Everyday Japanese flair in the home

A visit to one’s local Japantown can help refresh any home with furniture and decorations that give it a distinctly Japanese aesthetic. Whether it be a kotatsu (heated table) or a hand-crafted tea bowl, there are various options to decorate the home.

Asakichi specializes in Japanese tea ceremony supplies, its selection of hand-crafted tea bowls can serve a decorative purpose. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

Asakichi specializes in Japanese tea ceremony supplies, its selection of hand-crafted tea bowls can serve a decorative purpose. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

In San Francisco Japantown’s Japan Center West Mall, Asakichi sells a variety of small to mid-sized goods. While the store offers specialized goods for advanced levels of Japanese tea ceremony, they can also be used as decoration. The store carries Japanese lacquer ware ($12 to $48) and handcrafted Japanese tea bowls (around $100). While primarily meant for tea ceremony, a hand-crafted tea bowl can serve as a decorative piece, along with some finer tea pots recently stocked from Japan ($100 to $200). Also in stock are several Japanese antiques and folk crafts from Japan. The store has a selection of antique porcelain, such as an Imari porcelain basin for washing sake cups ($325) and hand-loomed and hand-printed decorative strips of fabric from Kyoto ($65), to add a pastel streak of color to any wall.

Etsuyoshi Shimada once worked as a travel agent, but now brings Japan to the home through Neat Asian Things. Opened in 2011, Shimada took over the space from Masao Konishi who ran Townhouse Living on the first floor of the Kinokuniya Building. The store specializes in Japanese decorations and furniture, most notably, pillows, cushions and tatami products.

According to employee Tom Suzuki, noren are also popular. Ranging in price from $20 to $100, the store carries a wide selection of 20 or so designs for short, medium and long noren lengths. “You can use the longer ones as a room divider in the place of a door,” Suzuki said. “If you have a little window, a shorter one is good for them.”

Other popular items include the tatami bed ($688), zabuton (seat cushions) (starting at $30) and buckwheat pillows (starting at $24).

The store also sells more than 20 different kinds of Isamu Noguchi lamps ($105-$1,000). “We’re the only ones around here that has such a wide selection,” Suzuki said.

Sanko Kitchen Essentials, located on the northern corner of the Buchanan Street Mall at 1758 Buchanan St., sells a wide variety of household goods, especially for the kitchen. After 35 years, the store changed its name from Sanko Cooking Supply to Sanko Kitchen Essentials as it came under new ownership by JPT America in July 2016. The former owner, Mariko Suzuki, continues to work today as an employee.

Suzuki said some items for the home include Japanese vases ($48 to $300), or wall scrolls ($28). The store also carries decorative masks ($100) and kimono style wine bottle covers ($36).

While no longer purchasing new stock, Soko Hardware carries imported furniture such as tansu and tables from Japan. photo by Tomo Hira/Nichi Bei Weekly

Soko Hardware, located at 1698 Post Street, is the last family-owned hardware store in the ethnic enclave. Outside of the tools and materials typically found in a hardware store, the business has a selection of kitchen appliances and decorative items for the home.

A colorful selection of paper lanterns ($1.95 to $25.50), and decorative furoshiki (wrapping cloth) ($55) worthy of being put up on the walls are on display at the store. Also in stock are decorative items such as tanuki (racoon dog) statues ($63.20), byobu (painted partitions) ($20-$1,000) and tatami goza mats (mats made of woven rice stalks) ($28 to $170).

Eunice Ashizawa, the hardware store’s co-owner, noted that bathroom accessories have also been popular. The store carries wooden bath mats ($23 to $66), bath stools ($29.95 to $243) and buckets ($11) for the furo (Japanese bath) made of fragrant Japanese cypress.

While specializing in smaller goods, Soko once dealt in larger pieces of furniture as well. During the ‘80s Agnes Ashizawa, the late matriarch of the family, started Soko Interiors further up the street at 1672 Post St. While Ashizawa said Soko no longer actively stocks larger pieces of furniture, the Ashizawas have several imported pieces of furniture in stock.

There are a number of keyaki (Japanese elm) pieces, including chadansu (Japanese tea cupboard) ($1,668 to $2,265) and a table ($720). Also available is an oak geta bako (shoe storage box) and a wadansu (Japanese armory closet) made of white oak ($2,595).

San Jose Japantown’s Nichi Bei Bussan is a storied Japanese American department store dating back to 1948. Located at 140 Jackson St., it sells bedding and cushions for the home.

Nichi Bei Bussan offers a selection of decorative and functional items such as zabuton, futon, byobu and noren. photo by Arlene Damron

Nichi Bei Bussan offers a selection of decorative and functional items such as zabuton, futon, byobu and noren. photo by Arlene Damron

Popular staples include zabuton (starting at $69.95), buckwheat hull pillows ($24.95 to $59.95) and a tri-fold foam folding bed (from $230).

Store owner Arlene Damron recommends a tri-fold foam folding bed, which is “especially good for kids going back to college or temporary bedding for people,” paired with a tatami bed (available by special order).

The store also sells other tatami products such as tatami goza mats ($54.95) and tatami mats (by special order).

Among other larger items, Nichi Bei Bussan stocks shoji screens ($120.95 for three panels) and kotatsu (from $350).

Damron also said a “Uniquely NB” line of products are available, including tsuzumi pillows ($18.95) featuring some fabrics that are no longer available. She went on to say that her store takes custom orders for noren, zabuton and pillows using these fabrics.

From a throw pillow to a full-sized armory, stores in California’s Japantowns can offer a touch of Japanese decor to any room. To add a flair of Japanese aesthetics to any home, visit any of these stores today.

While no longer purchasing new stock, Soko Hardware carries imported furniture such as tansu and tables from Japan; while
Asakichi Antiques, Arts, & Tea Ceremony, 1737 Post St., Suite 365, in the West Mall of the Japan Center Malls, (415) 921-2147.

Neat Asian Things, 1825 Post St, in the Kinokuniya Building, (415) 563-1417.

Sanko Kitchen Essentials, 1758 Buchanan St, (415) 922-8331.

Soko Hardware, 1698 Post St., (415) 931-5510.

San Jose’s Japantown
Nichi Bei Bussan, 140 E. Jackson St., (408) 294-8048.

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