Russian food shop in Ginza to close as war in Ukraine drags on

by Jun 19, 2024Featured Article, News

A store in Tokyo’s high-end Ginza district selling culinary treasures from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics will cease operations at the end of June, succumbing to the prolonged turmoil of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Aka-no-Hiroba, which opened just a year before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of its neighbor, has struggled amid escalating sanctions and logistical hurdles that have pushed up costs and has also faced acts of vandalism and harassment.

Owner Victoria Miyabe described the decision to close as “agonizing.” The shop, adorned with treats like Russian chocolates, Ukrainian borscht and Armenian honey, has been a cultural oasis for expatriates yearning for a taste of their homelands while also building up a loyal base of Japanese customers.

Miyabe, 50, a 25-year resident of Japan who was born in what was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine but also has relatives in Russia, established her store in February 2021.

“I wanted to bridge Japan and Russia through food,” reflected Miyabe, who named her store after Moscow’s famous Red Square and filled its shelves with as many as many as 500 items at its peak, carefully selecting them on trips to the former Soviet republics.

Following the start of the war, the store received abusive phone calls and in one incident, its signboard was damaged. But customers continued to flock there, with some 70 people coming through the doors on weekdays and more than twice that on weekends and holidays. More than half of its customers are women.

Now, however, economic realities, compounded by stringent sanctions imposed by Japan and its allies, have forced Miyabe’s hand.

Regulars expressed sadness.

A 47-year-old Japanese woman who expressed a love of Russia’s artistic traditions lamented that the war now dominates perceptions of the country. Meanwhile, a 32-year-old Russian who works in Japan and identified himself only by his first name Vladimir, acknowledged that business between Japan and Russia has become difficult. “I hate the Russian government,” he added. “My friends around me also think like that. But what can I do?”

When asked for her thoughts on the conflict, Miyabe’s face clouded with concern. “I want peace to come soon,” she said. “This is no time for fighting.”

Miyabe was born in Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine but moved to the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk when she was 15. She has been unable to visit the city for more than a decade now since the eastern part of the country became a battleground in 2014 when Russia began supporting separatists there.