Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted on Mar 11, 2010 | 46 comments

Bento shopping in San Francisco Japantown

Bento shopping in San Francisco Japantown

It’s been a long time since my last bento gear shopping update, so there’s a lot to cover! Today I cover San Francisco Japantown, with a couple of new stores on the list. Highlights are the new Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift store with a variety of bento gear, the conveniently located (but partially hidden) Daiso dollar store, and the Sanrio store with a new shipment of heatable aluminum bento boxes.Bento boxes at Daiso in Japantown

Full store info and shop addresses are at the bento gear shopping guide for the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can also find reader updates at the Bento Store Locator with Google Maps. Photos of shop inventory were taken and used with store permission (click on any of the small photos for a larger version). (Click to read the full post.)

* Daiso (NEW)
* Kinokuniya Stationery & Gifts (1st floor) (NEW)
* Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift (2nd floor)
* Daikoku by Shiki
* Ichiban Kan
* Moritaya
* Nijiya Market
* Sanko
* Sanrio (NEW)
* Soko Hardware

(Warning: Photo-heavy post ahead!)

* Daiso (Japantown branch)

First off, there’s a small branch of Daiso in the same building as Ichiban Kan, on the bottom floor behind the staircase. Everything’s $1.50 unless otherwise market, and they have a fair selection of bento gear (including boxes, matching bags and bento bands, silicone food cups, onigiri rice ball molds, kitchen gear, food picks and other accessories). The quality of their bento boxes isn’t high, but prices are super-low, so I look at them as being semi-disposable boxes that I don’t mind Bug losing or breaking at school.

Daiso also has a small snack section, with things like interesting non-oil dressings (especially shiso and goma sesame flavors), and flavored seaweed. It’s much smaller than the large Daiso at Serramonte Mall in Daly City, and they don’t accept credit cards yet. But if you’re in the neighborhood to go to Ichiban Kan anyway, be sure to stop by and check out their inventory.

Here’s about half of the store’s bento boxes (the other half are shown in the photo above):

Bento gear at Daiso in Japantown

And their insulated bento bags and matching lunch cloths:

Bento bags at Daiso in Japantown

Daiso

22 Peace Plaza
Suite 400

San Francisco, CA 94115

* Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift (#2)

This store opened late November 2009 on the first floor of Japan Center Kinokuniya Bldg. (by Japan Video store, under the main Kinokuniya bookstore), an extension of Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift on the second floor. It has a sizable selection of cute bento boxes, nesting/stacking boxes, utensils in cases, onigiri rice ball cases, cute food containers, and bags. Prices are on the higher end, but they stock San-X brand boxes that you won’t find at other stores. Definitely worth checking out.

Interesting trivia note: this is run by the same company as Kinokuniya Stationery on the second floor above it (see entry below), but these Kinokuniya gift stores aren’t actually the same company as the famous Kinokuniya Bookstore. The Kinokuniya Stationery stores are both part of NBC Inc., the same company that is behind MaiDo Stationery & Gift. Evidently executives at the two companies are friends, so Kinokuniya Bookstore allowed NBC to use the Kinokuniya name in some of its U.S. stores.

Here’s a look at about half of their bento gear:

Bento gear at Kinokuniya Gifts & Stationery

And additional bento boxes:

Bento boxes at Kinokuniya Gifts & Stationery

The store manager said that bento boxes sell better at their New York branch than the San Francisco one, so he thinks that bento lunches are more popular in New York. I suspect that people just don’t know about this new SF store and their good selection of bento boxes, though.

Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift

1581 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94101
(415) 567-8901

* Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift (#1)

Located on the second floor of the Japan Center Kinokuniya Bldg., Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift is across from Kinokuniya Bookstore (not the same company). They have some unusual and cute bento boxes for children, including sandwich cases, nesting/stacking bento boxes, and snack boxes (see photo below). Prices are on the higher side, but quality is pretty good overall.

Bento inventory at Kinokuniya stationery store in SF

Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift

1581 Webster Street
Suite 218

San Francisco, CA 94101
(415) 567-8901

* Daikoku by Shiki

Daikoku by Shiki has a nice selection of more elegant, traditional-looking bento boxes by Hakoya. Prices are around $15-$20 per box, so they’re not exactly cheap, but they’re good quality. Their boxes are sized for adults, as opposed to the smaller Hakoya boxes at Ichiban Kan. Soko Hardware has some similar Hakoya boxes, but a smaller selection (see entry below). The SF Japantown website has a printable online coupon for Daikoku by Shiki here.

