San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three remaining historic Japanese communities in the United States. While the local business district just north of Downtown San Jose is small (bounded by First Street to the west, 8th Street to the east, Empire Street to the south and Taylor Street to the north), it's one of the most unique neighborhoods in Silicon Valley for it's mix of history and modern culture.
Try to visit during the popular Obon Festival (this year: July 9-10, 2016) when the streets close down for the weekend to celebrate this traditional Japanese summer festival featuring food, arts, and performances including the popular local Japanese taiko drumming group, San Jose Taiko.
Here are some of the best things to do in Japantown year-round:
Visit the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.
The mission of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (535 N. 5th Street) is to collect, preserve, and share Japanese American art, history, and culture. The museum’s small collection has photos and memorabilia from early Japanese families who settled in the Santa Clara Valley and exhibits on the challenges the community faced over the years, including the forced incarceration of Japanese American citizens during World War II. The museum hosts regular talks and events.
Visit the Japanese temple and garden.
Stroll the grounds of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin (640 N.
5th Street) to see authentic Japanese temple architecture and garden design.
Get your Japanese food fix at Japantown's local restaurants.
Local favorites Gombai, Minato, Okayama, Kazoo, and Sushi Maru offer a mix of traditional and unpretentious, homestyle Japanese food at affordable prices.
Eat traditional Japanese sweets.
The family-owned Shuei-Do Manju Shop makes traditional Japanese confections, manju and mochi--be ready to wait in line on the weekends and during local festivals.
For Hawaiian style shave ice, sweet and savory crepes, check out Banane Crepe.
Get fresh and natural Japanese groceries.
Pick up handmade artisan tofu from the San Jose Tofu Company and Japanese groceries (many organic) at Nijiya Market.
On Sundays (8:30am to noon) check out the Japantown Farmer's Market (enter on Jackson St. between 6th and 7th Streets). A few vendors specialize in Asian produce. Check out this guide for more Silicon Valley farmer's markets.
Shop for Japanese ceramics and gifts.
Local shop Nichi Bei Bussan features a wide selection of traditional and unique Japanese ceramics, housewares, and gifts.
Get a taste of Hawaii.
Many of California's Japanese American families have strong ties to Hawaii, as the Pacific islands were the first port of entry for many of them to the United States. Nikkei Traditions, Hukilau restaurant, and Banana Crepe all feature Hawaiian inspired gifts, food, and snacks. Ukelele Source sells handcrafted ukuleles from Hawaii and can help you arrange lessons if you are interested in learning this Hawaiian art.
Browse modern shops and art galleries.
In recent years,a new generation of hip shops and art galleries have been welcomed into the community including Cukui Clothing & Art Gallery, Empire 7 Gallery, and Aristocrats.
Bring your four-legged friends into Biscuits, a modern pet supply store and boutique. Check out the quirky and colorful pet outfits including dog kimonos.
Have a coffee at Roy's Station.
Stop into Roy's Station Coffee and Tea, a family-owned coffee shop built in community elder Roy Murotsune's pre-WWII Mobil gas station. The vintage modern coffee shop features Santa Cruz roasted Verve Coffee, and teas from Bay Area-based Satori and Teance. The shop has an attractive outdoor patio and it's a popular neighborhood meeting spot.
Have a drink at local dive bars.
Locals and downtown college students flock to 7 Bamboo, one of the Bay Area's best karaoke bars, and Jack's Bar to watch sports and grab daily Happy Hour specials.