Bunkado: Gifts and Music


Bunkado, meaning “House of Culture” was founded in 1945 by Tokio Ueyama and his wife Suye. Suye and Tokio had just been released from the internment camps, meaning that Tokio could finally pursue his dream of owning a business. Tokio was an artist and envisioned his store as a hub of artistic talent, dialogue and for artistic rarities and materials that can only be found in Japan. Since its opening the store has passed through the family, from relation to relation, and is now owned by Tokio’s niece Irene Tsukuda-Germain, who took it over form her parents. Bunkado gifts and music is a unique store specializing in authentic Japanese imports. Clients include members from the community, tourists, and many professional buyers from the Los Angeles and New York theater and film community. Members from the Little Tokyo community who have been coming to Bunkado since its opening call it a “retro store” because it hasn’t changed in character. Many of the store items are still the same as in 1945, such as Buddhist incense, bells, and beads, and materials for flower arranging, but there are also some obvious additions since its inception. They now sell CD’s, DVD’s, and toys such as sculpted erasers and Obama coloring books. They are hailed as being very friendly and knowledgeable about their items, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the United States.

Slides in this album 

Original Bunkado store front circa the 1940's

This is the original interior of Bunkado, started by Tokio and Suye Ueyama in 1945. Tokio envisioned a store where art items, like special Japanese papers and brushes for calligraphy and paintings, could be sold. Being Buddhist, items for altars, such as incense, were also sold. What is so special …

Bunkado original store front
Contributed by: avam

Tokio and Suye Ueyama outside Bunkado Store Front

Tokio and Suye founded Bunkado in 1945, directly after being released from the internment camps. They had heard horror stories from their friends of the government giving away their original homes, and the Ueyamas feared the worst. When they returned to their landlady, they expected to be turned away. However, …

Tokio and Suye Ueyama, date unknown
Contributed by: avam

Original painting from the internment camps by Tokio Ueyama

Tokio was an artist by trade. He could even claim to have a friendship with Diego Rivera, which shows that he had some influence in the artist community. He wanted to open a store where other artists like himself could gather to socialize and buy special materials not found anywhere …

Painting by Tokio
Contributed by: avam

The Tsukadas inside Bunkado

Photo of Irene Tsukada-Germain's mother and father, in the original Bunkado store. They became the owners of the store after Tokio passed away. Mrs. Tsukada would take annual trips to Japan to buy items for the store, with a special interest in music in particular. Bunkado is very well-known for …

Contributed by: avam

Irene Tsukada-Germain

Irene now owns Bunkado, and tries to keep it as close to its original purpose, as well as letting it evolve with the times. She made her first trip to Japan in 2008 to buy new items for the store, as her mother had done before her. Here, she shows …

Contributed by: avam

The Music Store on the 2nd floor of Bunkado

Bunkado is very well-known for its Japanese music collection, which is unique in that it was hand-picked from stores in Japan by Mrs. Tsukuda. She would take annual trips to Japan to find the latest hits and artists to bring back for sale in Little Tokyo.

The music store is …

Music store
Contributed by: avam

Bunkado Lanters

Bunkado can boast of serving a whole laundry list of famous clients. Bunkado’s extensive décor section (the authentic lanterns, curtains, intricately designed dishes and wall art) attract set designers from theatre, film and t.v. Irene explains that “being in the rolodex” of t.v.’s set designers is very lucrative and exciting. …

Contributed by: avam

Buddhist ceremonial items

The Tsukada family were practicing Buddhists. Before Irene’s father moved to the U.S. he belonged to the Koyasan temple in Nagano, Japan. Ironically and beffitingly, when Tokio and Suye opened there store, there was a Koyasan temple just around the corner. Irene explains that while her family maintained a Buddhist …

Contributed by: avam

Japanese family crests

Much of the merchandise in Bunkado comes directly from Japan. Irene’s mother would often visit Japan to select Japanese trinkets, art and music to ship back to the U.S. (this is how she amassed such a reputable and extensive music collection). Irene visited Japan for the first time in 2008 …

family crests
Contributed by: avam

New and traditional Japanese toys

While Tokio’s initial vision for the store was that of an artist compound of sorts, the store now offers a greater array of merchandise. Bunkado has a section dedicated to toys and Irene fondly recalls playing with these toys with her sister while she was growing up. But there is …

Contributed by: avam

Bunkado's famous music collection

Irene jokes that all of the employees of Bunkado are women, and most of Japanese descent. Japanese is often the language of choice among the employees and between employees and clients. As a part of Irene’s distancing herself from the Japanese community, she rarely spoke Japanese during young adulthood and …

laser discs
Contributed by: avam

Good Luck Cats or Maneki Neko

Since Irene has been a part of the Little Tokyo community for so long, she has witnessed its many metamorphoses; from the economic boom in the 70’s and 80’s to the current economic hardships. Irene is excited about the recent influx (prior to the recent economic downturn) of fresh development. …

good luck cats
Contributed by: avam

Album Type

community history

avam — Last modified Jun 28 2021 1:49 a.m.

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