Bento boxes at Daikoku by Shiki in Japantown

Bento boxes at Daikoku by Shiki, Japantown

Shiki

Kintetsu Mall
1737 Post St, Ste 360

San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 563-4550

* Ichiban Kan in SF Japantown
Oh Ichiban Kan, why oh why did you have to go and close your lovely online store? That place where people all over the U.S. could order bento boxes and accessories for $1-$1.50 a piece? We miss your online store! Store manager Rumi apologetically told me that they couldn’t make it work with the amount of upkeep the website required given their constantly changing inventory (something that makes the retail stores so fun to visit regularly).

So it feels a little cruel to show Ichiban Kan’s store inventory (their retail stores in the S.F. Bay Area remain open for business as usual), but here goes. Here’s their wall of bento boxes, matching bags, bento bands, side dish boxes, and utensils:

Bento inventory at Ichiban Kan in SF Japantown

And small Hakoya-brand bento boxes, just US$6 each. Unlike the Hakoya boxes at Daikoku by Shiki, these are sized for children, with the yellow rectangular box sized at 380ml (150ml top tier, 230ml bottom tier), and the gingham checkered oval boxes measuring 415ml (180ml top tier, 235ml bottom tier). (These boxes are not microwave safe; see my care guide for bento gear.)

Hakoya bento boxes at Ichiban Kan in Japantown

Ichiban Kan also has a line of cheaper, smaller boxes from Hakoya that appear quite sturdy, matching utensils, and fancier boxes with antibacterial silver ion coating (like this large bento box on J-List) for packed lunch food safety. If you find a Hakoya-brand box at Ichiban Kan, it’ll likely be cheaper here than anywhere else in San Francisco. They also have a few silver-colored Don Don Lunch Boxes (Hakoya) for packing donburi lunches, priced at $19. Surprisingly, these are $1 more than nearby Sanko Cooking Supply is selling their new stock of Don Don Lunch Boxes, in a wider variety of colors (see entry below).

Bento gear at Ichiban Kan in Japantown

In a neighboring aisle is their wall of cheap bento accessories, which include egg molds (make boiled eggs in the shape of bunnies, cars, fish, bears, hearts, & stars), food picks, silicone lunch cups & baran dividers, sauce containers, etc. Make Daiso and Ichiban Kan your first stops in Japantown so that you don’t kick yourself for spending too much money at other stores first, just to discover you could get things here cheaper.

Bento accessories at Ichiban Kan in Japantown

Ichiban Kan

1625 Post St
Miyako Mall 22 Peace Plz, Ste 540

(between Buchanan St & Laguna St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 409-0472

* Moritaya

No photo updates here as they wouldn’t allow pictures in the store. Moritaya has character-themed bento gear for the preschool set, with characters like Thomas the Tank Engine, Miffy, Cars, Gaspard & Lisa, Totoro, Ponyo, etc. The downside is that everything’s seriously overpriced, with huge mark-ups on bento gear  (including boxes from Ichiban Kan that they resell). If you can’t live without a particular anime character box but can’t find it locally, you may have luck here (but you’ll pay dearly for it).

Moritaya

1737 Post Street
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 674-1345

* Nijiya Market

If you’re looking for a plain, sturdy, non-cutesy bento box that won’t embarrass the man in your life, stop by Nijiya supermarket and pick up one of their four Asvel-brand boxes (pictured below). Kamei (out on Clement St. in the Richmond) and Kukje Supermarket (Daly City) are the other good places to get these type of plain boxes at comparable prices. But if you’re in Japantown anyway, Nijiya fills this niche. Your teenage son will thank you for not packing his lunch in a pink Hello Kitty bento box… ;-)

Bento boxes at Nijiya Market

Nijiya Market

1737 Post St
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 563-1901

* Sanko Cooking Supplies
Don Don Bento Boxes at Sanko in SF JapantownSanko has a surprisingly good selection of unusual, better quality bento boxes and some interesting accessories, albeit at high prices. Most interesting was a new shipment of $18 donburi bento boxes in three colors (the Don Don Lunch Box by Hakoya, reviewed here), and a cute shaping mold for tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet) with three removable shaping plates (pricey but cute). The SF Japantown website has a printable online coupon for Sanko.

Bento inventory at Sanko in SF Japantown

Some unusual bento accessories and Hakoya bento boxes with antibacterial silver ion coating. The egg molds and some of the red/blue Hakoya boxes are $4 cheaper at Ichiban Kan across the street.

