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San Francisco's Japantown is one of three left in California. It was once a flourishing center for the Japanese-Americans of San Francisco until World War II, when 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were ordered into ten internment camps in the country's interior. A smaller Japantown is in San Jose and a larger one is in Los Angeles (also known as "Little Tokyo.")
Some of Japantown's history can be found among the Victorian buildings that are common in the larger Western Addition neighborhood that surrounds it. One of the oldest Go houses in the country was on Bush Street. The former Julia Morgan-designed YWCA, which currently houses Japantown's "Nihonmachi Little Friends" community day care center, was one of the early community institutions. The 1934-era building replaced an earlier structure.
One of San Francisco's best-kept secrets is the shopping mall known as Japan Center, which is part of the larger Japantown . The wide range of Japanese restaurants and shops is unparalleled anywhere else in the Bay Area. Spend a whole afternoon looking at clothing, pottery, teapots, plates, bowls and chopsticks from Japan as well as music and other cultural exports. Love manga? Check out the Kinokuniya Bookstore for that and so much more.
Then make sure to stop by the busy Isobune Sushi where the sushi arrives on boats floating on an oval waterway and your bill is calculated by adding up how many of each colored plate you have piled in front of you. After the movies, you'll find many San Francisco locals flocking to Mifune for excellent noodles and light fare. As a final stop, you can go by the Japanese grocery store and pick up an assortment of unusual snacks and deserts to impress your friends at home.
Japantown is the least crowded all day during the weekdays, and gets busy during the weekends starting in the afternoons. If you are considering to come during their most heavily populated times with free entertainment and tasty food, visit the Cherry Blossom Festival (mid April for two weekends) and the Nihonmachi Street Fair (one weekend in early August).