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Exploring Japantown | The Top 10 Things To Do & See
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Exploring Japantown | The Top 10 Things To Do & See

Picture of Brie Shimada
Updated: 9 February 2017
San Francisco’s Japantown is one out of only three Japantowns left in America. Because of its cultural background, Japantown has an intriguing draw to tourists. What makes Japantown different from its sister neighborhood, Chinatown, is that it is a lot more peaceful, quiet, and secluded. It’s easy to overlook all of the art, history, incredible dining, and fine shops this neighborhood has to offer. Luckily for you, we’ve put together a guide to explore this historical area. Check out our picks for the top ten things to see and do in Japantown.
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Peace Pagoda

The Peace Pagoda is a historical monument whose design was inspired by a set of round pagodas located in Japan’s ancient capital, Nara. This landmark was donated to Japantown as a gesture of generosity by the City of Osaka, San Francisco’s Japanese sister city, in 1968. Surrounding the Peace Pagoda is a plaza where many celebrations and events are held.

Peace Pagoda, 1704 Post St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 775-1817

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Benihana won’t just provide you with mouth-watering teppanyaki style cuisine; it will give you one of the most entertaining dining experiences you’ll encounter in the city. What makes this such a unique restaurant is the fact that you can watch your food being prepared by a talented chef right at your table. They have a wide spectrum of entrées on their menu from fresh sushi and noodles, to traditional favorites including their tender beef julienne and divine hibachi scallops. If you’re craving a weekday pick-me-up, stop by their happy hour that runs Mondays through Thursdays from 4:00-7:00 P.M. We recommend the pan-fried gyoza dumplings and the Benihana punch; you won’t be disappointed!

Benihana, 1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 563-4844

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Pika Pika

Pika Pika is a vibrant photo booth shop that brings San Francisco a piece of Japanese pop culture. The process here is simple: you pick a themed booth, strike some fun poses, decorate your photos, and print! Even though the booths are in Japanese, there are English translations and friendly staff everywhere to make your experience easy and unforgettable. The shop is located in the back of the Japanese Center West Mall. Pika Pika is a one of a kind shop to the Bay Area, so make your memories of Japantown stick with their photo sticker booths!

Pika Pika, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 673-7898

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Crown & Crumpet

There’s no better way to spend the afternoon than to have tea-time at Crown & Crumpet’s Tea Stop Café located in the heart of Japantown. This tea salon embodies an adorable Victorian ambiance that will make any tea lover rejoice. If you decide to go on the weekend, be sure to make a reservation on Opentable. We recommend their afternoon tea that comes with a large pot of loose-leaf tea, freshly prepared finger sandwiches, the traditional toasted crumpet, and many other delightful treats. Our favorite teas are the Marie Antoinette and Alice’s “Drink Me” Tea. Cheers and enjoy!

Crown & Crumpet’s Tea Stop Café, 1746 Post St, San Francisco, CA , USA, (415) 771-4252

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Daiso is one of the most extraordinary shops in all of Japantown that sells Asian brands only. This store carries everything you can think from hardware and beauty products to home décor and food. The large assortment of products isn’t the only thing that draws customers; it’s the incredibly cheap prices that make Daiso such a standout. Items are typically one of three prices, $1, $1.50, $2, and now they sell package food and products that cost $8 max. You sure can’t beat any of those deals anywhere else in the city!

Daiso, 22 Peace Plz, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 359-9397

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Sundance Kabuki Theatre

Sundance Kabuki Theatre was the first multiplex in San Francisco. What makes this theatre so marvelous is not only the fact that it houses new releases for everyone to enjoy, but the theatre also offers several shows every day that are only available for viewers over the age of 21. This is because it serves adult beverages and food (at their Balcony Bar and Bistro Bar) that are allowed in the auditoriums for these specific shows. We recommend you reserve your seats online, so you can enjoy a perfect movie night with your favorite treats and preferred seating.

Sundance Kabuki Theatre, 1881 Post St, San Francisco, CA, USA, 415-346-3243

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Sophie’s Crêpes

Sophie’s Crepes is a real game-changer with Sophie’s famous crêpe cones. With a French and Japanese fusion in her crêpe cones, Sophie adds what she calls an element of “Californian freshness and flavor customization.” The menu consists of both sweet and savory crêpes, but our favorite is the banana chocolate crêpe cone served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Sophie’s Crêpes is located near Pika Pika at the Japanese Center West Mall past all of the restaurants. It’s the best crêperie in all of Japantown and once you try one, these are the only crêpes you’ll ever crave!

Sophie’s Crêpes, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 929-7732

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Kinokuniya Bookstore

Kinokuniya Bookstore is the one shop for Japanese books, magazines, comic books, CDs, DVDs, software, stationery, specialty gifts, and so much more. It’s the largest bookstore chain in all of Japan, and the San Francisco location was its very first overseas store that opened in 1969. This cultural shop is located on the west end of the Japanese Center Mall and between Sophie’s Crêpes and Pika Pika. Get your manga fix at the best Japanese bookstore in the Bay Area!

Kinokuniya Bookstore, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 567-7625

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Playground has remained the only full-service restaurant, bar, and private karaoke combination in San Francisco since it opened in 2007. Playground serves traditional Korean soul food with a modern twist on their dishes, as well as a full bar with a vast selection of premium liquor and popular Korean alcohol such as soju. This lively establishment has numerous VIP karaoke booths that can hold anywhere between six to 50 guests, and can be booked for two to four hours at a time. Playground’s hours are 5 P.M. to 12 A.M. on Sundays through Wednesdays and 5 P.M. to 2 A.M. on Thursdays through Saturdays. If you’re in the neighborhood around 5 to 7 P.M., check out their happy hour, served every day.

Playground, 1705 Buchanan St, San Francisco CA, USA (415) 929-1471

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Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the largest annual commemorations that celebrates the diversity and culture of the Japanese American community. The festival takes place on Post Street between Laguna and Fillmore Streets and consists of food booths, cultural performances, martial arts, live bands, and the annual Queen Program. One of the most anticipated events of the festival is the Grand Parade, which showcases talented performers, artists, Miss Cherry Blossom, and more. The parade begins at City Hall and ends in Japantown. Don’t miss this year’s celebration, held in April for two weeks, which will be the festival’s 49th anniversary.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, 1700 Post St, San Francisco, CA, USA, (415) 563-2313

By Brie Shimada

Brie Shimada, a Sacramento native, is currently studying communication studies at San Francisco State University. She can either be found capturing photos of the city, reading a good book at Blue Bottle, or shopping local at one of the many farmers’ markets in San Francisco.