Bento inventory at Sanko in SF Japantown

Sanko Cooking Supply

1758 Buchanan St
(between Post St & Sutter St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 922-8331

* Sanrio

The Sanrio store in the Japantown mall didn’t use to stock much of anything interesting in the way of bento gear, but that’s changed with their recent shipment of aluminum bento boxes that can be heated in the toaster oven. The drawback to these kind of boxes is that they’re not watertight, but the unique twist is that you can actually cook dishes like a gratin right in them, and heat up the whole thing without using the microwave (I know there are some of you who avoid microwave ovens). See my earlier post on metal bento boxes.

Sanrio is the company behind such characters as Hello Kitty, Shinkansen, My Melody, Chococat, Cinnamoroll, The Runabouts, etc. Accordingly, they’ve got a selection of character-themed bento boxes, utensils, thermoses, food jars, and lunch bags at slightly high prices (licensing fees, anyone?). The SF Japantown website has a printable online coupon for Sanrio.

Bento boxes at Sanrio in Japantown

Sanrio

Kintetsu Mall
1737 Post Street #315

San Francisco, CA 94115

* Soko Hardware

Soko tucks its bento box collection in an out-of-the-way corner on the top floor back behind the staircase, not downstairs with the kitchen stuff. Here you’ll find good-quality Hakoya and Tatsumiya Shikki-brand boxes for adults and children, as well as picnic-sized juubako boxes for tabletop use. Prices are very reasonable for this quality; definitely check out Soko Hardware before buying the more elegant or traditional boxes elsewhere.

Bento inventory at Soko Hardware in SF

Downstairs you’ll find fairly run-of-the-mill rice molds, sushi molds, cooking equipment and middle-of-the-road prices (not as cheap as Daiso or Ichiban Kan for the same molds, but not an outrageous markup either).

Spam slicer at Soko Hardware in SF Japantown

One unique niche Soko Hardware fills is with all of the fun gadgets for making spam musubi! In addition to spam musubi presses (both single and double-size versions), they even carry a spam meat slicer that evenly slices an entire can of spam at once — just like a hard-boiled egg slicer. It’s an unnecessary gadget (got a sharp knife?), but fun nonetheless.

Soko Hardware

1698 Post Street
(between Buchanan St & Laguna St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 931-5510

FURTHER READING:

46 Comments

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. Thanks for the great tips on the new 1st floor Kinokuniya stationary shop and where Soko keeps their bento boxes! I didn’t know about either of these and I think I last visited near Christmas.

  2. WOW!
    in my country there aren’t obento shops

    Bye Bye!

  3. Hi Biggie,
    Can you comment on the BPA content of these plastic containers? Or direct me if you’ve posted on this in the past? Right now we are using the Lunch Bots metal containers but they are spendy.
    You know I do not pack fancy bentos but they are handy for my Kindergardener’s snacks and lunches since they are only allowed to take out one container for snack recess, so I particularly like the bentos with built-in dividers.
    Thanks!
    Cherie

  4. Hi Biggie,

    I really appreciate the update! For those in the east bay, there is still an Ichiban Kan in El Cerrito. There is also a small bento box selection at the Tokyo Fish Market Gift Shop in Berkeley.

    Thank you for blogging!

  5. LOVE this post, Biggie! Thank you! My kids and I make the hour long journey to Japan Town several times a year for lunch and shopping! I’ve been to Daiso and Ichibankan, but not to the others and can’t wait to go! We plan to go soon and I will have this list with me next time! Thanks for all your wonderful info on this post and all your other posts! You are amazing! :)

  6. I’m so excited about all the great healthy tips and rsources I’ve found online in the last little while. Great recipes and books…like the new book “Looking Goood Naked”. There’s so mcuh good stuff out there.

  7. excellent post… i’m drooling and can’t wait to plan my next SF trip with this guide as a shopping checklist! (and i’m kicking myself for being in the peace plaza mall and only going to ichiban kan, not knowing daiso had a branch there too!)

  8. Thank you for this update. I just visited LA the other day and my bf and I are planning on going to SF next time we’re in CA. You can count on me having this list with me when we do. :)

    I’m not sure if you mentioned this anywhere, but I just went to Daiso’s website and I just found out that they have an online store. If I recall correctly, they didn’t have one before, which is why I was so happy when Ichiban Kan opened up theirs (and then was super sad when they closed it down).

