In May 2021, customers were already lining up down the street in anticipation of Benkyodo’s closure. (Photo by David Toshiyuki)

RAFU STAFF REPORT

SAN FRANCISCO — Benkyodo, a fixture in San Francisco Japantown since 1906, is closing its doors at the end of the month.

The family-owned business, known for mochi and manju made on-site, is operated by brothers Ricky and Bobby Okamura, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather.

“As we head into retirement, we thank you all for your years of support and patronage,” the brothers said on the company’s website.

The store, recognized as a legacy business in San Francisco, also included a coffee shop that was a popular neighborhood hangout.

In response to Benkyodo’s impending closure, customers have been lining up from Buchanan Mall to Webster Street to get their final mochi and manju, often starting before sunrise.

In 1906, Suyeichi Okamura opened Benkyodo — one of the original businesses in Japantown’s present location — on Geary Boulevard. When the family, along with other Japanese Americans on the West Coast, was interned during World War II, Benkyodo was forced to close temporarily.

After the war ended, the shop reopened, and in 1951 Suyeichi’s son, Hirofumi, took over. In 1959, the shop moved to its current location at Sutter and Buchanan streets. In 1990, Hirofumi passed the shop to his sons Ricky and Bobby. They introduced new products, including strawberry mochi and peanut butter mochi in 2004.

On June 24, 2006, Benkyodo proudly celebrated its 100th anniversary. On May 28, 2008, Benkyodo was chosen by Assemblymember Mark Leno of the 13th Assembly District as the recipient of the California Small Business of the Year award.

The brothers originally planned to close at the end of 2021, but customers got a temporary reprieve.

Ricky Okamura told the Nichi Bei Weekly last year that his children are not interested in taking over the business, and the Benkyodo name won’t be sold to anyone outside the family.

A community farewell for Benkyodo is being planned. Signs will be prepared at the nearby Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and will be placed on the front windows of the store from March 29 to 31. Participants are being asked to write short messages to wish the Okamura family well in retirement and thank them for supporting the community.

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