San Francisco’s Japantown might be small, but it’s not to be overlooked. For those seeking out the best of Japanese culture, food, and art, this six-block neighborhood, framed by the Pacific Heights and Fillmore neighborhoods, is the place to be. Neighborhood highlights include the 5-tier Peace Pagoda (a gift from SF’s sister city, Osaka, Japan), the Japan Center shopping mall (comprised of the Kinokuniya Mall, Kintetsu Mall, and Miyako Mall), well-known Japanese book retailer Kinokuniya, and several great Japanese restaurants including OzaOza and Marufuku Ramen.
This blog celebrates the Japanese culture found in San Francisco and around the rest of the country. Here we share highlights of SF’s Japantown neighborhood, discuss the best of Japanese restaurants, share our favorite Japanese cuisine, and more. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on our latest blog content.
English poet A.E. Housman paid tribute to the “loveliest of trees” in 1896. In Japan, the cherry tree, or Sakura, is a centuries-old part of welcoming spring, and a reminder that life is fleeting because the snowy blossoms last only a few weeks. Cherry blossom festivals celebrate this beauty around the world, from Copenhagen to Paris to Vancouver, and of course throughout Japan.
More than a dozen cherry blossom festivals take place around the United States, including the biggest and best-known in Washington, D.C. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a bounty of blossoms to enjoy near your home, you might check out one of these nationally known festivals as a rite of spring. Be sure to check the festival’s website before making travel plans, because dates vary according to when the blooms happen each year.
The Washington, D.C. festival marks the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city as an act of friendship from the mayor of Tokyo. Its signature event is a parade, but many other celebrations include a Japanese street festival, local food, and drink tastings, the Blossom Kite Festival, music and arts events and fireworks. Check the festival website for details about future festivals.
California has a half-dozen cherry blossom festivals, but the grandest is our very own San Francisco Japantown, where two weeks of events include folk and classical music and dance, street vendors selling food, and a grand parade, culminating in the crowning of kimono-clad Cherry Blossom Queen and her court. Keep up-to-date on festival scheduling here.
In Brooklyn, New York, the 200 trees in bloom are the prime attraction, but dozens of events celebrate Japanese culture, including music and dance, cooking and tea ceremonies, arts and children’s events. Check the schedule at the Botanic Gardens website.
Georgia’s biggest cherry blossom festival has its roots in the city’s Yoshino cherry trees. The local discovery of the species was in 1949, and the festival was born in 1982 after a number were propagated. The festival motto is “love, beauty, and international friendship.” The city celebrates with classical and pop concerts, a parade and street festival, tea parties, and even a bed race and a Pink Poodle Parade.
Like Washington, D.C.’s festival, Seattle’s began with an act of friendship from Japan. In 1976, Prime Minister Takeo Miki gave 1,000 cherry trees to the city to commemorate the Bicentennial. As with other festivals, Hanami, cherry blossom viewing, is the main event; other celebrations of Japanese culture at the annual weekend-long event include demonstrations of Shodo, Japanese calligraphy, and Go, the 4,000-year-old board game.
For other festivals in the United States and Canada, see a partial list here.
Get ready to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, traditions, and food. San Francisco’s Japantown is the largest and oldest enclave of its kind in the United States. Charge those cameras and phones, because you’ll want to take a lot of pictures as you journey through this fascinating place. There’s so much to do and usually not enough time to do it, so make sure you put these places on your must-see list:
The focal point of Japantown is Japan Center where you’ll find Peace Plaza. Be sure to stop for a photo of the five-tiered Peace Pagoda, built in the 1960s and given to San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, Japan.
While there are other malls to visit in Japantown, this three-story entertainment and shopping complex is one you don’t want to miss. Promoting Japanese popular culture with tea, clothing, food, film and games, New People offers Tokyo fashions, handcrafted Japanese shoes, a puzzle escape room, and much more. New People’s location and hours of operation can be found here.
Located in Japan Center at 22 Peace Plaza, Daiso has aisles upon aisles of Japanese-made products. Browsing through trinkets, candy, toys, housewares, and snacks will make you lose track of time. Best of all, most things only cost $1.50.
First, you cram yourselves into photo booths that snap pictures of you. Then, you all have a blast adding fun stickers like bunny ears, hearts and crowns to your images. This is an especially great place for families to create some silly memories together and enjoy the fun images for years to come. Pika Pika‘s address is 1581 Webster St., 2nd Floor.
Imagine a water canal filled with sushi-laden, wooden boats floating around in front of you. That’s what happens at Isobune! Sushi chefs stand in the middle of the bar, keeping the canal filled with fresh choices, and you just reach in and take whatever delicious item you want.
If you want to see and try all kinds of traditional Japanese food, this is the place to go. It’s a paradise for adventurous foodies. You’ll find fresh, grab-and-go food, including sushi and bento boxes. Your taste buds will be very happy.
After days of shopping and sightseeing, you’ll probably be ready to enjoy the Japanese-style hot and cold tubs, dry sauna and steam room. A variety of spa services are available, including facials and massages, so go ahead and pamper yourself.