  9. Regarding my previous comment, I just checked out Daiso’s online store more carefully (I was tired last night and didn’t pay as much attention) and I noticed that everything is sold in bulk. When you first go to their site, it just says that their online store is up and running, but once you click it, it says in the bottom left that is the discount program for retailers. I’m sad. :(

    They do sell individual items (it’s the first category on the left), but the list is very limited.

  10. bentos are so cute…they make the food look more delicious

  11. Thank you so much for this post! It couldn’t have come at a better time as we were in SF this past weekend for a visit. I pulled your post up on my iPhone and darted around Japantown, gathering up all the stuff I just can’t get in Dallas.

  12. wahhh i really love the children sized hakoya bento box!!! Its so cute ^__^ Thanks for this post, im hoping to visit my family in san fran this summer so this really helps if I do end up going :)

  13. thanks for posting this Biggie–

    thinking of heading down to Frisco during the summer and I’ll be checking out these stores.
    However, here in Seattle area we have Daiso, Uwijimaya, Central Market, Pike Place Market etc so I’m fairly set up.

    Good post!!!

  14. Hi,
    I really thank you for this post and the older one concerning the San Francisco Bay. In fact my brother is going to SF for 2 weeks and I could give him some adresses to buy me bentos. All that thanks to your two posts (since I’ve never been to the USA ;)). I am looking forward to what he will bring me back since gear seems much cheaper in the USA than in Europe. Oh and photos are great, I like to see what is inside stores!

  15. Funny, just 2 weeks ago I went to Japan town on a Bento hunting trip and dropped at least $150. Not all needed stuff, just cute boxes. I love the illustrations on some of them. I bought several of the ones pictured on the Kinokuniya Stationery & Gift.

  16. I miss the Ichibankan online store. They would ship here (PR). This summer I’m going to the US, and hope to get some new ones though. :)

  17. Biggie, I’m so glad you’re back! Your blog was one of the first to inspire me to jump into the bento world. Welcome back!

    Thank you so so so much for this list!! I travel to the Bay area often and I knew that Japantown would be my next destination to familiarize myself with. I also did not know there was a Kinokuniya in New York (where I live)! I must visit! I love Maido but it’s so expensive.

    Thanks again, I look forward to future posts!

  18. I wish we had this much choice in the UK!

  19. Hi!
    There is also a Daiso store in the San Jose area in south bay! Almost everything is $1.50. They have a lot of bento supplies, and also have a lot of cute ceramic kitchen ware. My friends go there very often.

    Just thought you should know.

  20. Thank you for such a thorough list, Biggie! I printed it out for my trip to Japantown from Sonoma County yesterday. The tips were great, especially to start at Ichiban Kan and Daiso first. Although I splurged on a gorgeous lacquer Hello Kitty bento box at Sanrio, I was still able to stay in my budget by starting at the lower priced stores first. So fun, thanks for this guide!

  21. Wow, so many bento’s to choose from in San Francisco!

    Check out my Bento Box Reviews blog. Let me know what you think!

  22. Biggie, I live in the Bay area and was wondering if you could recommend the best place for a locking & hopefully venting glass bento box that wasn’t super pricey or heavy. I read your great SF shopping guide but it didn’t seem to list anything with all those specifications. I figured I’d ask since you’ve already scoure…d the area. Love your site!

  23. I am so jealous, I wish I lived in SF. In Vancouver, we have Daiso and a small selection in asian stores.

    I am planning a trip to Hawaii, and I think there are some great places to pick up bento boxes in Honolulu like Don Quijote, Marukai and Shirojiya. Can’t wait.

  24. Hi Biggie,

    Have not checked here in a while…glad to see your posts.. and the expansion of Japan Town’s bento selection. :D

    As a bi-coastal bento lover (intmately familiar with the beto avialability in NYC, Philly and the Bay Area) my guess is that Kinokunaya, NYC DOES sell more bentos than the Kinokunaya in Japan Town(SF). Only because NYC does not have NEARLY as many bento retailers as the Bay Area.

  25. Oh, and (as if I didn’t have enough boxes already) I do hope they still have those cute yellow donburi boxes when I visit the Bay this summer!!

    Thanks again for the update!!

  26. Hey Biggie! I went to J-town about 3 weeks ago on a Monday and I got some stuff but I was a little disappointed in Ichiban Kan’s lack of Bento box inventory when I went. It was like some crazy person came in and bought every box on the shelf! Maybe they were just changing out inventory? I was a little sad… I am hoping to take some of the high school girls from my church in Sacramento next month and I’d like to go when they have as much stuff as shown in your photos… Do you happen to know when they receive new shipments?

