If you’re a vegetarian in Japan, you learn to love eggs. (With exceptions; I still haven’t learned how to love tamagoyaki, the slightly sweet omelets that taste more like dessert than breakfast to me.) But get me to a Lawson convenience store, and I turn into the Tasmanian Devil in front of the damn refrigerator case. Lawson and stores like it sell hard-boiled and soft-boiled eggs individually, all wrapped up in a protective rigid plastic carton. You’d expect them to be chalky and sickly-green inside, as we’d usually find in the States, but these eggs are buttery and rich. Their yolks are bright orange, with a slightly salty taste; they’re better than soft-boiled eggs I’ve ordered in of-the-moment Manhattan restaurants.
So if that’s how they do cheap-o convenience store eggs in Japan, you can imagine how they do fancy-schmancy eggs.
We were strolling around Shimokitazawa, a wonderfully low-key Tokyo neighborhood. It’s only a 10-minute train ride from the melee of Shibuya, but its narrow streets and lack of crowds feel refreshingly mellow. There were cute little cafes and small retail stalls with indie jewelry on display, along with arguably the best espresso in the city. “This place is the Portland of Tokyo,” we joked. Then we stumbled upon Toyo’s Egg, and to loosely quote some British blokes, that joke wasn’t funny anymore — at least not in the same way.
Toyo’s Egg is basically a boutiquey egg emporium. They sell eggs, and lots of them. Brown eggs. White eggs. Giant eggs. Eggs that are nearly purple. You get the idea. There are a few baked goods, too (made with said eggs, of course), but for the most part, it’s eggs and only eggs. My hiragana skills are nonexistent, but through pictures and drawings, it was easy to see that each type of egg was intended for a particular use. One egg variety would be best for baking, while another was deemed superior for omelets, and one tastes best served raw, and so on. Suddenly, my plucked-that-morning, $8/dozen, free-range, no-chickens-were-harmed-in-the-process Marin County eggs seemed generic in comparison.
In the end, we didn’t find out how Toyo’s eggs tasted. Without a kitchen, there was no way to cook said eggs (and I wasn’t interested in sampling a raw one). So, like a bunch of American creepers, we loitered at the egg shop, oohing and aahing at dozens of perfectly presented eggs while obviously being able to use none of them. Instead, we bought a small bag of cookies half out of curiosity, half out of guilt for groping the innocent eggs with our eyes.
On our way out, I picked up a Toyo’s Egg brochure. (In Japanese, of course.) It was illuminating. I’d mistakenly assumed that, like my expensive hippie California eggs, the production of Toyo’s eggs involved some sort of fowl paradise. While their chickens don’t seem to have it as bad as the average factory-farmed hen, these pictures suggest a typically unhappy chicken existence of being stuffed in cages. The animals aren’t given antibiotics, which is good; they also don’t seem to have much of a life. Fortunately, Google Translate reassures me that, according to Toyo, “our chicken that we have grown to care like this is important is that of eggs every day angrily.” I feel much better now.