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Posted on Mar 13, 2008 | 22 comments

San Francisco Japantown bento shopping update

San Francisco Japantown bento shopping update

Recent trips to San Francisco’s Japantown yielded a number of shopping updates for bento fans, encompassing Sanko housewares store, Ichiban Kan dollar store, Nijiya Market and Kinokuniya bookstore. Store details and addresses are in my updated SF Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear. I have no commercial affiliations with any of these stores.

1. Sanko Expands its Bento Offerings

New bento aisle at Sanko in San Francisco

After my earlier review of Sanko‘s solid selection of high-quality bento boxes, evidently those of you in the area made a run on the store in search of the “Don Don Lunch Box” (a microwave-safe donburi bento box by Hakoya). Well, the owners were so impressed by the demand for unusual bento items that they’ve recently expanded their selection of bento accessories, and grouped all of their bento-related items together in a new section (far left corner as you walk in). Prices are not cheap, but you won’t find these accessories anywhere else in San Francisco. Expect to pay five to eight dollars for any of the accessories pictured here, even with their current 10%-off Spring Sale that runs until March 23, 2008. Additional photos of their bento section are at the end of this post (photos taken with the permission of the store management). (Read on for updates on the additional stores.)

2. Ichiban Kan Stocks New Line of Clickety Click Bento Gear

Clickety Click bento lunch gear in blue & brown

Ichiban Kan, a chain of Japanese-style dollar stores in the Bay Area, has finished filling up their spiffy new shelving units, and now stocks a line of 2-tier nesting bento boxes, utensils, elastic bento bands and kinchaku lunch bags that complement their existing selection of triangular onigiri boxes (in blue, yellow/orange, and pink). All for $1 to $1.50 each.

Reader Great Stone Face also points out that the front page for the Ichiban Kan online store is now up at www.ichibankanusa.com, although the links are not live until their April 1, 2008 launch. Keep an eye on that and their blog for updates.

3. Nijiya has Super-cute Anpanman Furikake Dispensers

Anpanman & Baikinman furikake dispensers

So it’s not bento-related, but parents of small children might get a kick out of these cute furikake rice seasoning dispensers. Salmon-flavored furikake, a children’s favorite, fills up the plastic Anpanman and Baikinman, the respective hero and villain of popular Japanese cartoon series Anpanman. Baikinman is short for “Bacteria Man”, and he battles Anpanman (“Bean Paste Bun Man”) who helps the starving by letting them eat part of his head. What’s not to like? ;-)

My three-year-old helps out in the photo above by lifting off Anpanman’s head to reveal a washable, refillable dispenser for furikake or any other loose spice. An informal poll of his Japanese immersion preschool indicates that these furikake dispensers are pretty widespread and hugely popular with the children. Bug thinks of them as toys, and wants them on the dining room table when he eats (Baikinman facing away as he’s “too scary”). Each one was about $6 and came with 20g of furikake — not super-cheap, but oh so cute and fun for my son.

4. Kinokuniya Occasionally Stocks Bento Gear

I was surprised to find the Domino-chan line of student-sized two-tier bento boxes with matching cups and utensil sets for sale at the Japantown branch of Kinokuniya, a large Japanese bookstore chain. Not a big selection, but I hadn’t seen these locally before. Mr. Matsuno, a manager of the Japantown branch, tells me that they don’t plan to stock them on a regular basis, but they may occasionally have character-themed goods like these. If they’re not in stock, the store can order them for you. If you’re there, be sure to check out their Japanese-language bento cookbooks (this is where I tend to buy my speed bento cookbooks and children’s bento cookbooks).

5. Additional Pictures of Sanko’s New Bento Inventory

New bento aisle at Sanko in San Francisco

Note the green sandwich cutter on the bottom left that creates four little shaped sandwiches (similar to my dinosaur sandwich cutter, but much more expensive).

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Good-quality men’s bento boxes from Asvel and Hakoya (the “Don Don Lunch Box” for curries, stews and pasta is on the left).

New bento aisle at Sanko in San Francisco

Good-quality women’s bento boxes from Hakoya on the left, little character-themed bento boxes for children on the right (Lilo & Stitch).

New bento aisle at Sanko in San Francisco

Bento accessories from m’sa (Mam’s Assist) include cute furikake dispensers shaped like a bunny and a chick (bottom middle). In the top center, note the pig- and elephant-shaped containers with little paddles and secure seals for spreading thick add-ons like butter, peanut butter, etc.

New bento aisle at Sanko in San Francisco

Some small food picks in the upper left, sauce containers, etc.

FURTHER READING:

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  1. Biggie,
    I’m drooling as I’m looking at your pictures! I wish I could buy some of these things! I was wondering, in your picture with the green sandwich cutter, what are the things on the same row and to the right?