  27. Haven’t been on your site in a while, my bad. Who knew Daiso was in SF JTown now? I was just in Ichiban Kan a few weeks ago. I drive by there almost every Sunday and on the rare occasions when there is a parking place I stop by. They sometimes have great shopping bags- I have one with hedgehogs and one with sheep, and also the fabulous nylon bags that scrunch down into nothing in your pocket- I have a couple with french saying I don’t understand, one has French speaking pigs. :-)

    Keep up the great work! (P.S. off topic Aloha Wharehouse, very darling family owned across from Ichiban Kan, has great aloha stuff.)

  28. Thank you so much for this list. I live in Columbus and, while we have a huge Japanese population, bento products are hard to find (well, i’ve snatched everything up i can find and there’s little variety).

    I am in San Francisco right now and have this page on my iphone. Hit half the spots yesterday and the rest I’m hitting up today!

    Thanks again.

  29. Thanks so much for the tips. My son is entering pre-school this Fall and I will be going to San Francisco this month – can’t wait to check out at least one of the stores mentioned.

  30. I’m also heartbroken that Ichiban Kan doesn’t sell online any longer. I live in Kansas and it’s a desert for anything Bento. I’ve been forced to buy expensive components online. And as much as a bento buying trip in SanFran sounds truly fun, I think I’m like a lot of people who can’t just hop on a plane to buy $20 worth of $1 each bento gear! It’s nuts that they can’t just get a website INTERN or something!!!

  31. I have been using Leaflet Tight boxes(2) every day for more than a year. They go thru the dishwasher and can be microwaved. They never leak. There is plenty of food for an adult. I just hope I can replace them when the time comes. I love them. Also, I use sidecars from Daiso-Yellow, pink and green- for fruit,snack, chips for DH. They also do not leak and cost almost nothing.

  32. Thanks so much for your post! I printed out this list for my recent trip to SanFran. I could have gone hog wild if I’d used a bigger suitcase! Your recs were spot on. Just IchiBan Kan and Daiso make the trip worthwhile!

  33. What a dream!!! I wish I can buy it on a shop here in Brussels but it doesn’t exist yet! :(

  34. Interesting post– my husband found this when he was working in San Fran and loved it.. we got lots of goodies for my son’s lunchbox, and I even send some with my hubby sometimes. Kudos for the pics, I never could understand what he was saying!

    -Molly
    Antique Jewelry

  35. There was finally a Sunday on the way home from church when there was a parking spot in J-town so I got to see the “new” Daiso. I was happy with what they have, in particular that they had the stainless side container dishes you feature here which I’ve used a lot since I got some a few years aog in their Daly City store.
    http://lunchinabox.net/2007/05/11/croquette-lunches-and-metal-containers/

    Ichiban Kan also had Hello Kitty lunch bags, the ones with a zipper closure and a sort of foil like lining this past Sunday when I was there. One of my favorite things Ichiban Kan carries unrelated to bento are nylon shopping bags with pigs etc on them and sayings in French. They hold a lot and squeeze down into your fist. I always have several of them in my hedgehog and sheep regular sized with handles shopping bags also from Ichiban Kan.

  36. Interesting post– my husband found this when he was working in San Fran and loved it.. we got lots of goodies for my son’s lunchbox, and I even send some with my hubby sometimes. Kudos for the pics, I never could understand what he was saying!

  37. Great article, Thanks!!!! I’m heading to the City to do Bento Box shopping. Right after I go to the Farmer’s Market at the Clock Tower on the Pier.

  38. Out of curiosity and since you have used a lot of bento boxes, what do you think is a ratio of how many are Microwaveable/dishwasher safe?

  39. Well thanks to all your information my husband and I are taking a day to spend in the city. First stop the Ferry Building famous Farmer’s Market (one of my favorite stops when I can get a Saturday off) then Bento Box shopping….And I can’t wait!

    Printed and mapped all your great information and We’re off!

  40. Hi there thanks so much for this post, I didn’t know that they were available so close to home, I had to have mine shipped from overseas from this place http://www.katachiware.com.au.

    Love your post.
    Jane

  41. Have you seen any glass lunch box that has multi-sections?

  42. I live in the UK and I am so jealous!
    It’s extremely hard to find bento boxes and accessories,
    Maybe one day I will get to visit USA and check out these stores,
    Thank you for showing off these great stores!