For Foodies: Japa Shop

We visit this Prague 6 Japanese shop & speak with investor Tomio Okamura

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 07.06.2011 10:32:00 (updated on 29.04.2021) Reading time: 4 minutes

If Japa Shop has all the kaleidoscopic flash of a Japanese game show, then Tomio Okamura is its whirlwind host, tempered by an even-handed Czech sensibility, of course. We recently met the prolific author, blogger, reality-TV star, and entrepreneur at the Dejvice store of which he is investor—not owner, a fact he´s quick to point out—to talk about food and business, and shop. Okumura´s knowledge of and affinity for the store´s 1,000s of imports shows off his passion for all things Japanese, while underscoring the fact that he takes care of his investments.

And the store has proven a successful one for Okamura and his partner. Established in 2004, the original location, on Puškinovo Náměstí, served a loyal Japanese clientele. “The Japanese are very particular about what they eat. They want products from home, no substitutions,” Okamura says. Banking on those finicky Japanese palates, the Japa Shop moved to its current location in 2007. These days it´s frequented by a certain Michelin-starred chef, ambassadors, and regular people, anxious to peer into what Okumura calls, “A window on Japanese service, design, and, culture.”

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Certainly the pleasant, informed staff and bright, orderly shop confirm all of the above. But it´s the breadth and selection of specialty Japanese goods—from ten-plus labels of sake to a whole lotta soy sauce—that truly attracts.

Shopping with Tomio
What exactly does someone of mixed Japanese and Czech heritage cook at home? For the time-pressed Okamura, it´s Japanese, the easier of the two cuisines by his estimation. “Many Japanese dishes are deceptively simple, much quicker than Czech ones,” he notes. To that end Okamura helped us pick out ingredients for a simple udon soup: soba noodles (85 CZK), konbu tsuyu, a seasoned soup base (85 CZK), and dried cut wakame (50 CZK). The variety of Japanese cooking staples—bulk rice from Japan, rice-wine vinegar, dried shitake, mirin, seaweed, miso, panko breadcrumbs, spices—is unmatched anywhere else in Prague. Cheaper, too, says Okamura. “We´re on average 20 percent cheaper than other stores since we import directly from Japan. There´s also a better level of freshness.”

Freezer delights
Frozen eel, shrimp, scallops, and other pre-sliced sushi ingredients and fish occupy one end of a store-length freezer case; cuts of meat from a Czech butcher, sliced to suit Japanese recipes, the other. “You won´t find meat that´s been prepared this way elsewhere,” says Okamura, who also drew our attention to the handmade spring rolls and dumplings from France (he´s got a guy). Exotic frozen vegetables (sweet-potato, lotus-root, pumpkin) are here, as are a few ice cream bars, though Okamura promises more for summer. The green-tea ice cream mix (60 CZK) is a delightful tide-me-over. We also took home the store´s bestseller, a 600-gram freezer bag of chicken-and-vegetable dumplings (195 CZK) with Mizkan Gyoza dumpling sauce (55 CZK), which we ate with a crunchy iceberg salad doused with the store´s second bestseller, a rich goma dressing (98 CZK).

Fun finds
Shopping at Japa has a certain Wonkaesque appeal. During our visit knee-high customers cruised the candy aisle, reaching on tip-toes for Pocky (39 CZK‒135 CZK), popular candy-coated cookie sticks, and other sweets. A cooler stocked with tall bottles of melon soda and cans of yogurt energy drinks, iced coffee, Sapporo beer, and, our favorite, a plum wine laced with beads of jelly (50 CZK) got the adult vote.

Japa Shop´s quirkier wares extend beyond Hello Kitty Pretzels and UFO-shaped bowls of instant noodles—the ramen selection is staggering, by the way—to include a Lolita boutique and a backroom devoted to manga comics and anime DVDs. Enthusiasts of the genre frequent the shop not just to rent books and movies but to, “Eat bean-paste buns like their heroes,” says Okamura.

DIY sushi
Prague has gone off the deep-end for sushi, which is a boon for business if you own Japa Shop. Okamura says he “got in before the trend took off,” a solid piece of advice for would-be investors. He´s not so sure, though, that enough sushi restaurants get it right. “You can just tell if it´s made well,” says Okamura. “Seaweed from Korea or China tastes totally different. You need Japanese rice-wine vinegar to make authentic sushi. And probably a Japanese chef, too. Good sushi should melt on the tongue.” The All-in-One Sushi Box (499 CZK), another of the store´s hot items, comes equipped with all the essentials. If, like us, you think sushi-making should be left to the pros, Okamura´s pick of the Prague sushi crop is Dejvice´s Mash Hana.

News from Japan
It´s impossible to discuss Japanese foodstuffs for two hours without mention of the recent earthquake. The events in Japan have indeed impacted Japa Shop´s business. “We halted our spring shipment of grocery items as a precaution, since a lot of food coming in from Japan is being held up by EU inspection,” says Okumura. To fill the void, Japa Shop will debut a line of sundries from Japan´s ubiquitous 100-yen stores. It´s possible to leave a contribution for Japan at the store and on our visit posters for an upcoming benefit concert adorned the entrance. But Tomio Okamura takes a more local approach to servicing humanity. He considers his unusually friendly employees and welcoming emporium a haven for those burned out by dour Czech shops. “We´ll pack your groceries and carry them to your car. We´ve got a play room here for kids.” He pauses to hand a small child a lollipop on her way out. “It makes society a better place.”

The Japa Shop
Verdunská 21 160 00 Praha 6
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 10:30-19:00

Photos by Daniel Zahradníček

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