#FindingAsia: Nihonmachi, San Francisco’s Japantown

#FindingAsia: Nihonmachi, San Francisco’s Japantown

San Francisco is filled with Asian culture from the city’s authentic Chinatown to its expansive Asian Art Museum. While yes, many cities in the US have a Chinatown of some sort, San Francisco is one of the few cities to have a designated Japantown, one of three cities to be exact.

Today Nihonmachi (日本町), literally meaning “Japantown”, is located near the Western Addition district. At six city blocks in size, it’s the country’s largest Japantown, and also the oldest.

San Francisco - Oct 2014

When Japanese immigrants first started settling in the area back in the 19th century, Nihonmachi actually spanned 30 blocks in total. Unfortunately, WWII saw most Japanese Americans being sent to relocation camps. After the war ended and re-urbanization began, Nihonmachi shrunk significantly in size.

One of the focal points of Nihonmachi is the beautiful five-tiered Peace Pagoda.

San Francisco - Oct 2014

This was a gift from the people of Osaka, representing their sister city relationship, which began not too long after WWII in 1957. San Francisco’s first-ever sister city was Osaka, which is why one of the city’s nicknames is “Little Osaka”.

Coincidentally, you can also find plenty of Osakan dishes at the restaurants in the area and a miniature replica of Osaka Castle. 

IMG_0730  San Francisco - Oct 2014

The other main focal point of Nihonmachi is the Japan Center, which opened in the late 1960s. The Japan Center is made up of three Japanese malls, all connected to each other by footbridge.

Inside you’ll find plenty of Japanese shops, restaurants and grocery stores.

San Francisco - Oct 2014

San Francisco - Oct 2014

We spent a long time exploring here. From kimonos to anime figures to omiyage shops, we were surprised by the selection of goods. A lot of the stores were actual popular stores found in Japan such as Daiso, a popular 100-yen shop (aka dollar store), and Kinokuniya, a bookstore.

Nihonmachi is more than just a mall however, within the six block radius you’ll find plenty of other stand-alone shops and restaurants, along with some Japanese schools, temples and cultural centers.

San Francisco - Oct 2014  San Francisco - Oct 2014

San Francisco - Oct 2014  San Francisco - Oct 2014

It really is a fully-functioning Japanese community.

I loved how the streets and buildings were all design to resemble bits of old Edo, it really felt like Japan.

San Francisco - Oct 2014

One of my favorite things about Nihonmachi is that many Japanese cultural events and festivals are held there throughout the year. San Francisco’s two largest festivals are the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and the Nihonmachi Street Fair.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is held for two weekends every April when the cherry blossoms are still blooming. This festival is the country’s second largest cherry blossom festival, after the one in Washington DC, and sees 200,000 visitors annually!

San Francisco - Oct 2014

The Nihonmachi Street Fair, held in August each year, is also quite popular showcasing Japanese tradition, culture, and cuisine.

To complete your whole Nihonmachi experience, I highly recommend staying in one of the Japanese hotels in the area, such as Hotel Kabuki or Hotel Tomo. Just be aware that if you’re going during festival weeks, the hotels sell out months in advance!

When to visit: Daily
Where to visit: 22 Peace Plaza #510, San Francisco, CA 94115
How to visit: Walk from the end of the California Street Cable Car stop or from the metro stop Civic Center/UN Plaza

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Have you experienced Asian culture outside of Asia? Tell me about it in the comments below or share your own photo on social media using the hashtag #FindingAsia!

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76 Comments

  1. February 23, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    Awesome – this would be so much fun to visit. Unfortunately, in The Netherlands we don’t have such a thing at all, the closest we’ll get is the All You Can Eat sushi place :-(

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 1:31 pm

      Hm, yeah, I didn’t see too much Asian culture when I was in the Netherlands! You’d have to go to nearby countries like Germany or the UK I suppose!

  2. February 23, 2015 / 3:05 am

    I love reading your post. It’s like I am touring Nihonmachi myself. Great photos!

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 11:11 am

      Glad you enjoyed it! :D

  3. February 22, 2015 / 8:21 pm

    Asian architecture is so fascinating and beautiful. I hope to one day make it to Japan but if i can not i would love to go to Japan town.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 11:10 am

      It’s certainly a great alternative! I can’t wait to go back this April.

