If you haven’t been to the Heart of Jtown popup store, then you are missing out.
Tucked away in a corner of the Kinokuniya Building at the Japan Center Mall, there is a space that is part workshop, part store, and part social hour. This place, The Heart of Jtown pop-up, has sprouted out of the former Mifune restaurant space. Inside, you can find a ton of giftable and wearable goods, all made by local San Francisco artists.
The artists at the store originally got connected through the original Heart of Jtown project that grew out of the pandemic. Six artists were commissioned to paint murals on empty and vulnerable store fronts, and created art for the eye-catching banners around the neighborhood. To help these artists continue to recover financially from the pandemic, JCBD took those vinyl banners and turned them into colorful bags and accessories to sell, prompting the birth of The Heart of Jtown Pop Up and Visitor Hub.
When it opened in December, the space welcomed art and merchandise from Sumo Fish, Higa Art, Kuma Ink, and Nate 1 Design. Each of these artists create unique art and apparel designs that speak to local culture.
While this space opened during the height of the holiday shopping season, it will remain until the beginning of April. During this time, new art and collaborations have been facilitated here, and recently the store welcomed Taiko Fujimura to their space. The selection at the store changes consistently, so it’s worth popping in regularly to see what is new.
All of these artists are no stranger to the pop-up retail scene. Sumo Fish celebrated their 20th anniversary last year, and in 2022 I had booths next to Kuma Ink and Higa Art at two different events. However, they say that this space has given them new opportunities to connect with their audience. Stop by the shop, as I did, and you'll be able to meet the person who made the art that you take home with you. There's everything from stickers all the way up to framed prints and original canvases. This accessibility - both in terms of price point, and meeting who made your art - is a really special thing to have in a city that often feels exclusive.
I have been a fan of the wearable items that are available in the shop. I picked up a Japantown San Francisco hoodie for my dad - a person who is notoriously difficult to shop for - and gave it to him as a New Year's gift. He wore it right away, so I think it's safe to say that he loved this Sumo Fish design! My partner loves to wear enamel pins (unlike me - I just like to collect, but never wear, pins), so I got him one of the "year of the rabbit" daruma pins from Kuma Ink.
Additionally, the shop allows people to find their art that can’t make it to the handful of well-established festivals in Japantown, which are the primary way that their art is normally available in this neighborhood. This is especially great for tourists and day-trippers who come to visit the area and want to bring home something locally made!
In the back corner, it's also likely that you'll see at least one artist working on creating something new. I personally like to come by and see what they are working on to give me some inspiration, and the synergy that the artists have is evident. I guess that is what I really like to come by for - to see the idea that "the sum is greater than its parts" happening in real time. As someone who usually creates her things in relative isolation, it helps to be able to see others creating their things in real time.
You still have about a month left to check out this store. With its location in the Kinokuniya Mall, I recommend grabbing a table upstairs at either Udon Mugizo or On The Bridge after you shop to refuel! If you'd rather have a snack, Kissako Tea has all sorts of goodies.
- The Heart of Jtown Pop-Up and Visitor Hub
- Location: Kinonkuniya Building, First floor (SW corner of Post and Webster)
- Hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sundays from 12p-6p, through the first weekend in April.
- Website: www.theheartofjtown.org