San Francisco’s Japantown lies in the middle of some of the city’s most visited attractions, sights, neighborhoods, parks, and waterfront. The tiny, architecturally distinct neighborhood is the perfect bivouac position for exploring the city.
San Francisco’s Japantown
San Francisco’s Japantown is two miles or less to Fillmore, Height & Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Marina, Presidio, Mission, and much more. Key MUNI lines cross north/south and east/west through Japantown offering direct routes to many destinations.
Japantown itself is six-square blocks sustaining the traditions and culture of San Francisco’s Japanese citizens. Once called Nihonjin Machi (Japanese People’s Town), it was the largest Japanese settlement in the US. WWII sent 120,000 Japanese Americans to relocation camps. After the war, not all residents returned. Urban renewal further reduced the number of Japanese residents and businesses.
Japantown is often overlooked by visitors to San Francisco. Its diminutive size and lack of significant tourist attractions push it to the bottom of the must-see list.
The small neighborhood has a quiet demeanor that nods to deep culture with modern design. You can spend hours here absorbing history, traditional food, entertainment, and shopping. San Francisco’s Japantown is one of only three remaining Japanese communities left in the United States.
Pagodas and Plazas for Peace
The Peace Plaza and Peace Pagoda are the centers of the neighborhood. The Peace Pagoda was gifted to Japantown in 1968. The gesture of goodwill came from San Francisco’s sister city, Osaka Japan. The plaza is the site of community celebrations and festivals, and is a favorite meeting spot.
History and Culture of Japantown
The San Francisco Japantown History Walk starts at Japantown Peace Plaza. Along the 10-block route, sixteen interpretive panels illuminate the communities’ history and culture.
The National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the Japanese American experience. Japanese American history is shared through events, programs and exhibits of all types. Visit NJAHS at 1684 Post Street.
The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) is the lively heart of the community. They present classes, workshops, concerts, martial arts, crafts, games, sports, computer classes, cooking and more. Focusing on meeting the evolving needs of the Japanese community, happenings here are open to all. The community center is located at 1840 Sutter Street.
Excellent food in San Francisco’s Japantown is ubiquitous. Food and beverage to satisfy all budgets and taste are plentiful. Eating like a local is easy. The selections are numerous and varied.
Opened in 1906, Benkyodo Company is one of the first Japanese owned businesses in the district. Family owned and operated, Benkyodo makes Japanese confections, Mochi and Manju daily. The wonderfully sticky buns are very sweet. Filled with red or white bean paste or fruit, they’re light and delicious.
Benkyodo also serves sandwiches and ice-cream at their lunch counter. The corner booth is usually occupied by neighborhood residents drinking tea, eating lunch and catching up on local news. Located at 1747 Buchanan Street, the corner of Sutter and Buchanan.
The specialty of Ramen Yamadaya is Tonkotsu Ramen. Translated, Tonkotsu means pig bones. The deep umami broth is made with pork bones simmered more than 20 hours. From the first slurp to last, Yamadaya’s broth is blissful. Tonkotsu Ramen is served with pork belly, soft boiled egg, mushrooms, vegetables and fresh green onions. Many other styles of Ramen are available including a vegan version. Traditional side dishes, desserts, and beverages are offered. Located at 1728 Buchanan Street.
Neighborhood markets in San Francisco’s Japantown are one of the best learning experiences. Stop in and try fresh Japanese foods, prepared on-site. Pick up lunch and head to a park or the Peace Plaza for a picnic.
TIP: The perfect picnic location, Cottage Row, is a mini-park, 1 ½ blocks from Super Mira. Walk west on Sutter.
Super Mira Market, a Japanese organic grocery, and deli. Just browsing here could occupy you for hours. This superbly clean, beautifully stocked, family owned, and operated market is warm and welcoming. The shelves have Japanese food and products of every kind. The deli serves hot and cold dishes. Mira is the neighborhood ‘go to’ for food, both prepared and fresh.
