KIOKO, the most famous Japanese convenience store in Paris

There are several Japanese grocery stores in Paris and in various other cities across France. But there's one unlike any other, located at 46 rue des Petits-Champs (Paris 2nd), just steps away from Avenue de l'Opéra. Kioko is an institution. For over 50 years, Japanese living in Paris and French residents who love Japan have been shopping "at Kioko’s”. The store, with an area of 150 m2, is functional, without frills, arranged in Japanese fashion. The space is optimized to accommodate the maximum number of products. Clearly labelled in neat rows, they end up in the yellow shopping baskets customers collect on entering, and finish their journey at one of two check-out counters. There’s no room for shopping trollies. But only after browsing the aisles on the ground floor, which are stocked with an impressive quantity of teas, yokan (red bean paste), senbei (rice crackers), cakes and sweets. You ponder which soy sauce to choose, what type of mirin (rice wine) or vinegar, which citrus juice… and after hesitating between black miso, red or white, packaged or fresh tofu, and examining sachets of tsukemono (pickled vegetables)… you pass in front of some large refrigerators, picking up a bag of frozen gyoza (dumplings) on the way. You’re tempted by a piece of daikon (white radish), shiso leaves (citrus-flavoured herb), beautiful myoga buds (Japanese ginger), or small kabocha (pumpkins). You pass by sacks of rice on the floor and finally continue the tour up-stairs. At the back of the store, a narrow tiled staircase leads to packs of noodles and Cup Noodles alongside seaweed, furikake (rice seasoning), and Japanese curry, then crockery and essential utensils for Japanese cooking at home.

Kioko Opera store

The first Kioko opened in 1972 in Paris.

Behind this essential Parisian store lies the Japanese food export company Yoshikawa Corporation, founded in 1957. In the 1970s, Japanese food products were mainly exported to the United States. However, Kiyoshi Yoshikawa, the founder of the company, was interested in Europe. There were Japanese grocery stores in Düsseldorf and London, where significant Japanese communities lived, but not in Paris. Hence the idea of establishing one there. The first Kioko - named in honour of the CEO's wife (Kyo) - opened in 1972, not far from the Pantheon, in the heart of the capital. In 1989, Kioko moved to the rue Sainte-Anne neighborhood, which had become the epicentre of Paris's Japanese community. Since then, other Japanese food shops have emerged.

Products for the home chef

Somewhere between a supermarket and a konbini – a 24-hour Japanese convenience store – Kioko sells food products for everyday use. A few years ago, Kioko's clientele was roughly evenly split between Japanese and French customers. But the French are becoming increasingly numerous and now represent 70% of the clientele. According to Mr. Kojiro Fujimoto, manager of Kioko, this shift is due not only to a smaller number of Japanese expatriates in Paris but mainly to the growing number of French people interested in Japan (current generations of thirty and forty-somethings raised on Japanese manga and animation films) and those who have visited – or regularly visit – Japan as tourists. Back in France, they have only one desire: to cook the food they enjoyed in Japan. Kioko is the perfect place to rediscover a Japanese ambiance as well as many of the products you couldn’t fit in your suitcase, which always seems too small when leaving Japan. And all at an affordable price (not to mention the regular promotions).

Kioko Saké Marais store

A wholesaler for professionals

While the Opéra store caters to individual shoppers, Kioko is primarily an import business and wholesaler of Japanese products for professionals in the food industry, offering a wide range of food products in small or large quantities. Kioko has a 4,180 m2 warehouse in Vitry-sur-Seine, southeast of Paris (Val-de-Marne), as well as its own transport company, which delivers throughout France and Monaco, as well as Belgium and Luxembourg. Service providers undertake delivery to countries in the European Union such as Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Poland.

Kioko also operates an online sales site. For obvious logistical reasons, the range of products offered is slightly smaller than what is available in-store and in its catalogue, which features 2,000 items. However, the website allows those outside Paris to order ingredients otherwise unavailable in their region.

Kioko Saké Marais store

A sake store in the Marais

Since January 2023, Kioko has had a new store at 20 rue Malher, right in the heart of the Marais district (Paris 4th). Here, you can find Japanese food products, and even some vegetables and frozen items. But "Kioko Saké Marais”, as the name suggests, focuses on Japan's iconic beverage: sake. In large refrigerated display cases, essential for proper conservation, around 140 bottles are arranged by prefecture, starting from the southern part of the Archipelago and moving northwards. Prices range from just under 20 euros to about a hundred euros. While Parisians are increasingly familiar with and appreciative of sake, choosing a bottle isn’t so easy, given the wide variety of sake and the complexity of its production methods. The different categories, the variety of rice used, the degree of rice polishing and production techniques often remain difficult for the French to grasp. Hence the importance of having access to the knowledgeable advice of a salesperson. It's impossible, of course, to try all the sakes, but indecisive customers can do a small tasting from a few bottles opened just for this purpose before making a decision. This is also a way for Kioko to help initiate newcomers into the world of sake, and to refine the palate of customers who are captivated by the subtle and unexpected taste of the beverage. With a floor space of 70 m2, this specialist boutique in Le Marais has twice as much on offer as its store near the Avenue de l’Opéra, where there isn’t enough room to display the wide variety of bottles Kioko lists in its catalogue.

Kioko Saké Marais store (Sake corner)

Changing eating habits

In addition to the essential cooking ingredients they can’t do without, Japanese living in Paris turn to Kioko to satisfy their nostalgia for things, for example, such as the traditional dish natto – said to be excellent for health – which was originally made, according to legend, in Ibaraki Prefecture. Made from fermented soybeans, it’s often enjoyed for breakfast. Likewise, as Mr. Fujimoto points out, customers are increasingly buying Japanese rice, whose taste, according to Kioko, is "unique in the world”. After eating it, the French find it difficult to go back to the Uncle Ben's rice of their childhood, and no longer hesitate to take home a five-kilo bag to enjoy to their heart's content.

Due to changes in society, norms, fashions and environmental conditions, Kioko is adapting to an increasingly demanding French clientele in terms of quality and sustainability by selling some organic products. While Japanese cuisine continues to be associated with healthy food, we now know that chemicals and pesticides are still widely used by the food industry in Ja-pan – just as they are in France. The same goes for additives. Hence Kioko's desire to offer, among other things, organic green tea and miso. In recent years – especially since European regulations banning the import of all products containing milk, eggs, fish, beef, or animal gelatine have come into effect – many products from Japan have disappeared from Kioko's shelves. Others have appeared, based on plant ingredients.

Kiko fully supports the justifiable growth in its French clientele’s concerns about the environment and the impact of some ultra processed foods on their health – even though it’s these very same customers who often dream about hopping on a plane to Japan, and relish eating ingredients that have travelled 11,000 kilometers to land on their plates. Nobody is immune to these little paradoxes. At least, shopping "chez Kioko" satisfies the travel bug by immediately transporting you back to Japan, and for a much lower price tag!

46 rue des Petits-Champs
75002 Paris
Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm
Sunday 11 am – 7 pm

20 rue Malher
75004 Paris
Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm

Online sales :

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