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The Best Things to Do In Japantown San Francisco

The Best Things to Do In Japantown San Francisco

Whether you’re coming to reconnect with your roots or explore one of S.F.’s most fascinating neighborhoods, Japantown San Francisco awaits.


5 min read

November 16, 2021

San Francisco’s Japantown is one of the three remaining ones in the nation, having first settled in the early 1860s. Generations of Japanese descendants have kept the arts and culture alive in this neighborhood and far far beyond. If you look close enough, an entire world of famed artists, performers, and cultural cuisine will reveal itself in the neighborhood’s corners, resembling experiences you’d have in Japan. Whether you’re coming to reconnect with your roots, see the Japantown Peace Plaza, or simply explore one of S.F.’s most fascinating neighborhoods, Japantown San Francisco awaits with open arms.

Awesome Things to Do in Japantown S.F.

Japantown in San Francisco is a great area to visit. Authentic stores and eateries line a pedestrian-only street and three indoor malls.

Japanese Eats

Doesn’t matter if you’re seeking an epicurean adventure or craving a familiar dish, Japantown delivers every single time. The neighborhood is sweet and savory galore with delectable delights like sushi ramen and mochi rice cakes and matcha green tea desserts. Delve into the refined world of fine dining in one of the many restaurants, find Japantown’s famed mochi, or grab a bite on the run at a quirky food stand. Simply hit Japantown’s markets and you’ll find plenty of things to do. 

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Several of the restaurants you’ll find will definitely serve Japan’s most famous dish, but there are a few that serve sushi exclusively. Michelin-starred An Japanese Restaurant offers gourmet dishes in a cozy atmosphere served along with selections of local and imported seasonal items. Alternatively, there’s Omakase, an eatery where the menu is chosen by the chef; a dining experience you’ll be telling your grandkids about. 

There are now just four Japantowns remaining in the United States, with the oldest and biggest one being in San Francisco.

If you’re a meat-eater, then you’re probably familiar with shabu-shabu—a group meal experience. Priding itself to be the home of shabu-shabu, Mums at Kimpton Buchanan Hotel serves several all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu meal options, including vegetarian takes on the iconic experience.

Comfort food in the form of noodles can be found at many restaurants. Whether you want Japanese buckwheat soba, thin somen in a delicate sauce, udon in an array of broths, or fried yakisoba, Japantown is the place to look for it. And while ramen is originally Chinese, the Japanese have taken the hearty dish and elevated it to a whole other level. Line up early at Marufuku, where handmade noodles, Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, and broth cooked for over 20 hours awaits to send your tastebuds to flavor heaven.

It's easy to spend hours in Japantown San Francisco, trying out ramen places, looking at teapots, origami paper, and cute, anime-inspired toys.

Find Your Kawaii

Although the word "cute" may be translated literally, "kawaii" as a cultural term denotes much, much more. Kawaii art, which has its roots in Japan's Edo era, was especially popular with women since it evoked sentiments of tenderness, affection, and protection. However, as the movement gained momentum and kawaii emerged as a kind of counterculture phenomenon, this look rose to prominence in the world of fashion. And Sanrio made kawaii a global product with the introduction of Hello Kitty in 1974. This culture's loveable, vibrant, and innocent charm is what makes it so popular, and it's also a good idea to keep an eye out for it at Japantown businesses.

There's no denying that S.F.'s Japantown is home to some really cute trinkets that are too good to ignore. Even specialized stores sell just cutesy products; one such store is Amiko Boutique. This company, which bills itself as the one-stop shop for all things cute, sells products like Momoji dolls and Tokidoki backpacks. Mee specializes in the newest Japanese and Korean fashion, as well as K-pop fan merchandise and plushies—tiny furry animals that are often seen on key chains and lamps—if you want to add some kawaii flair to your outfit. Additionally, there's a J-pop photo booth with a variety of personalized backdrops, such as an alien posture. Use beauty brushes, dog or cat ears, and a lot more accessories to adorn your photos. 

There are different types of kimono for different occasions and seasons, including those worn by men.

Learn About Kimonos

The kimono, Japan's national garment, is a stunning design with intricate cultural undertones. The kimono, which is a mainstay of Japanese customs and is often associated with a flowing silk robe with long sleeves and an ornate brocade belt, is a masterpiece of artistry. However, there are a ton of aspects about this clothing that people are unaware of. For instance, did you know that traditional Japanese clothing has several names and styles that aren't exclusive to women? There are real seminars on how to wear a kimono, whether it's for a formal event or everyday use, in S.F.'s Japantown.

The cost of the outfit often ranges from several thousand dollars to a relatively low amount. The lightweight cotton yukata is another popular casualwear you may see at Japantown's events, especially if you're traveling in the summer, in addition to the formal silk kimono. Similarly, the happi, also known as a cheerful coat, is a popular choice for both men and women. It is distinguished by its short length and vibrant, almost celebratory shine. 

Asakichi and Shige Antiques are shops that specialize in historic kimonos, the majority of which were made in Japan before 1945. There, you may discover all of these types and more. One of the few shops in the Japan Center selling brand-new kimonos from Kyoto with gorgeous obi and sash, together with traditional shoes called geta and zori, is Sakura Sakura.

Many of the shops are in a series of malls called Japan Center, as well as a pedestrian-only block of Buchanan Street.

Do Holiday Shopping 

Japanese thoughtful and visually stunning gifts are an aesthetic you should definitely apply to this year’s gift-giving. Many of Japantown’s malls and stores offer complimentary gift wrapping, which is particularly convenient since ‘tis the season. Unique finds with trendy gifts and affordable stocking-stuffers can be found everywhere—you might even be able to find something perfect for the hard-to-shop-for person in your life (dads, we’re looking at you). 

Katachi has an impressive line of swords and knives, and they also carry a lot of cool T-shirts. Soko Hardware is an independent, family-owned business specializing in tools and things that are going to be needed around the house. If there’s a gardener among your family or friends, they’ll be pleased to know that this is the place to find those hard-to-get planters and seeds, including those to grow specialty Asian vegetables. Kinokuniya has books in English as well as in Japanese to add to your reading list, as well as novelty gift items such as board games, puzzles, and other nifty collectibles. If you’re a writer (or aspiring), then Kinokuniya will help you get there, with state-of-the-art writing implements including calligraphy supplies, fine stationery, and specialty papers. Shop at Forest Books for rare and out-of-print books and signed editions in world culture, the arts, and social sciences. This family-run bookshop is truly a delight and also carries a large selection of popular fiction; whether you want it pocket-size or hardback.

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