Japantown, San Francisco

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Japan Center of Japantown, with Peace Pagoda and the Sundance Kabuki 8 cinema complex.
Japan Center of Japantown, with Peace Pagoda and the Sundance Kabuki 8 cinema complex.
Nickname(s): Nihonmachi,[citation needed] Little Osaka,[citation needed] J-Town[citation needed]
Japantown is located in San Francisco
Location within Central San Francisco
Coordinates: 37°47′06″N 122°25′47″W / 37.7851°N 122.4298°W / 37.7851; -122.4298
Country  United States
State  California
City-county San Francisco
 • Supervisor London Breed
 • Assemblymember David Chiu (D)[1]
 • State senator Mark Leno (D)[1]
 • U.S. rep. Nancy Pelosi (D)[2]
 • Total 0.036 sq mi (0.09 km2)
 • Land 0.036 sq mi (0.09 km2)
Population [3]
 • Total 1,397
 • Density 39,000/sq mi (15,000/km2)
Time zone Pacific (UTC−8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
ZIP code 94115
Area codes 415/628

Japantown (日本町 Nihonmachi?) (also known as J Town or historically as Japanese Town, "Nihonmachi") is a neighborhood in the Western Addition district of San Francisco, California. It comprises about six square city blocks. San Francisco's Japantown is the largest and oldest such enclave in the United States.[4]


The main thoroughfare is Post Street, between Fillmore Street (to the west) and Laguna Street (to the east). The Japantown neighborhood is generally considered to be bordered on the north by Bush or Pine Street, and on the south by Geary Boulevard.

Looking north on Buchanan Street, across Post Street in Japantown.

Its focal point is the Japan Center, which opened in 1968,[5] and is the site of three Japanese-oriented shopping centers. The Peace Pagoda, also at the Japan Center, is a five-tiered concrete stupa designed by Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniguchi and presented to San Francisco by the people of Osaka, Japan.


Built and settled as part of the Western Addition neighborhood in the 19th and early 20th century, Japanese immigrants began moving into the area following the 1906 earthquake.[6] (Before 1906, San Francisco had two Japantowns, one on the outskirts of Chinatown, the other in the South of Market area. After 1906, San Francisco's main Japantown was in the Western Addition, with a smaller one in the South Park area.[7]) By World War II, the neighborhood was one of the largest such enclaves of Japanese outside of Japan, as it took an appearance similar to the Ginza district in Tokyo.[6]

Japantown residents being relocated to Japanese American internment camps in 1942, during World War II.

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced all Japanese of birth or descent, including Japanese American citizens of the United States, to be relocated from the Pacific coast and interned. By 1943 many large sections of the neighborhood remained vacant due to the forced internment. The void was quickly filled by thousands of African Americans who had left the South to find wartime industrial jobs in California as part of the Great Migration.

Following the war, some Japanese Americans returned, followed by new Japanese immigrants as well as investment from the Japanese Government and Japanese companies. However, many did not return to the neighborhood and instead settled in other parts of the city, or out to the suburbs altogether. This was further exacerbated by the city's efforts to rejuvenate the neighborhood initiated by Justin Herman in the Western Addition in the 1960s through the 1980s.[8]

In 1957, San Francisco entered in a sister city relationship with the city of Osaka, hence the nickname "Little Osaka". Osaka is San Francisco's oldest sister city.[9] In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this relationship, one block of Buchanan Street, in Japantown, was renamed Osaka Way on September 8, 2007.[10]

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The San Francisco Police Department Northern Station serves Japantown.[11]


The area is within the San Francisco Unified School District. Rosa Parks Elementary School is located near Japantown. It houses the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP).[12] In the winter of 2005 Rosa Parks had 233 students, which filled less than half of the school. That winter, SFUSD proposed closing the school and merge it with another elementary school. Parents protested in favor of keeping the school open. SFUSD moved the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program into Rosa Parks. As of November 2006, almost half of the students in the regular Rosa Parks program are African-American and one-third of the students in the JBBP program are Japanese.[13]

The five-tiered concrete Peace Pagoda at Japan Center.
Dancer at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (1990s).

Attractions and characteristics[edit]

The area is home to Japanese cusine (and some Korean and Chinese) restaurants, supermarkets, indoor shopping malls, hotels, banks and other shops, including one of the few U.S. branches of the large Kinokuniya bookstore chain. Most of these businesses are located in the commercial Japan Center of the neighborhood, in a large shopping mall built in the 1960s as part of urban renewal efforts and is run by Japanese retailer Kintetsu.


San Francisco's Japantown celebrates two major festivals every year: The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (held for two weekends every April),[14] and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, held one weekend in the month of August.[15]

The Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over the course of two weekends. During the first weekend, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Program takes place at the Kabuki Theatre, where women of Japanese/Japanese-American descent are chosen to represent, learn about, and serve their community.[16] During the Sunday parade, the queen and princesses are presented on a float.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Statewide Database". UC Regents. Retrieved December 8, 2014. 
  2. ^ "California's 12th Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. 
  3. ^ a b "Japantown neighborhood in San Francisco, California (CA), 94115 subdivision profile". City-Data.com. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  4. ^ "San Francisco Japantown 100th Anniversary - History of San Francisco's Japantown". Japantown Merchants Association. Retrieved December 16, 2007. 
  5. ^ Belva Davis (March 28, 1968). Japan Center's Dedication Ceremony. San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive (KPIX Eyewitness News). Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "About Japantown". Japantown San Francisco. [dead link]
  7. ^ Japanese Task Force Inc., Images of San Francisco's Japantown (2005) pp. 7, 9
  8. ^ Jofuku, Linda (August 31, 2005). "Preserving Japantown is about people, not just property". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  9. ^ "SF-Osaka Sister City Association: 50th Anniversary 2007 - Events". SF-Osaka Sister City Association. Retrieved December 18, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Osaka Way Unveiling Ceremony". Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco. Retrieved December 18, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Northern Station". San Francisco Police Department. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  12. ^ Chen, Adelaide (February 27, 2008). "Japantown Planning Talks Continue". AsianWeek. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  13. ^ Eslinger, Bonnie (November 20, 2006). "School merger unites communities". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival". Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Nihonmachi Street Fair". Retrieved February 8, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program". Retrieved February 8, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°47′06″N 122°25′47″W / 37.7851°N 122.4298°W / 37.7851; -122.4298