a box of little miniature objects from daily life by a company called Re-Ment. I think they're called gashapon. There are several series and several sets in each series. The one I got was a kind of household gimcrack series which turned out to have a plate of mini veggies and a stand with six mini apothecary jars of indefinable stuff in them, and a "wooden" mortar and pestle. I was actually hoping to get the little tea set shelves and set. There were larger boxes with whole kitchens or a dressing table for surprisingly cheap ($20 or so). Apparently Erica and I share the miniature fetish as well as sarcasm. I think I may have found a new obsession.
Farther in, away from the horror of the bookstore, is a sort of department store that reminded me of a smaller, Japanese version of Pearl River. One side is filled with dishes, some (restaurant overruns) at a discount, some handmade and very expensive and quite beautiful. Erica and I admired a ceramic sake server with a little silver spout that we agreed would make a fine ice tea jug if only it weren't $200. There were several other really fabulous pieces, including a long, narrow serving tray done to look like a bamboo leaf pinched at either end to make handles, and a couple of pretty little raku bud vases, of which I bought one. It's a little triangular pot with a bent twig handle on it: tiny but beautiful and worth every penny of the $25.00 I spent on it. Cheap at twice the price, actually, so I didn't think that was bad at all.
The other side is dangerously nice bags of all sorts, hilarious and strangely seductive Japanese toys, futons, yukata, those split door curtains you see in the restaurants (I know there's a name for those, but I don't know it), tansu, paper, artbooks and postcards. I bought a lovely set of the latter, of prints by Toshikata illustrating the Tea Ceremony in 15 scenes. There were the usual Hiroshige and Hokusai prints too, but this was an artist I didn't know, and his work is just lovely. It's more delicate than either Hiroshige or Hokusai, the colors softer, his people more lively and naturalistic. He's also about a century later than either of them. So for this and my little bud vase, if nothing else, it was well worth the trip. Of course, I also got to spend time with Erica and Patty, which was really a delight. I'm looking forward to spending more with them.