Earlier this week I visited San Francisco's Japantown for the second time. I'm lucky enough to live just a short train ride away. There are quite a few stores there, so I decided to share some of my favorites with you. Most of the blog posts that I found on bento shopping in Japantown are quite old, and no longer as relevant.
The Miyako Mall building contains two stores that carry lots of bento boxes and accessories for inexpensive prices: Daiso and Ichiban Kan. If you are planning on going to Japantown, these two stores should be the first places you go.
Daiso is located on the first floor of the Miyako Mall building. Just about everything in Daiso is $1.50, and generally is cheaper than Ichiban Kan. I've been to several Daiso locations, and this one has the biggest bento selection. Their selection is a little bit different from Ichiban Kan's selection.
Ichiban Kan is on the second floor of the Miyako Mall building. Go up
the stairs that look like a little Japanese bridge, and turn around to
see it. Ichiban Kan is a little bit different than Daiso because they
aren't a $1.50 store like Daiso. Some of the items that I bought at
Ichiban Kan were as high as $4.50. That's why I usually hit Daiso first,
pick up anything that looks good, and then go to Ichiban Kan for anything that Daiso didn't have. Here's my breakdown for what to get where:
Cheap bento boxes. Daiso has a much better selection of bento boxes than Ichiban Kan. Daiso was the place that I got my first set of bento supplies, almost one year ago. (I didn't start blogging for a while after that) You can check out their bento selection online to get a feel for what kinds of boxes they carry. Ichiban Kan carries boxes from the Glit & Brillia line.
Bento dividers and cups. Daiso has a large variety of disposable foil cups (like this), and several silicone cups(including this). Daiso also had more baran, including several types of silicone baran, which is far more durable and reusable. Ichiban Kan also had some baran (slightly smaller selection, and probably more expensive) but also had more decorative cups, like the little buckets.
Egg Molds. Because I wasn't looking for egg molds, I'm not sure which store had a slightly better selection. Daiso would probably be the best place to pick these up because it is cheaper.
Insulated lunch bags, or lunch bags in general. I don't think I saw many insulated lunch bags at Ichiban Kan.
Sauce bottles. This is a bit of a tough one. Daiso has lots of big packs with varied-size generic little sauce bottles. Both stores have the little bottles shaped like fish for soy sauce or other similar, thin sauces. Ichiban Kan has more "cute" sauce bottles with animals on the caps and the tomato/egg topped large bottles for mayo and ketchup (like here). I also got my flying pig bottles at Ichiban Kan.
Sauce cups (i.e. for mayo, thick sauces, etc.) Daiso has some disposable-type cups with lids. (Almost like recyclable salsa containers, but a lot smaller) Ichiban Kan has more of the reusable mayo cups like this.
Picks. Ichiban Kan is the winner for this one. They have a better variety of picks (like these) for $1.50.
Furikake containers. I only saw one furikake container at Ichiban Kan (this one), but none at Daiso. I picked it up for $3.75.
Little containers to fit inside your bento box. I didn't really see any at Daiso. At Ichiban Kan, I found more. I bought these little boxes for $4.50, these little animal food cups for $3.75, and some tiny onigiri boxes for $2.
Bento belts. Daiso has some silicone-type bento belts and some elastic type belts. Ichiban Kan has two-packs of Glit & Brillia basic bento belts in several colors. They cost $1.50.
Japanese Candy. Ok so this one isn't necessary for bento. I like to pick up a pack of Hi-Chew when I go shopping for bentos. Never tried Hi-chew? It's almost like a Japanese Starburst, but with better flavors and a more natural taste. Buy it at Ichiban Kan for 79 cents (Daiso also sells it, but for a dollar). You can also get assortment packs of Hi-Chew at both stores, although I suspect that Ichiban Kan's prices would be cheaper. Also look for Chocorooms, little chocolate and biscuit cookies that look like little mushrooms. Daiso sells the English version of Chocorooms for $1.50. Ichiban Kan also sells them, although I think they may sell the Japanese version.
The next store you should go to is Soko Hardware. It is located at the intersection of Post Street and Buchanan Street. On the ground floor, go past the stairs that lead to the basement into the back of the store. They sell various Hakoya bento boxes and more. They have traditional styles and also some more modern boxes (such as this line of cute boxes) for reasonable prices. Downstairs, in the basement, they have lots of kitchen gadgets. They also have a huge variety of chopsticks and beautiful Japanese tea sets. Be sure to check out the clearance table near the stairs; sometimes they have Hakoya boxes on sale!
After shopping at Soko Hardware, walk up Buchanan Street away from Post Street until you almost get to Sutter Street. On the right will be Sanko. Sanko has higher prices than most of the other bento stores. However, you can sometimes find fabulous deals at Sanko. Be sure to check out the clearance bins outside. They often have great Hakoka bento boxes on sale. I picked up the Hakoya Don Don donburi bento box (Japanese site) at Sanko for $12.50! I'll feature this box some more in an upcoming post, but for now, I recommend that you read this post if you are curious about the box. Everything inside Sanko is expensive. They try to sell bento picks for $6, far more expensive than Ichiban Kan or Daiso! If you have time to browse, take a look at the "back" room, on the left. They have a lot of Japanese fake food that is very interesting to look at. Note: You can look inside Sanko using Google Maps Streetview! Their bento gear inside is on the back left wall of the main room. The Japantown website has a coupon for a free gift with $30 purchase.
The last store that I recommend that you visit is not really a bento store. Paper Tree is an origami store. Even if you don't know how to fold origami, it's still worth a look. They have a big variety of origami paper and kits. They have information for beginners. I picked up an origami set that makes a paper bento box! Be sure to check out the exhibit at the front of the store for some breathtaking origami pieces, each made from one sheet of paper with no cuts. Also look at their variety of cute decorative erasers. The store also carries some Japanese art supplies. I highly recommend the Sakura Gelly-Roll gel pens. Great quality, and they seem to last for a very long time. Paper Tree sells them in sets, or by the pen. The Japantown website has a coupon for a free sushi eraser with a $10 purchase! I picked out a cute little noodle bowl eraser.
There is also a Sanrio store in the Kintetsu Mall building. I can't vouch for their bento selection, as I haven't personally visited it, but if you are in to that kind of thing, I would stop by and visit it.
If you have some more time to spend in Japantown, enjoy lunch in one of the many restaurants in Japantown. Restaurants in the Kintetsu building or on the bridge seem busier than those in the Miyako Mall building.
How to get there: I recommend taking public transit. If you take Caltrain, get off at the very last stop. It will be a more than 2 mile walk to get to Japantown. If you take BART, get off at the Civic Center stop. The walk is a bit over 1 mile. I suggest that you use Google Maps to plan your walks, especially if you are going somewhere besides Japantown.
Please let me know if there is any bento supply you are wondering about that I haven't addressed. I hope that I've covered everything for your trip to San Francisco's Japantown!