  4. February 22, 2015 / 12:40 pm

    I had no idea there was Japantown in SF. I actually have never been to SF but would love love love to visit. My husband is from the SF area.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 11:10 am

      Aw, you should visit! Especially if you’re husband is from the area. I’m sure he could show you around ;)

  5. Rebecca Swenor
    February 22, 2015 / 11:41 am

    This sounds amazing as well as looking amazing. I will have to check this out indeed. It would make a great family vacation to visit there some day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 11:09 am

      You should! SF has so many fun things for a family to do.

  6. February 21, 2015 / 5:54 pm

    What an interesting bit of information about San Francisco. I had no idea there were 3 Chinatown’s or that one of them was Japanese based. Photos are amazing. I wonder how it compares to NYC Chinatown.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:47 am

      I dunno! I’ll be visiting NYC for the first time this May, so I’ll have to let you know then ;)

  7. February 21, 2015 / 11:08 am

    It’s been a few years since I’ve been to SF, but I didn’t even know there was a Japantown! We’ll definitely have to check it out on our next trip.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:47 am

      You will! It was such a cool place.

  8. Bonnie @ wemake7
    February 21, 2015 / 7:27 am

    I never even heard of this until now. Looks like a great day to be had. I really enjoy your pictures and would love to visit there one day.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:46 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed my photos Bonnie! I hope you get to experience the magic of SF someday :)

  9. February 20, 2015 / 7:08 pm

    Never heard of Japantown. Sounds wonderful though. Thank you for sharing.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 2:26 pm

      It’s a cool place. If you’re ever in SF, check it out!

  10. February 20, 2015 / 6:47 pm

    I went to San Francisco last summer and I would love to go back. There is so much to see and do there.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:46 am

      There is! I’m excited to be making my second trip there in April.

  11. February 20, 2015 / 4:29 pm

    I didn’t know this even existed. We have Chinatown here in NYC but not J-Town as far as I know. I would love to visit.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:45 am

      You don’t have a Jtown in NYC, but you do have a lot of great Japanese stores and restaurants! I’ve never been to NYC, but I’ll be visiting in May for Japan Day… I’m excited to seek out fun bits of Asian culture while I’m there!

  12. February 20, 2015 / 11:56 am

    Nihonmachi sounds like it would be a great place to visit! I really enjoy learning about Japanese culture so I think visiting would be quite an experience even if it isn’t really Japan!

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:43 am

      It is a fun experience! I was excited to finally use my Japanese while visiting. It’s truly like a little piece of Japan :)

  13. February 20, 2015 / 11:20 am

    That looks amazing! I like that they built authentic streets and a town, looks like a fun place to visit. I bet the cherry blossom festival is amazing! We have been to the Bay area before, but that was years ago.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:43 am

      I’m hoping the cherry blossom festival is good, I’ll be in attendance this year! Looking forward to writing about it here for people :)

  14. February 20, 2015 / 11:17 am

    Clearly I need to explore San Francisco a bit more! There are so many cool things there. We drive up every now and then. Will have to check this out on our next visit.

    • Beth Williams
      February 22, 2015 / 9:42 am

      I agree, San Francisco has so many cool things to explore! We were only there three days, but I feel like a could spend years exploring.

  15. February 20, 2015 / 10:31 am

    Oh J-Town, how I miss thee! We lived in the bay area for 4 years and most of my family still lives in that area. J-Town was a favorite place of mine to go.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:44 am

      Totally jealous that you lived in the Bay Area! How I’d love to move out there– or really anywhere in Cali for that matter. I can’t wait to return this April!

  16. February 20, 2015 / 9:37 am

    You always hear about China Town in big cities…but never Japantown! I’m planning on going to San Francisco soon so I’ll be sure to stop by there!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:44 am

      Yes, for sure!! It’s such a unique area since not many Japantown’s exist anymore.

  17. February 20, 2015 / 4:27 am

    I visited “Japan Town” in San Francisco a few years ago and loved it. So colorful, delicious food and great shops.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:43 am

      Glad you got to visit Japantown when you were in SF!

  18. February 20, 2015 / 2:50 am

    I think I’d like to go to the Japan Center. It sounds like a great shopping adventure.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:42 am

      It was a lot of fun, with lots of unique finds!

