The shop has no window displays, no neon lights. Just a couple of small signs bearing the name Hana Japanese Market.
It’s easy to miss it in the sober, gray, mansard-roofed corner rowhouse at 2000 17th St. NW (once owned by Frederick Douglass). Next to the front door is a wooden sign with a white flower and the shop’s name in Japanese; “hana” means flower.
Inside is a tiny Japanese grocery store, where goods seemingly fill every cubic inch of the two-aisled shop. It’s all there: sushi fish, bags of rice, mochi (rice cake), plum candy, udon and soba and ramen noodles, jars of wasabi or prepared turnip, and bottles of soy and sukiyaki sauce.
In this area where U Street fades into Adams Morgan, Hana’s neighbors include Three Fifty Bakery & Coffee Bar, vinyl dealer Red Onion Records & Books and the Eritrean restaurant Keren.
About 90 percent of the store’s 1,500 kinds of items are from Japan. Other items originate from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, China and India.
Manager Yoshio Tanabe runs the shop with his wife, Ikuyo Tanabe, who operates a travel agency from a desk in the back. Yoshio, who used to run the Japan Inn eatery in Georgetown, loved food but wanted out of the restaurant industry, Ikuyo said. Hana Market was the answer. It opened eight years ago and has a staff of six.
Rice (“all different kinds,” Ikuyo says) is the shop’s best-selling item. Mochi ice cream is hugely popular with non-Japanese customers. So are the snacks, such as seaweed-flavored rice crackers. And “anything green tea,” Yoshio says, pointing out tea-flavored powders, cookies and cold drinks.
“The customer decides” what Hana stocks, says Yoshio, who orders requested items and stocks them if they sell.
Many patrons once “lived [in Japan], or were teachers there, or exchange students,” Ikuyo says.
D.C. resident and regular shopper Elizabeth Pitts likes the market’s atmosphere. She was buying bread, cream daifuku and milk candy. The shop is a good place for her sweet tooth, she says. And the mochi ice cream?
HANA JAPANESE MARKET
2000 17th St. NW.