August 16, 2012

Tokyo JUNKtion: Toraya (Roppongi Hills)

by yoko

On the very special occasion that a visitor from Japan would bring Toraya to our home in Cupertino, I would actually be excited about eating. I was a very picky, skinny child, but whenever my mom busted out the Toraya I would eat blocks of yokan (red bean dessert) and stack as much anko into my monaka sandwiches.

Wagashi (Japanese confections) have yet to hit it big in America, and you have to actually go to Japan to experience the real deal. Toraya is in a class of its own and many people I know who don’t like Japanese sweets make an exception for Toraya.

I felt like I was in Disneyland when I visited Toraya in Roppongi Hills a couple months ago. The gallery and sweets boutique was clean, modern and playful. I had a lot of fun milling around snapping pictures like a tourist.


The space includes the a retail area and gallery space


Low tables with tea and sweets related products

The exhibit in the gallery included artwork by illustrator Mizumaru Anzai that features Toraya confections.


Anzai seems to do a lot of food related illustrations, according to wiki (ice cream, cookies, shokudo, etc). Wouldn’t it be SO cool to get him to do something at Umami Mart?! 


The counter

Toraya did open in New York in 1993, but closed its doors ten years later. There just doesn’t seem to be a large enough market for refined bean paste and pristine yokan in the States. They have been around for 400 years and it shows in the taste and presentation.


Beautiful sea anemone-like confection


Matching art to go with the pink confection, by Mr. Anzai. More info about the exhibition here (in Japanese, sorry)

The classic mini yokan logs look like Donald Judd pieces on your plate, enhancing the visual experience.


I stocked up on these pieces

The molds they use to create their crisp wafer-like monaka shells are not the usual smooth discs, but highly detailed sakura flowers.

With a hot cup of green tea, it’s easy to be transported to a very luxurious place (even if it’s my kitchen countertop in Berkeley). Just think, these are the same confections that the Imperial family and feudal lords used to eat!

Small totes are wildly popular in Japan, these are emblazoned with the Toraya logo


Toraya always have new and seasonal items with wrapping to go with every purchase


Simple noren curtains

Browsing and making a purchase at Toraya allows you to experience the pinnacle of service in retail. The staff is polite, attentive but not annoying, willing to tell you about everything in the store, great at wrapping and enthusiastic about their sweets.

Until next time!

6 Comments

  • Posted August 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    There’s a Minamoto Kitchoan on 5th that is still going strong after all these years.

  • Kayoko
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I believe Minamoto K moved to Manhattan more recently, probably the mid 2000s, maybe even later. There is one here in the Bay Area as well, that I also think just opened in the past few years.

    It is sad. Toraya is the king of Japanese sweets in Japan, but it just did not make it in the US. They came during the bubble and could not sustain after 9/11, I assume. The one in NYC was gorgeous, tea room and all.

    I’m glad Minamoto represents Wagashi here in the states, but it is inferior in taste and presentation to Toraya.

    In NYC you can buy Toraya yokan at the midtown Kinokuniya, at least when I lived there up to 2008.

    I was very sad that Takashimaya closed in midtown as well. But I guess with all the Uniqlos and Mujis moving in, there’s a new generation taking over. Maybe Minamoto is a part of that new wave (with a huge marketing budget).

  • yoko
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Hey DeadProgrammer,

    Yes, I know about Minamoto Kitchoan. The sweets there are very beautiful, but the taste is a little too sweet for me and not as refined as Toraya. I am glad they are going strong on 5th though, it’s pretty impressive. I hope their popularity encourages other wagashi companies to try their hand in California.

    Yoko

  • worm
    Posted August 22, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Wowwowwow! I kind of can’t believe Japanese design aesthetic. I know it’s totally tired to say this but the way they blend the old with new is just masterful. From the art on the walls to the jeweled pompom wagashi. It is literally perfect.

  • worm
    Posted August 22, 2012 at 4:27 am

    And I wanted to add that the walls are also super cool.

  • yoko
    Posted August 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Yeah, it’s pretty impressive. It reminds me of Disneyland. No, inventory boxes lying around and every corner of the store is so well thought out.

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