San Francisco Toy Shopping 2012 part 1
Whenever I find myself in a new or far-away city I always take the time to do some toy hunting. San Francisco has some great toy spots that make it a fantastic destination for shopping.
My first stop was the Japantown Mall over near Geary & Laguna. I was staying near Union Square so I decided to take the #38 bus over, but in my rush to catch the bus I tripped off the curb, twisted my ankle, and landed flat on my face in the street. What a great way to start my adventure. I limped onto the bus and once on actually got there quickly. Despite the injury it was a short ride and much cheaper than taking a cab.
The Japantown Mall is actually a series of buildings connected together. Each is filled with shops and eateries, and if you are an afficianado of Japanese culture in general, you will have a great time. Please keep in mind that even though the whole mall is full of Japanese things, not a lot of it is catered towards otaku. I saw a few pale white kids dressed up in otaku gear (cat ears, anime bag, naruto shirts) that looked horribly out of place - like they showed up to a party thinking it was a costume party, but really it wasn't. For the first time I felt bad for the Japanese Americans that live here and have to put up with these kids' narrow-view of their culture. I guess I was guilty of that at one point myself, although I've never worn cat ears.
A shop that was new to me was Daiso - apparently a big dollar store chain in Japan. (http://www.daiso-sangyo.co.jp/english/) they have a few stores in the US and most items are $1.50. I got a bunch of cool crap in here, from clear cases for gashapon, to some unusual cable organizers. I could have spent a LOT of money in here.
Moving on, I stopped in at JPNToys (http://www.jpntoys.com/) which had a decent assortment of anime goods but was a bit overpriced. Nothing to write home about for the robot collector, but worth a stop if you are here.
Some of the shops are very dated looking - a fact which I love. The mall was built in 1968, and you can tell some of the businesses have been here since the 80's. Some of the karaoke joints have a distinct 80's Japan feel to them with awesome Nagel-style murals and neon.
Crossing the bridge is a cool restaurant called "On the Bridge" (http://www.sfonthebridge.com/) which features dining with an anime flair. Watch Inu Yasha and read Manga while eating Ramen! Despite obviously pandering to Otaku - the food is actually good and is one of the few places in the US where i've been able to get a proper Calpis Sour.
Anchoring the mall is the giant Kotobukiya bookstore as well as Japantown Collectibles (http://www.japantownfun.com/) - the best toy store in the mall. They have tons of new Japanese toys - SHFiguarts, Robot Spirits, SOC etc.. all piled up in a disorganized heap behind the counter. You can walk into this store and and look deep and always find something new. As an added bonus - prices are great as well. A must-stop if you are in the area.
My final stop in the mall was Kinokuniya Books (http://www.kinokuniya.com/) which has two floors of Japanese books and collectables. the downstairs floor is full of anime and manga books, artbooks as well as a small assortment of toys. Upstairs is the general book section divided in half with English language books on one side and Japanese language books on the other. Also upstairs is their wide variety of trading figures which is well worth a look.
I ended up having dinner across the street at Iroha (http://www.yelp.com/biz/iroha-restaurant-san-francisco) which was standard Japanese fare. The tonkatsu was a little dry but still flavorful, and the Gyoza was great.
The next day I had a few free hours and went over to Chinatown which is in walking distance of my hotel. San Francisco's Chinatown is a six block area comprised mainly of Grant and Stockton streets. If you enter through the main gates you are in tourist-trap hell, but the farther you venture in, the more "real" it gets.
I love nostalgic signage and urban decay, and Chinatown is loaded with it if you can look beyond the awnings. This place seems to be falling apart but below the surface lies a vibrant subculture. While Grant street is more touristy, Stockton street is more for the locals. It's as if they said "The tourists can have Grant, but leave Stockton to us".
In regards to toys, the place is a wasteland, unless you like bootlegs. And while there do not seem to be that many on the surface, if you dig deep you will be rewarded. Poke your head into any shop that is any kind of "trading company" and somewhere in there you will find bootlegs.
I found some really crazy stuff there, which will be detailed in a future review. Don't be afraid to haggle! Also stop into any shop selling CDs and DVDs. I scored a set of Kyodain VCDs at one store for $10!
Stay Tuned for Part 2...
|Posted 14 March, 2012 - 12:33 by JoshB|