By Chris Barnes
How can you travel Japan without ever leaving Tokyo? The answer is simple: visit one of the city’s many antenna shops for a literal taste of the various prefectures of Japan, all without spending a dime on long-distance transportation.
Antenna shops were first established in Tokyo in the early 1990s as a means for regional governments to promote local goods and products to the capital’s many residents. Antenna shops for Okinawa and Kumamoto were the first to arrive on the scene in 1994, with the current total of prefectural outlets totaling around 54 – with 28 shops dotted about the Ginza/Yurakucho area alone. Some prefectures retain only one location, while a handful of prefectures sell their goods in multiple outlets.
One of the highlights of any antenna shop is the wide range of food on offer. Shops typically focus on regional specialties (meibutsu), as well as fresh fruits and vegetables that have been sourced directly from that particular prefecture. Unique drinks, such as various juices and sake, and even full meals are available at some of the outlets. Other food products may include salts, spices, sauces or regional curries.
Antenna shops also serve as a way to promote the prefecture as a tourist destination. Some shops will boast an information booth with brochures and on-site staff who can assist in answering travel-related questions. Antenna shops also serve as a vehicle to encourage Tokyo residents to relocate (or return home) to some of the country’s more far-flung regions.
A handful of the antenna shops are profiled below:
As befitting the largest of Japan's prefectures, this is one of the largest antenna shops. Most visitors flock here for the wealth of northern foods available, from corn and potato croquettes to fresh cheeses and seafood to the island's popular Yubari melon soft cream.
The shop also hosts numerous events and food fairs during the year. Hokkaido's antenna shop also sits in a building with at least four other prefectural outlets, including Fukuoka, Akita and Toyama.
If sake is what you seek, you'll find over 100 varieties to whet your whistle at the Ishikawa prefectural antenna shop. You can taste about a number of them on-site or partake in an affordable lunch featuring local ingredients.
The shop also boasts a wide range of craft products, such as lacquerware and items made from Kanazawa's famous gold leaf.
A statue of famed samurai and Kochi hometown hero Sakamoto Ryoma welcomes visitors to this Shikoku prefecture's outlet.
Buy jams or sauces made from Kochi's popular yuzu citrus fruits or processed products featuring the local skipjack tuna. In the basement level, try Tosa cuisine and a selection of sake from southern Shikoku.
If you can't get enough of this prefecture's kawaii character mascot, come here for your fill of all things Kumamon.
Kumamoto's famous fruits and vegetables are also on offer, and shoppers can choose from ginger, red leeks, kabosu citrus and frozen horsemeat. A small eating corner on the second floor offers locally-produced shochu and a handful of snacks.
Enjoy the slower pace of the subtropics at this shop devoted to Japan's southernmost prefecture.
Sip shikwasa (Okinawan lime) juice to the sounds of the sanshin (three-stringed guitar) or chow down on an Okinawan donut. Locals crafts include handblown glass and shisa (lion dog) statues. The basement stocks bottles of awamori, the fiery Okinawan liquor.
Where to begin
Most of the antenna shops in Tokyo are clustered in the area between Tokyo and Shimbashi station, with a high concentration located in the Yurakucho and Ginza neighborhoods.
The Tokyo Koutsu Kaikan by Yurakucho Station is a great place to start, with 14 shops located within this building alone.
With a little bit of planning, you can wander your way across the Japanese archipelago, all in the space of an afternoon.
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