JapanTown San Fran calls itself "The gateway to Japanese culture, cuisine and shopping." This concentrated area is home to some of the best Japanese culture, food and fun in the United States.
Birth of a Community
The Japanese community in San Francisco is the oldest Japanese community in the continental United States. The first Japanese immigrants, called Soko, came to San Francisco in the 1860s. They first lived in Chinatown and in some isolated areas in the city. The fires after the 1906 earthquake destroyed many of their homes and they gathered together into a more centralized area in San Francisco, only blocks away from Union Square. This area is now called JapanTown.
JapanTown is bordered by Sutter Street on the north, Geary Blvd. on the south, Laguna Street on the east and Fillmore Street on the west. The majority of the buildings are accessible from Geary Blvd.
JapanTown San Fran: Features
In just a six block area, JapanTown is a colorful, friendly community that combines the interests of the local residents as well as a never-ending trail of tourists. Centered around a pagoda-styled peace memorial, and within walking distance, you can find:
- Hundreds of restaurants, cafes, noodle houses, sushi bars and karaoke lounges.
- Shops of all sizes offering a very interesting variety of goods from Japan.
- Calming health retreats including spas, baths and massage specialists.
- Food stores with a never-ending assortment of locally-obtained fresh meats and produce as well as imported foods from Japan.
- Always-changing array of cultural displays and events.
Don't Miss the Malls
Be sure to stroll through the Miyako, Kintetsu and Kinokuniya mall buildings which hold a diverse combination of small shops and restaurants. These small shops are an excellent way to find a special gift or memento of your trip. Some of the shops carry the same merchandise, all at different prices. Sometimes you can find a better price if you walk further into the mall away from the street. So don't buy the first item you see. You can always stop at the shop on the way out if that initial price was the best price offered in the mall.There are excellent little restaurants in the malls. Some cater to the tourist who may want to try some basic Japanese food like teriyaki and tempura. Other restaurants have interesting menus for the more adventurous eater who is looking for traditional Japanese food or sushi.
You can find a wide variety of menu selections including excellent Japanese food as well as everything from French to American styles:
- bushi-tei (Post Street) - Very expensive California fusion cuisine with a Japanese touch.
- Isobune (Kintetsu Mall) - The first sushi boat restaurant in the United States. Customers select their sushi and sashimi from small boats floating by in a waterway in front of their place setting.
- Izumiya (Kinokuniya Mall) - Famous for their Okonomi-yaki, a "Japanese pizza".
- Juban Yakiniku House (Kinokuniya Mall) - Customers grill their own meats and vegetables at their tabletop barbecue.
- Kushitsuru Restaurant (Kintetsu Mall) - Serves a wide menu of deep-fried options, bento boxes and sushi.
- Mifune (Kintetsu Mall) and Mifune Don (Miyako Mall) - Both locations serve noodle dishes from house-made noodles.
- On The Bridge - Japanese, Italian, Indian and American specialties served in a casual café atmosphere.
JapanTown San Fran is an excellent place to see and purchase all types (and prices!) of Japanese art.For low-cost art souvenirs of your trip, check out the variety store on the Webster Street bridge for fun art items like woodblock prints. For more expensive artifacts and paintings, stop nearby at the International Art Gallery, also on the Webster Street bridge.
The Sundance Kabuki Cinema combines first run movies with great food items like artisan cheese plates and grilled panini. The cinema validates for three hours of parking at the Japan Center Garage.
Some of the most unique hotels are in JapanTown. They provide their guests as well as visitors with a very interesting assortment of things to see and foods to eat:
- The Kimpton Buchanan - Don't miss the giant robot vending machine that has t-shirts, baseball caps and toys.
- Hotel Kabuki - This is an elegant hotel with traditional soaking tubs, tea ceremonies and evening sake.
Easy To Get There
Parking at the Japan Center Garage on Geary or the Annex Garage on Fillmore can be expensive depending how long you stay. The parking garages fill up early, particularly on the weekends. There is a special weekday rate if you enter the garage before 10 a.m. The garages provide one to three hours of free parking if you make a purchase and get your parking ticket validated at one of their listed merchants.The most efficient and cost-effective way to get to JapanTown from Union Square is to take the Number 38 MUNI bus on Geary or the Number 2, 3 or 4 buses on Sutter Street. The buses run frequently in and out of JapanTown and will connect you to anyplace in San Francisco including the BART and bus stations from which you can head out of town.