Farewell Kotobukiya

Bands of at-home sushi chefs are mourning the imminent closing of their beloved Kotobukiya Japanese Market. Come May 10, the one-stop shop in Cambridge for raw fish, sticky rice and imported wasabi will be converted into a new Lesley University bookstore.

“Everybody is upset here,” says Sumie Sato. She has worked as a cashier at Kotobukiya for 14 years. “There is no other Japanese market like it.”

For 20 years, Kotobukiya has stocked an impressive variety of imported Japanese groceries. Aisles of miso powders and rice seasonings line its humble abode, tucked away in the university-owned Porter Square Exchange. But the real reason customers trek the MBTA red line is to seize the fish market’s sushi-grade tuna, salmon, yellowtail and octopus. Kotobukiya is the only full service Japanese fish market in the city. Meanwhile, Lesley University students purchase their textbooks in the cramped basement bookstore of the Porter Square Exchange. The university has sought Kotobukiya’s larger space as its replacement for a little over two years, says spokesman Bill Doncaster. But Kotobukiya has refused the significantly smaller options, along with the university’s recent offer of a two-year lease. And in a few weeks, Kotobukiya will have to vacate the premises.

Don’t box up your rice cookers and bamboo rolling mats just yet. While no equal to Kotobukiya, Sato says Cherry Mart on Newbury Street is a good alternative for sushi-making necessities—Nori seaweed, rice vinegar and ginger. Reliable Market in Somerville (45 Union Square, 617.623.9620), a Korean grocery store, offers a fair seafood selection for rolls. But for high quality imported and domestic fish, there is New Deal Fish Market (622 Cambridge St., 617.876.8227)—the unmatched destination for fresh sashimi tuna, salmon and sea breams.

Keep the faith, Kotobukiya disciples. Two employees have branched out to create a venture of their own—Yebisuya, a Chinese/Korean market, is scheduled to open in Medford Square in August. It is a bigger space, and there will be two-hour parking, Soto says. Kotobukiya may cease to exist. But perhaps its soul will live on in Yebisuya.