San Francisco’s Japantown is the largest hub of Japanese and Japanese-American culture in the U.S. Known for Japanese cuisine, malls and shops that offer authentic products and services from Japan, annual festivals celebrating Japanese-American traditions, and the Peace Plaza, Japantown has plenty of attractions for visitors.
“Japantown is wildly different from the surrounding neighborhoods,” says Jack Ferraz, SF State student and employee at Playland Japan in the Japan Center. “You can definitely experience some culture shock here.”
Japanese immigrants and Japanese–Americans moved into the neighborhood now known as Japantown after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Back then Japantown was known as “Nihonjin Machi”, which means “Japanese People’s Town”. Originally, the neighborhood was as large as 30 blocks. When World War II began many of the residents were forced out. 5,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated to the Tanforan and Topaz internment camps. When the war ended, many residents chose not to return to the neighborhood.
In the 1950’s, much of Japantown was torn down in the name of urban renewal. The 30 blocks of Japantown were torn down until only nine remained. In the 1960’s the Japan Cultural and Trade Center was built and eventually became the Japan Center mall.
The Japan Center is the largest attraction of Japantown. It comprises the East Mall, West Mall, and the Peace Plaza. The shops in the malls offer a wide variety of authentic Japanese products. The Peace Plaza sits in between the malls and contains the Peace Pagoda. Standing at 100 feet, The Peace Pagoda was donated in 1968 by the sister city of San Francisco in Japan, Osaka, as a gesture of goodwill.