In October of 2007 I visited Japan Town, San Francisco. I spent a lot of time here in my younger years. It’s a shame I’ve had to stay away for so long. The aromas of fresh Japanese food mix with the enticing scents of incense and other imported items to transport me back to my teenage years when I walked these halls and learned about Japanese pop culture for the first time.
Japan Town is a combination shopping and cultural center displaying all things Japanese to the residents of the City By The Bay. You’ll find the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of America Headquarters as well as Mikado Music Japan. As a result, after stocking up on manga and character goods you can take in some genuine culture such as woodblock print art or floral arrangement displays (a great excuse to talk your wife or girlfriend into spending an afternoon there).
The place was looking a little down-at-the-heels a few years ago but it has bounced back nicely. Several spots show the mess that accompanies renovation work and there are no longer any empty slots where shops used to be. Japanese television shows play in a few shop windows and the strains of J-pop music are heard frequently.
Make sure to leave some money in your account after shopping to pay for lunch. A wide selection of Japanese restaraunts will please any international gourmet. Two crepe shops make sure that modern Japanese cuisine is representeed as well as traditional. I just wish the imported snack foods were a little cheaper.
I can’t remember all the names of the shops selling models, character goods and other goodies. I had to restrain myself at one point from stocking up on Godzilla toys. The Kinokuniya book store extends onto two floors and offers a very good selection of manga and art books for a shop outside of Japan. I spent quite a while browsing their books on Japanese history and culture. If you’re ever in San Francisco you owe it to yourself to stop by and see all that Nihon Machi has to offer.
That evening I met fellow mecha fans Benjamin Wright, Mark Simmons and Stephen Douglas. Benjamin wasted no time leading us to a great Japanese restaurant where we sat and discussed anime in general and mecha anime in particular. I was not at all surpised to find that my companions were true science-fiction fans. Over bowls of miso soup we chatted about the merits of Babylon 5 and how the Gundam stories of recent years compare with the classics. Towards the end of the meal everyone was so satisfied that I knew it was the prime opportunity to ask Mark for an interview.