  19. February 20, 2015 / 1:10 am

    Here in South Africa we have our own little “China town” which is amazing! I love experiencing the food and culture.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:42 am

      That’s awesome! I’ll have to check it out when I go to South Africa :D

  20. February 19, 2015 / 11:42 pm

    I had no idea this place existed. We have a Japanese garden closeby, I never made time for it before but I should! Thanks for sharing!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:41 am

      I love Japanese gardens and wish we had one closer.

  21. February 19, 2015 / 10:41 pm

    Wow…I had no idea there was so much history there. I personally can’t stand San francisco, but if I ever find my way there again I’ll be more open to looking around

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 2:26 pm

      Interesting! You’re one of the few people I’ve ever heard say that. While I don’t think it’s the best city in the world, I did enjoy myself there (though probably more so because we have many friends in the area).

  22. February 19, 2015 / 9:06 pm

    This place looks so beautiful, this is somewhere I’d love to go to one day!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:41 am

      I hope you get to! It was a really great place.

  23. February 19, 2015 / 8:17 pm

    I love viewing different types of art. So, I would love to visit the art museum located there.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:40 am

      San Francisco has one of the best Asian Art museums in the world, which I wrote about recently. It’s amazing!

  24. February 19, 2015 / 8:15 pm

    The Japan center looks like a lot of fun! You can shop for Japanese items, and then eat delicious Japanese foods!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:40 am

      Yeah, it was a fun place!

  25. February 19, 2015 / 8:13 pm

    I love learning more and more about Asian cultures! Not to mention that their cuisine is delicious!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:38 am

      Yeah it is! Love me some Asian food :)

  26. Kathy
    February 19, 2015 / 7:00 pm

    Those photos are beautiful. Everything looks so nice. Even the food looks really good. It looks like an amazing experience.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:38 am

      The food was amazing!! Tons of great authentic Japanese dishes.

  27. February 19, 2015 / 6:39 pm

    Wow I didn’t know that there was a Japan Town.You take great photos of the places as well.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:38 am

      Thanks Leira! I’m glad you enjoyed my photos and that I could introduce you to a new place.

  28. February 19, 2015 / 6:09 pm

    This looks like an absolutely wonderful experience. I hope to be able to visit here someday.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:37 am

      It’s such a cool piece of history in the middle of SF.

  29. Robin (Masshole Mommy)
    February 19, 2015 / 11:58 am

    The closest I have ever gotten is the world showcase at Epcot in Disney World. The food in China and Japan are amazing.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:37 am

      Jealous!! I’m dying to go back to Epcot. I was only there once when I was 5 and don’t remember it. I’ll hopefully be visiting this fall!

  30. February 19, 2015 / 11:55 am

    I love the pictures. This looks like a great place to check out!

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:36 am

      It was a really fun neighborhood. I can’t wait to go back!

  31. February 18, 2015 / 9:54 am

    Thanks for the tips, we’re actually going to be in San Fran for four days in May so can’t wait – I studied Japanese in school & love Japanese food :)

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:36 am

      You’ll love Japantown then! 楽しんで!! :D

  32. February 18, 2015 / 8:50 am

    I must admit I’ve never heard of Japanese towns before, always only about China Town! That’s so cool! Where are two others?

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:34 am

      Japantowns are so rare! Although I think they have them in other parts of the world, like in Australia. The other two in the US are in LA and San Jose– so all Cali destinations. :)

  33. February 17, 2015 / 5:32 pm

    It’s amazing how these little communities manage to set up all across the world. :) its looks incredible, must be good for a bit of homesickness.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:33 am

      I agree! It’s so cool to see all these little enclaves all over the world.

  34. February 17, 2015 / 2:20 am

    Wow, what a cool place! I love visiting spots like this. I actually had heard of Japantown and put it on my list of places to go back when I was researching a San Francisco trip that sadly, never ended up working out a little while ago. But, I would still love to go and Japantown is even higher on my list of places to visit now that I’ve seen all of your great pics! :)

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:32 am

      Aw, well, I hope you have another opportunity to visit SF soon!

  35. February 10, 2015 / 12:17 pm

    I didn’t even know this existed. I have been to the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park. They are so beautiful.

    • Beth Williams
      February 20, 2015 / 10:32 am

      I haven’t been to the tea gardens, but I plan to this April!! Thanks for reminding me.

  36. February 9, 2015 / 3:47 pm

    Didn’t know there was a Japantown in San Francisco. Looks like a fun experience.

    • Beth Williams
      February 10, 2015 / 8:29 am

      It was a ton of fun! I’ll be heading back in April– can’t wait!