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A taste of Japan in Manhattan's Little Tokyo

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

At Otafuku on East 9th Street in the East Village, the specialty is a kind of Japanese street food called takoyaki, which translates to grilled octopus balls.

"We were the pioneers of bringing Japanese street food to New York City," says Sakura Yagi, manager of Otafuku.

And for dessert there's metetai, a doughy crepe with sweet fillings.

"We offer two different flavors," Yagi says. "One is red bean, very traditional, and the other is hazelnut chocolate and banana."

Between St. Marks Place and 10th Street in the East Village lies an area that's become known as Little Tokyo. There are Japanese restaurants, specialty food stores and gift shops galore.

"My wife and I were sake enthusiasts and we found there was no place in New York where you could go to learn about sake," says Rick Smith. So he and his wife, Hiroko, opened Saka-Ya, the only shop in New York City specializing in just sake. It sells over 150 kinds. In the winter one of Rick's favorites is the Wandering Poet, which can be served warm.

"It's got some nuttiness to it, some caramel-like notes," he says. "Not sweet, but a little bit of caramel like flavor."

And to go with your sake you can cook up a feast with items from Sunrise Mart. Here you'll find everything from fresh fish, like cod roe and sea urchin, to Japanese biscuit sticks called pocky.

"Most of our green tea items sell well," says Takuya Yoshida, the general manager. "This clearly sells well because we have four rows of it."

Around the corner is Toy Tokyo, a toy-lover's paradise! There are thousands of figurines, many that are hard to find outside of Japan. Some of the bestselling toys are called Bear Bricks. They come in all shapes and designs. This one here is based on a character from a popular Japanese cartoon show.

And for unique dining, there's Robataya. It's not just a restaurant, it's an experience. The chefs here put on a show grilling fresh fish and vegetables right in front of customers and then serving it on long trays.

Though there's no official title for the neighborhood, Little Tokyo has become a cultural destination. And the best part is that you don't have to travel far to check it out.

"We're very proud that it's Little Tokyo, Little Japan," says Yagi of Otafuku. "We say it's Japan without the airfare."

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