Oct 5, 2017
First off, to avoid confusion, let's explain the other names for coriander used in Japan.
Most common is the Thai name: パクチー (pak-chi, pakuchi)
The Chinese name: 香菜 (shan tsai)
The English name: coriander (or cilantro)
(I haven't seen 'cilantro' used in Japan as it's the Spanish word and only used on the west coast of the US from what I can tell. Where I'm from, we usually say cilantro for the leaves and coriander for the seeds used as a spice.)
There are also the similar looking mitsuba (三つ葉, wild chervil) and parsley (パセリ) sold in Japan, so you'll want to smell and make sure that distinct coriander smell is there.
The stuff is not for everyone, I know, but if you like coriander you'll understand the struggle to find it in Japan.
I've lived over half my life close to Mexico and love cilantro with Mexican food, but also in Thai and Vietnamese food or whatever else. When I first came to Japan in 2012, I really missed cilantro being available in every store for less than a US dollar.
I saw fresh cilantro in a supermarket exactly once the first year I lived in Japan, so of course I bought it, even though I think it was over 200 yen. It wasn't called cilantro at all, but I thought it looked like it, and it definitely had the right smell. I don't exactly remember, but I think it must have been labeled with the Chinese name for cilantro, 'shan tsai.' It is slightly different from the Mexican cilantro I'm used to, but basically the same. Never saw it again, so I assumed it was only available seasonally.
I went to a garden store and found 'coriander' seeds – the stuff of cilantro! So I decided to grow my own, in my little apartment with no balcony. I even shared the seeds with another Californian who I knew missed cilantro, and he was excited to try growing it also.
Unfortunately, I totally failed at growing cilantro. I think summer in Japan is too humid and the humidity levels in my apartment were more like a sauna than the dry regions where it's grown in Mexico and California.
Back in Japan a couple years ago, I bought some seeds and decided to try growing cilantro again. This time the seed packet was labeled pakuchi, the Thai name for coriander. It could be another variety which is better suited to humid summers, but it still tastes amazing.
This time it worked, but the plants were tiny and once they went to seed, the cilantro was done. They were also attacked by aburamushi, or aphids that first summer, even on the second floor balcony.
I found the plants grew back in the fall and actually did a lot better. The seed packet shows it can be grown both during summer and fall in part of Japan. I also did a little research about how to grow cilantro, and most people plant it every 2-4 weeks during the planting season to ensure they have it for a while. A lot of people use an indoor hydroponic system to grow coriander without soil, by adding nutrients to water. I haven't tried this yet.
Pakuchi is a lot more popular in Japan now than it was five years ago and I'm delighted that people know what tacos are and have even tried them. In even normal small cities in Japan (mine is around 300,000 people) there could be a Thai restaurant and a Spanish or Mexican restaurant. They have to get their cilantro somewhere.
I started growing some cilantro a few weeks ago, but it's still tiny. I made Mexican rice (in the rice cooker) and had plans to make some taco meat with a taco seasoning packet, so I really wanted to find some cilantro to eat it with. I did a little research which suggested trying bigger supermarkets, so I went to one called 'Max Value,' which is in the AEON group. In the fresh herb section, along with mint and parsley, there was cilantro!
For 200 yen, they sold small bunches of coriander growing in tiny pots. Growing in dirt so they can even be planted if you want a kitchen garden, as the S & B name suggests. It's great to know that there is somewhere in town I can go to for cilantro when I don't have it growing. I'm not sure if it's sold year round, but it looks like it probably is.
This packaging had all three of the names used in Japan for coriander.
Can you easily find coriander where you live?