Try ramen, katsu, tempura, and curry. The freshest sushi, sashimi, salads and bento boxes are perfect for lunch in the park or take back to your hotel. A wide-ranging selection of Sake and Japanese beer are stocked. Super Mira Market is at 1790 Sutter Street, the corner of Buchanan and Sutter.
Local secret: The best cakes and pastries in San Francisco are made here. Try the Crunch Cake – splendid!
San Francisco’s Japantown is a shopper’s utopia. Countless shops and markets are filled with quality Japanese imports that are unique and irresistible.
Japan Center Malls are located on either side of the Peace Plaza. They are home to authentic Japanese culture, shopping, eating, and entertainment. Home décor, clothing, jewelry, furniture, videos, books, art, toys, cookware, and food are plentiful. Need a kimono, tea service, rice noodles or a waving cat? Want to make a video of you and friends, yearning for a Japanese language flick? You’ll find it in Japan Center. There’s even a Taiko Dojo (drum school).
Across the street from the mall, stop into Soko Hardware. The store has been owned and operated by the Ashizawa family since 1925. In addition to hardware, superbly crafted hand tools for woodworking and gardening are sold. Find paper lanterns and lamps, bamboo wall hangings, seeds for Japanese plants, traditional cooking vessels, and utensils, lacquered boxes, and trays plus instructions and materials for making shoji screens. Soko Hardware is located at 1683 Post Street.
The Paper Tree is filled with paper, books, and patterns used in the Japanese art of Origami. Owned and operated by the Mihara’s since the 50’s, it’s one of Japantown’s most enduring businesses. Award-winning Origami artists and sisters Vicky and Linda produce books, videos, and classes for beginners to experts. Located at 1743 Buchanan Mall. Contact them for drop-in classes.
San Francisco’s Japantown has only two hotels within its boundaries. However, there are two hotels housed in stunning Victorian buildings a quick walk from the Peace Plaza.
Best hotel choice: Kimpton Buchanan. The Buchanan is a boutique hotel with 131 rooms. Located in the heart of Japantown, the Buchanan is an oasis of comfort, culture, and calm. Contemporary, Asian-inspired décor, showcases local artist and designers. The crew at the Buchanan are always welcoming and helpful.
TIP: Ask for a room on an upper level for outstanding city views. The Buchanan is located at 1800 Sutter Street, the corner of Sutter and Buchanan.
Hotel Kabuki is also in the heart of Japantown. The Kabuki has 218 rooms and suites. It’s decorated in traditional Japanese decor with a touch of western. The hotel has a restaurant and lounge serving traditional Japanese food and beverage. This busy hotel hosts many foreign visitors. Located at 1625 Post Street.
Queen Anne Hotel Victorian and Edwardian mansions surround the queen of them all, The Queen Anne Hotel. Built in 1890, the fully restored Victorian mansion holds 48 rooms and suites. The décor is decidedly Victorian. Rich velvets, warm woods, lavish carpets and gilded furniture grace each room and public space. This hotel is nicely situated for visiting Japantown. Located at 1590 Sutter Street, San Francisco.
Hotel Majestic, where you’ll find Edwardian elegance near Japantown. Canopied beds, marble sinks, wrought iron, stained glass and warm woods. The charm of the Edwardian era is alive and well at The Hotel Majestic. 58 guestrooms are decorated in Edwardian style while furnishing modern amenities. The Hotel Majestic is just a short walk from Japantown at 1500 Sutter Street, San Francisco.
Stay in the middle of all San Francisco offers, while soaking-up Japantown, San Francisco’s centrally located district.
- Peace Plaza
- Peace Pagoda
- San Francisco Japantown History Walk
- National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS)
- Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC)
Where to Eat and Shop:
Where to Stay:
– All photos by Mary Charlebois. Cover photo depicts a colorful mural in San Francisco’s Japantown.