San Francisco Trip Report Day 1: Nihon Machi
Genji Antiques is located on the edge of the Miyako Mall and is a veritable wonderland of tansu, ranma (transom), pottery, dolls, kimono and some surprising items I have never seen before - I defy anyone to step foot in this shop and not be immediately entranced by at least one object. In addition to antiques and vintage kimono, Genji also features a line of modern, elegant Japanese furniture and accessories. On a street lined with great antique shops, Genji really stands out.
Then there is Daikoku by Shiki in the Kintetsu Mall. Tons of Japanese pottery and tea wares - all so gorgeous! I picked up a nice bowl with a deep, almost 3D blue and white glaze that will double as a kaishi bachi (sweet bowl) for tea. I also fell in love with a lovely kyo-yaki (Kyoto-ware) summer tea bowl, but at $125, I decided to sleep on it and see if I still wanted it in the morning. The ladies at Daikoku are very friendly and helpful and make shopping there a very pleasant experience. I could spend a fortune in this shop!
Next, we stopped in the Asakichi Incense branch, one of three Asakichi shops in the JapanTown mall complex. We received a gentle schooling in the fine art of Japanese incense appreciation from Mitsukoshi-san, who worked his way up the famous Shoyeido line, sampling gorgeous, poetic scents like "Nan-kun" (Southern Wind), "Ga Ho" (Refinement), "Go un" (Five Clouds) and "Sho-kaku" (Translucent Path), each more stunning than the last. The Sho-kaku contains the most "kyara", the highest grade of aloeswood there is. At one point Taj and I looked at each other with stunned expressions and I asked, "What exactly have we been burning all this time??" Her answer: "Crap!" and it's so true. I never knew incense could be this good. Forget everything you think you know about incense, because this is NOT your standard hippy, cover-the-weed-smell stuff! At last, I think I have some idea of the scents that Murasaki-sama had in mind when she wrote about the incense competitions in The Tale of Genji. According to Mitsukoshi-san, to really appreciate Japanese incense, one doesn't "smell" it so much as "listen" to it. I don't know what all I was hearing, but (contrary to the vicious rumors you might have heard elsewhere...) before I knew it I had dropped over $100 on incense!
We couldn't escape the mall without hitting Nippon-ya, a bright and happy little Japanese confection shop. Who couldn't be happy in a place like this?? Japanese sweets are stacked to the rafters! The "New Summer Orange" cakes were out of this world, as well as the strange, flat, translucent little agar-agar things with sweet bean paste in the middle - I still have no idea what they are called. I brought them to tea practice one weekend and was gratified to see ladies who have very particular tastes (that is, Japanese tastes) gobble them all up! Unfortunately the large assortment of green tea-flavored sweets were a bit stale, so if you buy, be sure to check the expiration date! It was also at this shop that Taj and I both surrendered to the cult of the cell-phone charm.
Good food abounds in JapanTown and just window shopping the restaurants there is entertainment in itself! For lunch we grabbed some delicious take-out sushi and a nice bottle of sake from the Nijiya Supermarket. Nijiya has a great selection of take-out sushi and bento, but pick yours up early, because the after-work crowd will pick it completely clean. For dinner, we had a couple of massive bento boxes at Mifune. The focus at Mifune is primarily soba and udon, as they are the American outlet for a large Osaka-based noodle producer, but the rest of the menu is solid, tasty and reasonably priced. We hit the main Mifune restaurant twice during our visit, as well as their smaller noodle shop in the Miyako section of the mall.
Since we were full of noodles and sake and we wanted to get an early start the next day, we hit the sack a little early. San Francisco Trip Report - Day 2 coming soon!