Encompassing six square blocks, Japantown is perpetually abuzz with activity and offers a wealth of opportunity for experiencing a taste of Japan. One of only three Japantowns in the United States, San Francisco’s iteration developed throughout the recovery period following the 1906 earthquake, when immigration was high and new residents clustered together, recreating the things they loved about their home country with a new, American twist. Here are some of the restaurants, events, and shopping experiences that you’ll find in the Bay Area’s take on Tokyo.
A food lover’s paradise
One of the reasons to visit Japantown is simply for the food. You won’t find this many authentic Japanese restaurants within a few blocks of each other outside of California so planning at trip entirely around these gastronomic delights is well worth your while. Nijiya Market is a popular destination for foodies who love to cook, boasting a diversity of Japanese sauces and fresh fish. You can also pick up snacks and a Bento box filled with sushi to enjoy a picnic around the Japanese Peace Plaza nearby.
Inside Japantown’s West Mall is where you’ll find ‘Restaurant Row,’ featuring sushi restaurants that serve oversized sushi boats, ramen bars, and even a cook-your-own-meat restaurant. Venturing out to the other two of the three malls around Japantown, you’ll find Japanese specialties in unique sweet shops, and udon bowl restaurants. You’ll also want to make a pit stop at the Chocolate chair for frozen yogurt, pastries, and other snacks.
Annual events and shows
Festivals in Japantown bring the Japanese experience stateside. The Cherry Blossom Festival in October is a grand showcase of Japan’s national tree in full bloom and also hosts satellite events like a fashion show and live musical performances. There’s also Japan Day in June, a fun opportunity to learn about Japanese culture through a variety of traditional and cultural activities held in the city. And that’s just the beginning of the festive opportunities you’ll find in Japantown.
The Soy and Tofu Festival in June and the Ginza Bazaar in July are family-friendly events with plenty of food, music, and entertainment. The first weekend in August is reserved for the Nihonmachi Street Fair, a community event that celebrates Asian-Pacific American life through performance, art, music, and food. This event has been held for 45 years and continues to be a beloved local tradition, bringing visitors from all around the region to share in the fun.
Shopping in underground and outdoor stores
Shopping opportunities in Japantown extend from traditional American malls with an Asian twist, featuring space-saving underground malls and outdoor retail in equal measure. Imported goods straight from the other side of the Pacific can be found in the many shops of Japantown, perfect souvenirs for any visitor.
Pick up Japanese incense, scented soap, and ceramics from Kohshi in the West Mall Building, a mall that has partially covered outdoor store facades. Japan Video and Media, also in the West Mall, is a great spot to find anime videos and Japanese films. The East Mall on Peace Plaza is home to Akabanaa, a store that sells products from Okinawa. You’ll find a variety of boutique shops and smalls stores selling art, gifts, and anime merchandise with new items filling the stores every season.
San Francisco’s Japantown continues to be a top-visited destination in the Bay Area and is a haven for those interested in immersing themselves in Japanese culture and traditions. From the food to the annual cultural festivals, there’s always something new to discover and experience around Japantown.