Japantown Panorama

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December 15, 2016

Why You Need to Experience Japantown on Your First Visit to San Francisco

Bordered by Geary Boulevard and Fillmore, Laguna and Sutter streets, Japantown is a neighborhood comprised of just six square blocks that are packed to the brim with things to do, see, eat and drink. It's also the oldest of only three Japantowns remaining in the U.S., all of which are in California. If it's not on your itinerary, it should be. Here's why.

History

Before 1906, San Francisco had two Japantowns (commonly referred to as Nihonmachi in Japanese), one near Chinatown and one south of Market Street in a neighborhood called South Park. Not until after the 1906 earthquake did Japanese residents move to its current location. By World War II, the neighborhood had become one of the largest populations of Japanese outside of Japan. However, that all changed in 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced all Japanese by birth or descent, including Japanese Americans, out of the neighborhood and interned on the Pacific Coast outside of the city. After the war, many chose not to return, shrinking the neighborhood in size to what it currently is today.

Best Time to Visit

On any given day, late morning, when shops and restaurants open, through early evening is the perfect time to explore, see, eat and drink in Japantown. If you want to see the neighborhood at its liveliest, check it out during one of the festivals it celebrates each year which include the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held for two weekends every April, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, held one weekend in the month of August.

Best Places to Visit During Your First Time

Historical: Cottage Row (Between Bush and Sutter Streets)
Within this tiny neighborhood park, sits a row of houses that date back to the mid-19th century. It's a perfect place to step up your Instagram game.

Foodie Paradise: Nijiya Market (1737 Post St.)
Yes, Nijiya is technically a supermarket, however, walk through the doors and you'll feel like you're transported across the Pacific. Nijiya Market has the most diverse assortment of Japanese candies, jams and sauces, the freshest selection of fish and delicious bento boxes. Our tip: buy a Bento or an assorted sushi box and head out to the Japanese Peace Plaza to enjoy the sun. 

Most Photogenic: Japanese Peace Plaza (1610 Geary Blvd.)
Located in the heart of Japantown, is the Japanese Peace Plaza, the site of many festivals and public events. In the center of the plaza is the Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered concrete shrine designed by Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniguchi. A gift from the people of Osaka, San Francisco’s sister city in Japan, the structure was installed in 1968.

Outdoor Space: Origami Fountains
Right in the middle of the Japanese Center Mall are two unique waterless fountains created by sculptor Ruth Asawa. A perfect place to stop and get your zen on. Asawa's work can also be seen in the de Young Museum and Ghirardelli Square. 

Best Place to Hang Out: Japan Center Mall
This partially underground and outdoor mall connects between Fillmore and Laguna Streets. Here you'll have a  unique Japanese shopping experience. You can buy electronics, fancy stationery, foreign books and magazines, kimonos, swords, bonsai trees and even paper art from the origami shop, Paper Tree.

Best Places to Stay in Japantown During Your First Time

If you're looking to stay in Japantown, you have several options:

Hotel Kabuki - This elegant hotel is connected to the Nihonmachi Mall and blends Eastern and Western design. It features on-site dining and an indoor garden with a fish pond.
The Kimpton Buchanan - This hotel is situated in the heart of Japantown and offers unique accommodations that are only a short distance from popular tourist sites.
Queen Anne - Situated not far from the neighborhood, Queen Anne is a classic Victorian boutique property decorated with English and American antiques.

How to Get There

Public Transportation - From the Embarcadero, use SFMTA and hop on the 38 bus. For all Muni times and buses, you can go online to www.511.org/ or call 511. In addition, there are also many different smartphone apps that provide maps, routes and schedules.

Ride Sharing - Use Lyft and easily call a car to get to and from Japantown right from your smartphone. Use the promo code RIDEABOUT to get $10 off when you try Lyft for the first time.

Photo by Margie Beadle / CC BY-NC

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