Items of Import

Items of Import

According to The Japan Times, “zakka” emerged in postwar Japan as a catch-all term for “everyday tools and objects such as kettles, brooms and buckets.” In 2001, the International Herald Tribune noted that latter-day Japan had elevated it to something else: a “fashion phenomenon” invoking “everything and anything that spruces up your home, life and outlook. … Zakka is the art of seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane; it’s also the act of paying hard cash for such things as can openers in ‘skeleton pink,’ just so one’s friends will know they’re dealing with someone who pays extra for a minor sensory pleasure.”

New Haven now has its own Zakka at 841 Chapel Street, and it certainly delivers aesthetic and sensory pleasures. You’ll notice the first of them right inside the entrance at the beverage bar, offering a tongue-twisting menu of fruit milks, fruit slushes, fresh milk teas, fresh fruit teas, classic milk teas and milk foam fresh teas ($4.25-$7.95). I tried two of the generously sized slushes: the orange and red Mango and pretty-in-pink Strawberry (each $6.75) topped with “popping boba” ($.75), intense little orbs of fruit purée that explode when they hit your tongue. The sensation was a playful delight, as is, I assume, the store’s “make-your-own” cotton candy machine ($5 a serving), which was temporarily out of service.

No matter; the shopping discoveries were sufficiently entertaining. Zakka’s look is more oblong superstore than cozy little gift nook. The white walls, gleaming ivory linoleum and bright fluorescent lighting reminded me of a glossier IKEA; in any case, the interior design certainly helps the colorful inventory stand out. Everything here is imported from Korea, China and Japan, and stuffed critters (including Squishmallows) and cartoon characters at all price points dominate the scene. I enjoyed browsing the personal care and household cleaning products—though the boxes may not be in English, some well-placed shelf labels resolve any confusion—and the comfy shoes, including Crocs, sturdy-soled suede moccasins, slippers and sleek, colorful sneakers priced at $39.99.

There are beautiful ceramic tea sets, adorable girl’s purses and backpacks, something called a “baby briefcase” to hold your infant’s important personal and medical records ($24.99), keychains festooned with all manner of miniatures ($4.99), snacks, candies, greeting cards, stationery, painting kits and plenty of bling—sparkly hair clips, decorated press-on fingernails, classy charm necklaces ($15.99). Fans of anime, manga and Disney will find plenty of appealing collectibles. As far as kitchenware goes, I didn’t see any “skeleton pink” can openers, kettles or buckets, but I did find slotted spoons with happy faces and little pink plastic bear heads that double as rice ball wrappers ($2.99). The kitschiest items on display were solar-powered waving figurines of Queen Elizabeth and Albert Einstein—shelves of them.

You’ll also find a pet section, offering food bowls, toys, carriers, grooming equipment, boxes to climb on and beds to snuggle in. I considered buying my cat an overstuffed bed ($35.99) in the shape of, well, a cat, but I feared I liked it more than she would. I did pick out a pillow-sized bulldog for a 4-year-old relative ($29.99), which looked so comfortable I almost fell for the adult-sized version.

The back of the store is devoted to an arcade of Baboland (or Bobo Land, depending on the sign) claw machines offering a bounty of Zakka’s stuffed toys, the idea being that if you spring for $10 or $20 worth of tokens, you might win one or more prizes for less than you’d pay off the shelves. One pair of machines offers the chance to win a huge Mickey or Minnie Mouse, if your hand-eye coordination is fast enough. I did win—once—and thus broke even. But it occurred to me that everyday shopping would be a lot more fun, albeit risky, if you could play a flashy game of chance on, say, a flat of spring water or an electric toothbrush. C’mon, Target. Some of us need all the sensory pleasure we can get.

841 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat noon-9pm, Sun noon-8pm

Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean.

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