NEW YORK - There’s a slice of Japanese history that has been served up on East 59th Street for more than a century.
Katagiri, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, is the first Japanese grocery store in the United States. And in the years since it opened in 1907, Katagiri and other similar groceries, like the more modern Midoriya in Williamsburg, have survived the test of time and introduced Japanese cuisine and culture to the American populace.
“The first Japanese who came to the United States to settle were part of this group known as the ‘Oceanic Group,’” said Daniel Inouye, a historian. “And they were a group of six traders and they came to New York specifically to start commercial trade between Japan and the United States.”
This brought Japanese culture to the United States, even despite the small size of the ethnic Japanese community at the time. Many establishments had to change to survive in a new nation, tinkering with their authenticity. But over time, the population grew, as did an appreciation for it. Now, experts say that nearly everything you can buy in Japanese markets in New York City is authentically Japanese.
“At the time, the 1910’s and 1920’s, Americans were not eating sushi or sashimi, so they had to have things like sukiyaki and teriyaki and tempura that would appeal to Americans. So that’s what they did to reach out to a broader clientele,” Inouye said.
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