Located at the intersection of Steeles and Woodbine Avenues is Toronto’s largest Japanese shopping centre. J-Town can be most easily accessed by car via Highway 404 and taking the Woodbine exit. However, you can also visit the district by taking public transit and getting off the bus at Steeles and Victoria Park.
Despite being somewhat of an undiscovered, hidden Toronto gem, J-Town is quite popular and always busy. From the outside, J-Town looks like any other industrial strip mall off of the highway, but inside, adventure awaits, with 10 Japanese restaurants and cafes including a butcher, a grocer and a ramen restaurant, as well as a selection of bookstores, homeware and kitchenwares, cosmetic shops and clothing boutiques, all family-run or independently owned.
J-Town originally opened in 1998 with just three businesses, and a goal of creating a hub for Japanese locals to come together. Heisi Mart, J-Town’s grocery store, is one of the original three and specializes in Japanese products, including imported goods, as well as grab-and-go options like the bento boxes. Now, J-Town continues to expand, and one of the most recent additions to the strip is Tanuki restaurant.
Unlike a typical shopping mall food court, the food options in J-Town are far from greasy fast food joints or chain restaurants. Tanuki is an eatery that takes an elevated approach to modern Japanese comfort food, including a special rotating brunch menu on weekends. Toronto’s first-ever Japanese bakery, Bakery Nakamura, can also be found inside J-Town, and has been serving a variety of freshly-baked loaves, buns, danishes and cakes, like the velvety tofu cheesecake, since 1993. More sweet treats can also be found at Sasaki Fine Pastry, which specializes in creating dainty, pastel-coloured mochis (sweet soft and chewy rice cakes pounded flat). Check out their Instagram page for the latest flavours and updates.
Those craving the comfort of a warm bowl of spicy ramen will find it at the Green Tea Lounge, which specializes in homemade Japanese eats. Ten different kinds of ramen can be ordered here, including vegetarian miso ramen. Other dishes include soba noodles and hearty curry dishes served with steaming piles of rice.
Food and drink aside, one of J-Town’s most popular shops is Yamachu, which specializes in high-end Japanese tableware, accessories and gifts. The ceramics are one of their most sought-after items. Canada’s only online Japanese bookstore, Blue Tree books, can also be found inside J-Town, and sells everything from manga comics to textbooks. Canada’s only Japanese butcher shop, Famu, is another treasure hidden inside J-Town. Here, shoppers can choose from a wide selection of cuts, including Japanese, U.S. and Australian Waygu, one of the most expensive cuts of beef you can buy, which is sometimes sold for hundreds of dollars in restaurants throughout Toronto. One of Toronto’s largest seafood markets, By the Sea, carries fresh sashimi-grade selections of Uni, Maguro, Sake and Saba. Sushi restaurant Tora rounds out the restaurant offerings. J-Town, with its mix of Japanese food, drink, homeware and boutique experiences, is guaranteed to have something for everyone.