Smack dab in my neck of the woods is Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Calif., a veritable treasure trove of toy stores, galleries, and good food. Plus, it is just about the only place I know the where you can haggle for legitimate designer clothing. Seriously, it is a hidden gem of Los Angeles County.
One store you absolutely must see if you are into Japanese goods and cute toys is JapanLA. I always make it a point to stop by when visiting Melrose. This is the kind of store that totally caters to my sensibilities: cute plushes, San-X merchandise, and overall sugar-coated goodness. Hit the jump to check out the store!
JapanLA has the kind of window displays that know how grab their target audience. A fan of all things kawaii need only walk by the window and they will soon find themselves inside, as if lead by the pied piper of Hamelin. Hello Kitty? Check. Adorable plushes of various licenses? Check. Fun clothes and accessories? Check. And this is just the view from the outside windows!
Upon entering the shop, you are greeted by a large cardboard cutout of San-X's Chapeau of Sentimental Circus. And he is so happy to see you that he tips his cap. You'll see merchandise of him and other San-X characters such as Kutsushita Nyanko and Rilakkuma throughout the store.
Up against the wall to the right of the shops entrance is a corner stuffed with San-X merchandise. This is usually where I head first when I visit. They have the usually things like plushes of Rilakkuma and stationary sets from Sentimental Circus to more obscure things like a Rilakkuma fondue set and Kutsushita Nyanka shiatsu massage pen. Interesting stuff.
Directly next to the San-X corner is where the cell phone accessories (mostly for iPhone) and purses are located. One of these days I swear I am buying that Tuxedo Sam hobo bag! They also had soft-shell laptop cases, key-covers, and socks. Not sure why the last two are found there. But it works, so no matter.
If you were to go left instead of right at the entrance, you would find yourself in Hello Kitty territory. Last time I was there, the merchandise focused on Sanrio's 50th anniversary and the winter holidays. A lot of the goods were rare or, at times, one-of-a-kind. They had a whole art gallery in the back full of artist's renditions of Kitty-chan and her friends.
Adjacent to the Sanrio goods is what I call the "tower of many small things." Inside this pile of clear baskets are molded Japanese staplers (which seem to be all the rage), blind-boxed trading figures, and small Japanese candies. It pretty fun to look each bin and see the variety of toys and little stocking stuffers. This is a part of the store to go to if you are looking for cheap gifts or souvenirs.
In the same vicinity as the tower of many small things is a glass display of rather eclectic jewelry. There was tokidoki stuff, earrings made of small My Little Pony figures, and a collection of lolita-style jewelry that featured a rotund feline's portrait.
In the center of of your visual field, after you pass Chapeau, is a large cart in the center of the store stuffed with plushes, bags, lunch boxes. There is definitely fun stuff on the wooden display (I love the the giant Pikachu and Gloomy Bear merchandise) but this is the kind of store where you have to explore every nook and cranny to see everything they have to offer.
If you were to cast your gaze past the central merchandise cart, you would spot a large wooden island chock full of some of the shop's more random merchandise. There are plushes from the I Heart Guts line, Buff Monster goods, Crowded Teeth accessories, and items from the world of Mr. Toast. These goods may not necessarily be Japanese but they fit the shop's cutesy motif perfectly.
In the back of the shop, on the left side, is a wall of the shirts. JapanLA has some of the coolest and cutest shirts and hoodies around. They sport funny and fun graphics that I guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone who sees them. My favorite is a shirt that features a dinosaur with a talk bubble reading, "Make me a sandwich." Brilliant!
If you are in Los Angeles and are a toy lover or fan of Japanese kawaii culture, JapanLA is one of those shops that should definitely be on your map. I almost always leave with a bag containing that certain perfect something for me or one of my good friends. For me, it is not a complete trip to Melrose without a visit there.
IF YOU GO:
Hours of Operation
Monday - Friday: 11:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
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