San Francisco Japantown Shop Guide
When I first moved to San Francisco after living in Japan for two years, one of the first things I did was visit Japantown...
At first, I just did my grocery shopping there. Over time, I found myself missing all the beautiful Japanese products I used to be surrounded with. I spent hours walking around Japantown looking for the minimalist, artisan-made homewares that are abundant in Japan and went home empty-handed and disappointed each time. For a long time (with the exception of a few stores), I've felt like going to Japantown was like going back in time. Many of the businesses looked like shops I visited in Japan, but 20 years ago, and had never changed. This made me worry about the future of Japantown. It was going to need some updates if it was going to survive for future generations of San Franciscans.
As I mentioned earlier, in the last few months I noticed several new businesses breathing life into Japantown and I could not be happier- I've been waiting for years for this! I feel so fortunate to live so close to a Japantown (there are only three remaining in this country, and they are all in California), and it gives me great joy to support the businesses there. Below, I've listed my favorite Japantown shops for you to enjoy:
Paper Tree- Bryan and I were lucky enough to purchase one of our most treasured family heirlooms at this shop. The owner, Linda Mihara, is the third-generation of this original Japantown family business. She's also a talented origami artist and the only remaining origami artist in California who arranges 1,001 origami cranes into beautiful murals and family crests (a Japanese-American wedding tradition). Her store features a gallery of incredible work by other well-known origami artists, as well a wide selection of origami paper, hand-made greeting cards made by local artists (including 91-year-old Isao Hashimoto) and hand-made mulberry paper flown in from Japan. The Mihara family has long been a pillar of the Japantown community.
Soko Hardware- Another shop being run by the third generation of this original Japantown family business, Soko Hardware has long been the community's hardware store and resource for hard-to-find Japanese garden, craft tools and homewares. The store is quite massive and it's easy to spend hours there if it's your first time in.
Sanko Kitchen Essentials- This shop was recently remodeled and updated by the longtime owners and they did a beautiful job! This is my go-to spot for special Japanese gifts and ceramics. While they carry beautiful ceramics, children's dishes, glassware, chopsticks and knives from Japan, they also carry ceramics by local Japanese artisans like Koide Studio in Oakland and EKB Ceramics in San Francisco.
ChaTo- This shop is less than a year old and is located near Kinokuniya on the upper floor of the Japantown mall (next door to Marufuku). It's owned a mother-daughter-friend team and they are the loveliest people. "Cha" means tea and "to" means and... So they sell tea and... tea products like beautiful ceramic tea sets, cups and roasters, all from Japan. If you're lucky, their tea master is sometimes there on the weekends doing demos (not the traditional matcha tea ceremonies most of us are familiar with). We we recently there on a Sunday and picked up a nice bag of hojicha and shin-cha, the first flush of the season (green tea), which had just been delivered from Japan. Both are delicious, yet cost-effective enough to enjoy as an everyday tea. Upon entering the store they even offer you samples of cold-brewed hojicha and genmaicha.
Kinokuniya- The San Francisco location of the Japanese mega bookstore chain. If you're looking for a book on Japanese anything, you'll find it here. I recently purchased a few ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) books here. They also have a big Japanese manga section downstairs and they have one of the best collections of Japanese and American design magazines.
My Maido- Also near Kinokuniya on the upper floor, My Maido carries high end Japanese fountain pens, pencils, stationary, washi tape, and journals. It's where I purchase my Japanese stationary for the occasional snail mail letters to family and friends.
Sou Sou- Located on the second floor of the New People building, this store is a recent discovery for me even though it's been around since 2009. Sou Sou is a Kyoto-based traditional fabric design company with a handful of stores in Kyoto, one in Aoyama (Tokyo) and lucky for us, one in San Francisco. Many of their fabric designs are modern takes using traditional Japanese fabric methods and often feature bright colors and patterns. They sell everything from tabi socks and shoes to clothing made from shibori dying techniques and bright homewares. What I love most about Sou Sou, is how in alignment they are with the Nourish vision for culture and tradition: When Western clothing was becoming popular in Japan, very strict rules were formed for the "correct" way to wear kimono. Because of these strict rules, fewer and fewer people wore kimono. Now, kimonois only worn for special occasions in Japan, if they are even worn at all. Sou Sou has reinvented kimono with new fabrics and cuts that make them easier to wear. They have created an entirely new category of kimono: Kinoromono. "Fun and easy to wear kimono, just like it used to be." They've really nailed the colors- my favorites are a comfy pair of cotton crepe pants in a deep mustard yellow, and a forest green cotton top that is cut to subtly suggest the shape of a kimono.