Historical Japantowns in California



Two is better than one, but California decided to have three Japantown to fully enjoy the lively Japanese culture.

Asian Americans are everywhere in California, and the Japanese community still holds the majority of its population. With this, it is not questionable that there are three Japantows in the state of California: San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Take a look at the uniqueness of each one and experience the beautiful Japanese culture in America.

San Jose
Photo credits: Grace Hwang Lynch (KQED)
Located in downtown San Jose, California is the infamous Nihonmanchi or J Town. Out of three authentic Japantowns in California, Nihomanchi is the most diverse because of its different dining experience. Aside from the authentic Japanese cuisine, you can also enjoy Chinese, Mexican and Hawaiian restaurants along the small neighborhood. There are also fast-foods and food stalls which are perfect if you want to maximize your visit and stroll.

Check out the Japanese American Museum and San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, a well-known Japanese temple and garden, and see the authentic Japanese arts and architecture. It is open for all and they sometimes host events and talks for a more memorable visit.

Make sure not to leave the neighborhood without visiting Shuei-Do Manju Shop, a family-owned Japanese sweets shop that serves different kinds of traditional Japanese desserts and pastries. You can also bring home authentic Japanese goods in Nijiya Market and on Sundays, Japanese Farmer’s Market. You can score a handmade artisan tofu!

Los Angeles

Photo credits: Ruth (Tanama Tales)
The Japantown in Los Angeles is popularly known as Little Tokyo (or Little Tokyo Historic District) located in downtown Los Angeles. It has the largest number of Japanese-American population and is also known as the cultural center of Japanese Americans. In 1995, it was declared as a National Historic Landmark District. Enjoy both Asian and Western vibes as this Japantown holds different establishments that embodies Japanese and American culture.

Visit the different museums and cultural centers that also hold various events for a great tourist experience. Immerse more on the authentic Japanese experience by walking on the grounds of the oldest and very first Japanese Buddhist temple in Los Angeles, Higashi Honganji, constructed in a traditional Japanese-style architecture. However, it was still temporarily closed due to COVID-19 and unknown vandalism.

Complete your visit by trying authentic Japanese food and shops. Feeling like eating a full-course meal, fast-food or a simple sushi party— Little Tokyo has it all! You may also spend some time in one of the cafes and dessert shops which has instagrammable spots. Japangeles, a Japanese and American clothing store is also located here. But don’t worry, there are a wide variety of shopping stores that you can enjoy. There are also hotels and karaoke studios in Little Tokyo that you can stay after a long day of stroll in Los Angeles’ Japantown.

San Francisco
Photo credits: The Culture Trip
It may be a few blocks wide, but San Francisco’s Japantown is the oldest among the three Japantowns in California. The small Japanese community in the heart of San Francisco called Japantown Peace Plaza offers a wide variety of Japanese experiences; from food down to festive celebrations.

The famous spot is the Peace Pagoda and main plaza that centers the start and end of the Japantown tour for many people. It was a gift from Japan and the historical infrastructure was made by a Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniguchi. From there, you may check out the Japan Center malls, the home of famous authentic Japanese food stores. If you feel like walking outdoors, you may wander around Osaka Way and visit the different stores located on the sidewalks. Japanese goods can be found in each store such as origami and home goods.

Before heading home, do not forget to try some mochi and udon to complete your Japan trip in San Francisco. Benkyodo, the oldest running business in Japantown, offers the one of the best authentic mochi in the plaza. You may also check out Mochill’s mochi donut but prepare for long lines as this food stall is one of the plaza’s main attractions.

We cannot talk about Japan without mentioning Daiso, and you can find one in Japantown Peace Plaza. Enjoy Japan’s version of dollar stores and be immersed in useful and kawaii (cute in Japanese language) things. It is quite impossible to enter and leave Daiso without buying anything though! There are also bookstores around the plaza for bookworms and a must-experience Kabuki Springs and Spa that offers traditional onsen-style communal baths and Japanese style massage and spa.

You can visit any Japantown in California anytime of the year because of its festivals. It may be located in a western country but Japanese culture is very present in these three communities. Enjoy the mix of historical and modern Japan as you wander around the Japantowns. It is indeed the country Japan located in the state of California— a home away from home.

Written by: Yam Pernecita

Yam Pernecita is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. She is a 4th-year Bachelor of Arts in Communication student from Far Eastern University in Manila, Philippines.

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