The Portland-Japan connection

Portland’s artisan food and products are prized in Japan, and the Rose City is getting its own share of Japanese exports.

Chef Mayumi Hijikata preparing ramen 1 copyChef Mayumi Hijikata prepares ramen at Marukin Ramen.
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    Mark Shimahara

    Many of the best Portland goods and restaurants are popping up in a surprising place: almost 5,000 miles (8,047 km) away in Japan. Luckily, it’s a mutual exchange that allows people in Portland to sample Japanese offering without the cost of an international plane ticket. From slurping some of Tokyo’s best ramen in Portland to sipping Stumptown Coffee in Tokyo, visitors can get a taste of Japan in the Rose City and vice versa.

    Where to find Japan in Portland

    Shopping

    The majority of retailers with admirers in both Portland and Japan are producers of delicious food or outdoor gear. When it comes to the latter, Portland boasts outposts of two storied outdoor lifestyle brands founded by Japanese mountaineers. In addition to durable and chic clothing, Snow Peak offers camping and backpacking gear like tents and lightweight cookware. Montbell began making camping and hiking gear in 1975 to withstand Japan’s (and now Portland’s) rainy weather. In addition to waterproof tents, they offer a wide range of outdoor gear and clothing for both casual hikers and extreme alpinists.

    Food

    Two of Japan’s most popular restaurants opened their first American locations in Portland. Slurp some of the best Japanese ramen noodles available at the two local locations of Marukin Ramen. (The Tonkotsu Shoyu is not to be missed.) Meanwhile, Shigezo Izakaya serves up fresh sushi, ramen, yakitori and more in a Japanese-style pub in downtown.

    Shigezo’s two spin-off locations bring Japanese pub fare to another level. On Southeast Division, Yataimura Maru specializes in tapas-style drinking food, from gyoza to sushi to jellyfish ponzu. (Be sure to check out their generous happy hour.) Shigezo’s latest, Kichinto Izakaya, now open on North Russell, continues the pub food fusion with sushi, ramen and a lengthy sake list. In Beaverton, you’ll find authentic noodles and small plates from another Japanese hotspot, Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya. Their long list of ramen options features a diverse selection of chewy noodles and rich broths, making them a favorite among locals and critics.

    Coming soon

    And there is more Japan on the way: Afuri, another storied Tokyo ramen shop, is looking to open a Portland location in late 2016. Toyoko Inn will bring an economic Japanese-style hotel — the company’s first on the West Coast — to downtown Portland in 2018. For a piece of Japanese design, authentic downtown bento restaurant Chef Naoko will soon receive a design overhaul courtesy of legendary Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who designed the 2015–17 expansion of the Portland Japanese Garden and will design a stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

    Where to find Portland in Japan

    Shopping

    On the other side of the Pacific, Portland is sharing outdoor gear, food and much more with Japan. Columbia Sportswear has a store in Tokyo’s hip Harajuku neighborhood and Pendleton Woolen Mills has been popular in Japan for decades. Japan loves local shoe brands Keen and Danner; hand-made leather goods crafters Tanner Goods and Walnut Studiolo; and cool camping outfitter Poler.

    You’ll find artisan goods like naturally scented soaps by Maak Lab in stores from Osaka to Niigata. Minimalist Portland magazine-turned-lifestyle, Kinfolk, offers a Japan edition of their magazine as well as a Japanese line of their apparel company, Ouur. Stores all over Japan carry bike parts and accessories from local bike gear maker Portland Design Works.

    Food

    Portland is, of course, a foodie town, and we are sharing some of our best local bites with Tokyo. Blue Star Donuts opened its first Japanese location last year, serving up matcha and blueberry doughnuts to fans who lined up around the block. Java lovers can find Stumptown brew at Paddler’s Coffee in Tokyo. Portland farm-to-table favorite Navarre offers their European-inspired dishes in the Harajuku district. While you’re in the neighborhood, indulge in a Dutch Baby or 49er Flapjacks at the Original Pancake House, a family-owned stalwart founded in Portland.

    Tokyo retailer Krongthip Inc. stocks several products Portlanders will recognize: beverages like Kombucha Wonder Drink, Steven Smith Teamaker tea and drinking vinegar from Pok Pok Som, as well as Portland Bee Balm, Jacobsen Salt and Bee Local Honey.

    The most powerful sign of Japan’s affection for all things Portland? That might be PDX Taproom, a craft beer bar featuring a tap list of exclusively Portland brewers, like Hair of the Dog, Lompoc and HUB. They even have a Keep Portland Weird sign and (of course) a piece of PDX airport carpet!


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