San Francisco Walking Tour: Japantown
Great finds abound in this cool Asian enclave.
At the heart of Japantown is the Japan Center, a blocks-long mall that features a branch of the Japan’s largest bookstore, a specialty pen shop, several places to sing karaoke, and sushi galore. The area was built up in the 1960’s, when the city sold a parcel of land to a Japanese-American group from Hawaii who transformed it into a shopping center. There’s plenty for out-of-towners to see and eat, but the delights of the mall and its surrounding areas aren’t just for tourists.
Opened by VIZ Media founder Seiji Horibuchi in 2009, this four-story funhouse offers art, edification, and commerce for newbies and devotees of Japanese culture. The sleek building in Japantown, with a glass façade and loft-like open spaces, is a fitting showcase for its mod anime cinema, art gallery, café, retail shop, and Harajuku fashion boutiques. The toys, accessories and household goods fit New People's theme of "kawaii (cute), fun, fabulous, and bizarre," while the Tokyo street fashion scene is represented by labels Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, h.Naoto, and Sou-Sou.
Sundance Kabuki Cinema
Part of a group of Robert Redford-owned cinemas, the Kabuki location offers excellent independent and international fare. Booze is available from one of the cinema’s two bars at over 21 shows, and reserved seating saves you from having to elbow for space. It’s well worth the few extra bucks admission for the pleasure of being treated like grown ups.
The second location of this popular South Indian spot is great for a date night—especially when paired with a show at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema right across the street. Be sure to try one of their spice-infused cocktails with anything from their Michelin Guide-recommended menu comprised mostly of organic and sustainable ingredients.
The only US outlet of a Japanese confection chain offers boxed goodies like the best selling Harajuku Mochi Chocolate (mini sweet rice cakes with a chocolate ganache-type filling and coated with coco powder) along side smiling candy-colored baubles.
This wonderful collection of Japanese photo booths captures customers diving out of a washing machine, covered in confetti, or popping out of a bouquet of flowers. Before the machine spits out sticker page of the shenanigans, make sure to add after-effects like props and writing.