Bunkado, a one-stop shopping spot in Little Tokyo

Bunkado's storefront.

LITTLE TOKYO SHOPPING — Peruse Little Tokyo’s Bunkado for cutlery, Japanese music, knicknacks and more. screenshot by Akira Olivia Kumamoto

Akira Olivia Kumamoto visits Bunkado in Little Tokyo for this “Nichi Bei Café” video report.

LOS ANGELES — Little Tokyo, located in downtown Los Angeles, has always been a go-to for great food, day trips and of course, gift shopping. The historic district boasts an array of options for holiday shopping this year, including the ever-popular Little Akihabara Anime Jungle in the Little Tokyo Galleria for all-things anime, Japangeles for clothes and accessories and multiple specialty stores like the Sanrio store, offering Japanese and other East Asian products.

This year, though, the Nichi Bei News is highlighting the gift shop Bunkado in Little Tokyo for your holiday purchases. Located on First Street between Central Avenue and San Pedro Street, this retro store is a local staple for everything from cutlery, to classic Japanese music, to imported Japanese and Chinese goods.

The business’ first floor walls are busy with historic books and shiny knick-knacks like tote bags and ceramic cranes. A massive daruma sits at the front of the shop, surrounded by delicate, swaying chochin lamps, wind chimes and intricate dolls clad in red. Children and adults alike stroll through the store, gazing through the glass cases of unique imported goods. Up the staircase lined with one-of-a-kind postcards lies the second floor, filled with Japanese CDs and cassettes and gorgeous pottery.

The establishment’s name means “House of Culture” and stands on the ground of the first Japanese-owned business in Little Tokyo, Kame Restaurant. Tokio and Suye Ueyama founded the store in 1945 after being released from the Granada (Amache) concentration camp in Colorado at the end of World War II. Tokio was a thriving artist who continued to create masterpieces and teach art while incarcerated. He lent his prodigious eye to Bunkado and his presence can still be felt there today through his descendants. The store is currently owned by his and Suye’s niece, Irene Tsukada Simonian, and managed by their nephew, Dane Ishibashi.

As of late, the focus of the store has been on showcasing and selling work from local artisans of Japanese descent. To kick off the holiday shopping season, two of these crafts people’s work can be found on the second floor of the establishment.

The first featured artisan at Bunkado is Shoshi Watanabe. Watanabe is a ceramicist from Japan who is the current ceramic lab supervisor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is known for his minimal, laid-back aesthetics and his work can be found in multiple businesses around Los Angeles.

Shoshi Watanabe’s ceramics. screenshot by Akira Olivia Kumamoto

He is currently selling an array of dishware at Bunkado, great for holiday gifts. From beautiful bowls to tea cups, these offerings will be available through the end of the year. Watanabe credits Ishibashi for his collaboration with the store.

“I think Dane (Ishibashi) has a great eye and great sense of choosing things (for Bunkado) that have a relationship with history,” said Watanabe.

Remembering how much he loved shopping local back in Japan, Watanabe expressed his favor for gift-seeking at places like Bunkado that feature local craftspeople and laborers.

“I want to support more small shops that have been around for a while. It’s about meeting and knowing the shop owners too, instead of just going into a big franchise shop,” said Watanabe. “There’s less connection with that business and the person that you’re actually meeting at the register.”

Bunkado is also promoting goods from a small company called Nostalgiana, created and run by Natsuki Quartz. Hailing from Kyoto, Japan, Quartz started making goods during the COVID-19 pandemic from her home. Her company flourished and she now offers many types of candles, room sprays, lighters, clothing and jewelry.

All of these products are handcrafted individually by Quartz, who often uses materials directly from Japan. This includes fabric from her grandmother’s kimono her mother uses to make coasters and lighter cases.

“The reason I named the brand Nostalgiana (is because) I wanted to put nostalgic feelings into every product,” Quartz said. “Hopefully when (you) smell (my products), nostalgic memories come back to you.”

Nostalgiana can be found on the second floor of Bunkado. The shop features a collaboration candle with the company that can only be purchased at this location. Quartz recommends buying the tea cup candles as gifts because once the candles burn all the way out, the teacup is still functional. Nostalgiana will sell their products at Bunkado until the end of the year.

Ishibashi said Little Tokyo is a popular spot for holiday shopping, and their store sees a lot of foot traffic around the end of the year from gift seekers. Having local artists offer high-quality products helps. He said a few specific products, though, tend to fly off the shelf during this season.

“We usually sell a lot of ceramics. A lot of sake sets. Then past Christmas for New Year’s we sell a lot of daruma,” said Ishibashi. Darumas are Japanese dolls that exist to help people achieve their goals. When someone has a goal in mind, they color in the left eye, and when the goal is achieved, they color in the right eye.

Ishibashi supports shopping in Little Tokyo for the holidays, and believes in buying your gifts locally. He claims the quality of local goods can’t be beat.

Bunkado is located at 340 E. First St. in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. It is open Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is open from Fridays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (213) 625 1122 or visit https://www.bunkadoonline.com.

Bunkado is located at 340 E. First St. in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. It is open Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is open from Fridays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (213) 625 1122 or visit https://www.bunkadoonline.com.

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