If it weren’t for the orange door, it would be easy to miss Shop Toast in Kaimuki. The favors showroom is hidden away in a corner of a small shopping center on Waialae Avenue. But for those who love designer Jeremy Shoda’s unique favors, “kawaii” creations, and reinventions of traditional Japanese goods, Shop Toast is easy to find. Some customers even make special trips from the mainland to see him and his creations.
Although Shoda’s store is about the size of a walk-in closet, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in merchandise. Lining the many shelves are favors for every holiday and event imaginable.
Think carrot gift containers with small wooden rabbits for Easter, Frankenstein and his bride for Halloween, and the traditional nutcracker for Christmas. Then there’s apples, pineapples, lucky cats, dogs, reindeer, ninjas, sumo wrestlers, and even the frog prince.
But perhaps what Shoda and his former partner Michelle Kaneko are best known for is their unique take on Japanese good luck items. “Both Michelle and I had worked for years at a small Japanese boutique called Iida’s at Ala Moana, so we became very familiar with traditional Japanese goods. I wanted to reinvent these traditional goods to make them both accessible and relevant with the younger generation. I think it’s a great way to keep these traditions alive, even if they’re only loosely based on the original design.”
Shoda has made good on that promise. Since Shop Toast’s inception nine years ago, he and Kaneko have created their own versions of Japanese favorites such as the kokeshi, daruma, teru teru bozu (good weather amulet), koinobori (carp for Children’s day) and maneki-neko (lucky cat). But unlike their traditional counterparts, Shoda’s creations are much more than just symbols of good luck.
One of the hallmarks of his design is a dedication to personalizing his creations. “It was very important for me that the new iterations had a use beyond the original design to avoid dust collector status. As I learned in architecture, you want to have things that look great but are useful at the same time.”
An example of this is his Koinobori or Carp Favor Flag. At first glance, the koi flags resemble the cotton carp windsocks that adorn rooftops in April and May in Japan. They are flown in honor of Children’s Day on May 5. The carp is filled with the promise of courage, strength and the ability to move forward through obstacles, qualities that the Japanese have long prized in their sons. But in Shoda’s version, the once spirited rooftop carp can now be held in one’s hands. In addition to the cloth design above, he also has a version with a clear tube filled with milk chocolate balls and topped off with streamers. It’s not hard to imagine a child, running with Shoda’s koinobori in his hand, making his own wind.
Shoda’s bestselling design is his kokeshi. Originating in Tohoku during the Edo Period, these wooden dolls were sold to onsen guests in the winter as symbols of good harvest and fertility. While Shoda’s kokeshi doll resembles the original in shape, a thin body without any arms or legs and a wider head, he has completely made over its features into a more “kawaii” or cute style. And unlike the solid wooden dolls, Shoda’s version is actually hollow. While the thin digitally printed wood veneer seals the body shut, the head can be opened to store a small gift or card.
His most recent creation is Darren, a twenty-first century update of the daruma. In Japan, this red, round papier-mâché doll with no eyes has long been a symbol of perseverance and good luck. Its origins can be traced back to Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, who is said to have cut off his eyelids in order to stay awake during meditation. When you have a wish or a goal, you color in one of the eyes. Then when your goal is achieved, you color in the other. While Shoda’s daruma is made into a trunk shape with a digitally printed wood veneer, the concept of the original was preserved. Darren comes with only one of his eyes colored in so that the recipient can still set a goal and color in the other eye when the goal is achieved. But like his kokeshi doll, Shoda’s daruma is hollow.
The container feature of this traditional wishing doll has inspired his customers. Not only has it been used as a favor and a money holder for graduations and retirement parties, a mainland store called Daruma even used his doll as a clue container for a scavenger hunt. Some customers have even written down their wishes on slips of paper and placed it inside.
Tokyo resident, Yoko Uchida received Shoda’s darumas as a gift for New Year’s. While she was familiar with the traditional version, she really liked the Shop Toast dolls. “I’ve never seen such a cute daruma! All darumas in Japan have a scary face, and my daughter used to cry when she went to my parents’ house and found the darumas I used for my entrance exams.” But as soon as Uchida’s daughter received her new gift, she quickly wrote down her wish to pass her own entrance exams and placed it safely inside her new daruma.
In addition to the container daruma, Shoda also makes a canned version with chocolate covered almonds inside. This daruma has no eyes, but it comes with two magnetic circles that you can move into the eye area: one, when you make a wish and the other, when it comes true.
The future looks very bright for Shoda. He plans to continue making newer versions of these cherished originals. “For me, even if customers don’t know the story behind it, I just want to keep the tradition alive. It’s my heritage.”
3434 Waialae Avenue #3
Honolulu, Hawaii 96816
I hope you enjoyed our feature on Shop Toast and designer Jeremy Shoda. Stay tuned next month for our Thanksgiving gratitude special on waiters and waitresses!