  2. @1 from Jeffrey: I think you’ll be happy with the Don Don Lunch Box — I was impressed with the design. How lucky that a friend was traveling here!

  3. @2 from Michelle: Those are little sandwich cutters that have indented pushers on the top to make little patterns on top of the bread (eyes & mouth for the bunny, etc.). I’m going to be adding notes to my Flickr photos soon with what’s what, but I haven’t done that yet.

  4. @5 from Summers: I don’t recall exactly, but I think they were about $6 after the 10%-off sale.

  5. Wow! How lucky you are to live near such a fantastic bento store! We live in Denver and the closest we have is an H-Mart that has Lock & Lock items off and on. I’ve had order online for almost all the bento-ing things we have. Any communities where I could do a trade? I work at a huge bookstore and I could trade books,cds or DVDs. I also am near a Cost Plus World Market so I cold trade international food.

  6. I love the little music note food picks. So cute! ^_^

  7. Sooooooo jealous
    T.T almost everything you want about bento is not available in Brazil.Americans are lucky!

  8. I know where I’m going if I ever get to visit SF ;)

    Wegmans, a northeast-US grocery chain, had a nice selection of thermoses in cute and colorful designs, kiddy and adult sizes. I think the biggest were about $15 which I’m guessing is expensive… still thinking about picking one up though!

  9. Wegmans?!!? Holy Mackerel another NE Bento fan. Don’t you wish we could get the stores here to stock bento items? :D

    I’m so jealous of Biggie who can go into various stores and see such a gorgeous display of goods. ;)

    I have the bunny version of the Onigiri box, and I was surprised at how big it actually was! I was expecting a tiny thing. But it can fit a full sized bagel in the top with little smushing! Or 1/4 of a large sub. :D

    ps> Biggie, can you take my website off your list for a bit, or at least put a note that it’s currently down? I had an unhappy event where my drive crashed and I lost my entire website. It will be back, and I will let you know, but it’s going to be awhile, and I’m gonna hafta start from scratch, cause stupid me forgot to back up the photos. :(

  10. @8 from Kaits: They are cute, aren’t they? I had to dash out of the store quickly to get back to my son (with his friend and her mom), but I’ll be going back to investigate more thoroughly. I really don’t need any more bento accessories, but they do have unusual things there…

  11. @9 from Nadeshiko: Americans? What about folks in Japan? They’re living in the bento epicenter. :-)

  12. @10 from Elfir: Thanks for the tip on Wegmans!

  13. @11 from Sile: I put a note by your blog on my Lunch Links page that it’s currently down. Just let me know when it’s back up and I’ll remove the note. Thanks for the heads up!

  14. Oddly enough I’ve found the dino sandwich cutter in my local grocery store for only $3. I was so tempted to pick it up but my cran-strawberry juice was calling me.

  15. @17 from Katie: Not odd at all to see the dino sandwich cutter locally for cheap — I’ve seen them in Safeway for about that much. The 4-in-1 sandwich cutter above was something like $12 at Sanko; too rich for my blood.

  16. Thank you Biggie! I’ll give it a shot.

  17. Ahhh, I’m so excited about Ichiban Kan opening online! I loved it when I went!
    For the other NE people on here – y’know, I have to say, I LOVE my city almost unnaturally so (NYC) and I have a lot of pride for all the great things you can get here, but bento gear cheaply is just not one of them. I’m noticing more and more bento around here and there, but nothing on the scale that it is available in SF and definitely not for cheap – though one store was selling things for $2-3 a piece, which is much more reasonable, still double what itwould be in SF! Anyway, that’s my “Where is all the bento stuff?” gripe of the day.

  18. @20 from Yvo: I still don’t understand why NYC doesn’t have cheap bento stuff. You’d think it’d be an epicenter for that sort of thing, wouldn’t you? What about in northern New Jersey where there’s a large Japanese population? Still high prices? I guess so…

    Anyway, sorry to hear about your prices, but fingers crossed on Ichiban Kan’s online store. I’m curious to see how they’re going to set prices and shipping to cover their costs but still keep things affordable.

  19. Yvo, really? Check out the dollar store in the Flushing Mall..I forget the name of it, but it’s on the 1st floor near the really hokey antiques store. They have a row or so of cheap bento stuff. My last purchase before moving to DC was a bento box and matching condiment cups :D

  20. @22 from Rachel: Thanks for the NY shopping tip, Rachel! Always helpful.

  21. Hi, i really like the anpanman dispenser and wander how do I purchase online and whether you can airmail to Singapore? I like anpanman a lot and collect some of his collection. Kindly reply me and appreciate