Today I went to Japantown in San Francisco, California. Japantown is a stunning place and is worth a visit if you ever find yourself in San Francisco. Given the amazing foods and snacks available and the unique trinkets you can buy, you can easily spend a whole day, or even multiple days (there's nice hotels!) exploring the area.
Anyways, I was curious to see the stationery offerings in Japantown and was pleasantly surprised with what's available. There are so many different stores in Japantown and there are a handful that pertain to stationery and similar areas.
Daiso is a Japanese discount store where a wide variety of goods from houseware to (you guessed it!) stationery is offered for relatively low prices. Unfortunately, the products are definitely more expensive in the United States compared to East Asia due to import expenses.
In terms of stationery, Daiso offers a decent selection of cheaper stationery goods, such as plastic ballpoint pens and lead refills. Not much you'll see will be name-brand merchandise, but they do have some handy goods. When I was in the store, I noticed that most people in the store were conglomerated in the tiny isle that makes up the stationery section.
Daiso offers some Pilot goods at pretty decent prices, such as their FriXion pens. I wouldn't travel all the way to Japantown to purchase Pilot FriXion pens, but it's nice to see. Daiso also offered some premium leads from brands such as Platinum, but they were pretty expensive ($1.75 for 10 pieces, yikes!). They had more affordable lead as well in a multitude of hardness levels, like some of the B grades. The overall environment in Daiso is calming and lovely to stroll around the isles. However, be careful! The items are cheap enough that you'd be tempted to pile them on until your bank account dries up.
Overall, I recommend checking out this huge Daiso store. Compared to the other locations I've been to, Daiso's Japantown store has the best offerings and the experience is enjoyable.
Maido Fine Stationery & Gifts
Maido is hands-down the best stationery store in Japantown. The selection is great, albeit a little expensive. Maido is owned by Kinokuniya, which is a huge Japanese bookstore, and they happen to have a location next to Maido (which I'll talk about in a little bit).
Honestly, Maido is currently one of my favorite stores in California. It's always enjoyable to walk inside the cute little store and look through the aisles, densely packed with stationery. If you come and visit, there are two different Maido stores in the mall – one on the first floor and the other on the second. The location on the first floor is full of memorabilia and various merchandise, whereas the store on the second floor has all the higher-end stationery items.
I remember seeing this YELL collection during my trip to Japan and I was shocked to see them here. Although quite a markup from the Japanese price tag of 550 yen (~$4 USD, and they were selling them for closer to $15...), it's still cheaper than paying to get them imported, so if you'd like them, it's not too bad.
There was also a huge selection of washi tape and other decorative goods. I didn't have a chance to take a thorough look at everything there, but it's really cool.
The pens! There are so many pens of all different types in this store. I love the aesthetics of the layout, which is pretty weird because it's just pens (but I love pens so it makes sense). It's so crowded and chaotic, but that's a part of the charm of the store. Most people in the store stick around this area since it's captivating to look at. Of course, the pens here, like everything else, are going to be more expensive than how much you can buy them elsewhere. It's quite unfortunate, but it's the price you pay for the experience of buying these items in person.
The notebook selection is also fantastic. They have Kokuyo Campus paper, along with other premium offerings from other brands such as Maruman Mnemosyne notebooks. Again, you're going to be paying a premium price (~$15 for an A4 size notebook) for these items, but it's worth it.
Now, for the best part: the higher-end writing instruments. They're the ones that are tucked away in the display cases for everyone to marvel at. However, this is where the price turns a bit unreasonable – they're charging nearly double the price of what you can pay elsewhere.
Take, for example, their Pilot collection. The amounts they're charging are absurd. $140 for a Pilot Elite is high, considering you can get them for closer to $90 on Amazon. However, the worst offender is the Pilot Custom 823, which is $375 at Maido, but $220 on Amazon. When you're charging this much over, it's pretty much a repellant. I wouldn't recommend buying higher-end fountain pens from here. Save your money and buy them online.
This issue persists with some of their higher-end mechanical pencils. Take, for instance, their Rotring offerings. Maido is charging far too much for these pencils. The Rotring 800 is priced at $101.50 at Maido, but they can be seen on sale at retailers for ~$30 (I paid $35 for mine!).
Although there are some more absurd prices, most of their products are priced pretty fairly, such as the Lamy Safari and Kaweco Sport. Anyways, if you care about getting a decent price on products, it's definitely a hit or miss with Maido, so do a little research before purchasing.
Finally, there's Kinokuniya Books, the parent company of Maido. Although this place is mainly filled with books, there's the occasional stationery offering. However, it's mostly branded characters.
Like Daiso, it's fun to walk around Kinokuniya Books without a determined purpose. However, this bookstore has higher end goods and some of the items can cost a lot of money.
This store doesn't really contain much stationery, so I can't comment much upon it. However, I did take some pretty photos of the atmosphere so you can see for your self what the store is like.
Overall, I loved visiting Japantown and the unique items you'll encounter here are definitely going to end up coming home with you (unless it's an overpriced fountain pen). If you're planning your own trip, good luck in your endeavors and have all the fun in the world!