There are only three Japantowns in the U.S. San Francisco’s is the largest, and oldest surviving one. All three are in California, and the other two are Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and San Jose’s Japantown. Japantown in San Francisco is a 6-block area of shops and restaurants along Post Street in the Western Addition neighborhood. It is off the beaten tourist track with lots of cute family-owned shops. It is an easy bus ride (Bus 38 from downtown) or quick Uber ride. It has plenty to do for a fun, relaxing, and affordable afternoon.
Start on Buchanan Street and Sutter. Stop by Hinodeya Ramen on 1737 Buchanan Street (Hours: 11:30am-2:30pm / 5pm-10pm; Closed on Tuesday). It is one of the best Ramen restaurants in San Francisco. Go early for lunch. It tends to have long lines. Hinodeya is a 4th generation Ramen shop since 1885! It is the first shop in the Hinodeya chain outside of Japan.
Next, stop by Paper Tree on 1743 Buchanan Street (Hours: 10:30am-5:30pm. Closed on Tuesday.). Paper Tree has been family owned and operated since 1978. It has all sorts of fine Japanese paper, origami kits, and small cute art supplies. This is a great place to pick up one-of-kind gifts for your loved ones.
You’ll see the Origami Fountain by the sculptor Ruth Asawa. Asawa’s work can also be seen in the de Young Museum and Ghirardelli Square.
Sanko Kitchen Essential on 1758 Buchanan St (Hours: Mon-Fri. 10:00am-5:30pm; Sat. 11:00am-7:00pm; Sun. 11:30am-5:00pm)is worth to stop by. Don’t let the name deceive you. It is like an artistic pottery gallery with all kinds of ceramics and crafts. You’ll find beautiful locally-made items like wine bottle covers, chopsticks, tenuguis, tea pots, and mugs. Perfect to pick up a special unique piece for Mother’s Day.
Check out Soko Hardware on 1698 Post Street (Hours: 9am to 5:30pm. Closed on Sunday). It is a third generation family owned and operated. The shop specializes in beautifully crafted Japanese tools for gardening and woodworking. In addition to the usual hardware store items, you can find unique goods such as seeds for Japanese plants and books about topics such as making shoji screens.
You won’t miss the Mall by the Japanese Peace Plaza (1610 Geary Blvd). The malls run in a row along Post Street, between Fillmore and Laguna Streets: East Mall (Miyako), West Mall (Kintetsu), and Kinokuniya Mall.
- Daiso (22 Peace Plaza): The Japanese Dollar Store. Or rather the $1.50 Store. All items in Daiso are $1.50 unless marked otherwise. Huge store, with lots of cheap stuff. This is a Japanese chain store that sells just about anything in housewares you can imagine. Most of it’s imported (some Chinese products, but also lots of Japanese items). Check out their large selection of Japanese snacks. Lots of the beloved Pocky stick varieties, plus the candy-stuffed bears. East Mall.
- Amiko Boutique (Mid Plaza): “Cuteness starts here!” with a wide selection of cute fashion accessories, handbags, scarves, apparel and kid’s apparel under $20. What’s not to love with Tokidoki, Pusheen, Hello Kitty.
- Maido Fine Stationery & Gifts (Mid Plaza): You think notebooks and stationaries are boring. Wait until you stop by Maido. This is the place if you want to upgrade your office or home. Even though the shop is small, they have things that you need to look it thoroughly in able to find what you need. You’ll have a selection of hard-to-find Japanese imports, including specialty papers, gel and calligraphy pens, Midori notebooks, ink stamps, and high-end stationery. The shop is crowded, but neatly organized, with testers and sketchbooks scattered about for testing.
- Face Shop (Mid Plaza): This is the Korean Sephora in Japantown. You’ll have foaming cleanser, emollient, and lots of great smelling beauty products from Korea. This shop is just as nice as the one in Seoul.
- Kinokuniya Books (West Plaza, 1581 Webster St.): You’ll enter a world full of Japanese literature, comics, stationery, toys, and lots of gifts. If you don’t speak Japanese, you won’t be able to read a single word, but the shelves are full of magical illustrations worth the flip time
Crown & Crumpet on 1746 Post St (Hours: 11am to 6pm). You’ll feel like stepping in Barbie’s playhouse. It is an airy cafe with playful, floral decor serving premium coffee, afternoon tea & light lunch fare with the most delicate of tea kettles, finger sandwiches and baked goods like scones and crumpets. For kids 12 and younger, Crown & Crumpet offers a Nursery Tea with kid-friendly savory eats and sweet treats. Only in SF Japantown!
Nijiya Market on 1737 Post St (Hours: 10am to 8pm) is iconic for Japantown. This market is a magnet for anyone looking for traditional Japanese food and food products. From thinly sliced meat for sukiyaki to specialty sauces, this authentic Japanese grocer is must-visit for any adventurous foodie. What makes this destination extra special is their ready-made food ideal to grab-and-go, all which is made daily and includes sushi, bento boxes and more.
Want a change of scenery? Step out to Cottage Row (between Bush and Sutter Streets).
Within this tiny neighborhood park, sits a row of houses that date back to the mid-19th century. It’s a perfect place to step up your Instagram game.
Walk up to Song Tea & Ceramics on 2120 Sutter St (Hours: 11am to 6pm. Closed on Monday). It is a sweet and beautiful quiet place for fine tea’s sourced by the owner with fine tea ware, and tea tastings. You can do a tasting ($10/person, 3 teas, 2 infusions) and talk tea with the owner. Stop in and try it.
Of course, you have to end the day at the Kabuki Springs and Spa on 1750 Geary Blvd (Hours: 10am to 10pm). You can get a professional massage or bath. It’s as close to a traditional Japanese bath house as you’ll get, which means no cell phones, no talking, salt scrubs, and hot tea. Check out more details on the spa experience.