If the Triangle can be said to have a temple of Japanese pop culture, then that temple is Toyo Shokuhin and Gifts. It’s easy to get dazzled by the massive size of the Grand Asia Market, so it may take you a while to discover Toyo Shokuhin, hidden, as it is, in Cary. But though Toyo Shokuhin may be many times smaller than Grand Asia Market, it does rival it in one important aspect: carts. Yes, they, too, have carts and though you may find them frequently jammed in your lower back, it’s a good thing they’re available because you’ll need one to haul around your copy of Shogakukan, the giant mangazine you know you want to buy. And why? Because it’s chock full of more molded plastic crap than all the cereal boxes in Kroger. But lo! Without even venturing past the manga rack, you are already in plain view of the refrigerator case and its gleaming cans of Pocari Sweat Refreshment Water, the soda disguised as a Coke for the colorblind and named after a bodily fluid. If you’re not already a fan but find the name familiar, maybe it’s because Pocari Sweat was featured in the book Japanese Jive: Wacky and Wonderful Products from Japan. Toyo Shokuhin gets the high score on the Japanese Jiveometer for having the finest collection of featured products available, from Kiss Mint, the gum for all occasions (look for it, you’ll see what I mean) to Yogloo, the beverage made of yogurt and … uh … gloo?
On my last visit, I became intrigued by Fresh Tino Shower Candy. It appeared to be some kind of tasty grapefruit candy gelled around a mysterious opaque lump that didn’t taste like anything in particular. Despite the name, I found it to be of little hygienic value, though I did notice that Pocari Sweat comes “highly recommended as a beverage for such activities as sports, physical labor, or after a hot bath” and was quite nice when consumed following Shower Candy. I feel, however, that this was purely coincidence.
“But what if I don’t like Pocari Sweat? What does Toyo Shokuhin have for me?” you may be asking. Well, unfortunately, Toyo Shokuhin does not have the facilities for divining exactly what is wrong with you that makes you not like Pocari Sweat, but it still can be of help, because you are obviously in need of a Crunchy Water Chestnut Drink.
So you’ve got your cart loaded with your choice of beverages, sugar and manga, but wait! You can’t leave without witnessing the “gift” portion of Toyo Shokuhin and Gifts (they didn’t put it in the name for nothing). Keep walking past the classy sushi sets and the waving happy cats (aka Historical Hello Kitty) and discover the majesty of chopsticks emblazoned with the images of your favorite BanDai characters. Personally, I will never be caught eating without Sailor Chibi Moon again.
Now, this may just happen because I’m so irresistibly cute, but each time I’ve visited Toyo Shokuhin I have left with gifts from the proprietors. Last time I received sweet soybean jelly wrapped in some kind of sticky ricey stuff that resembled Botan Rice Candy (the Japanese Candy Ambassador–easily found in Harris Teeter and other Anglo markets) in flavor and texture. If you’re not as cute as me, these are well worth purchasing if only because they resemble Hostess Sno-Balls minus the sno. And nothing is more fun than eating squishy white spheres. Unless, of course, it’s washing them down with Pocari Sweat.