America is a stew of so many cultures, including Japanese. Which is why it’s so hard to digest that of the many immigrants from that part of Asia only three historic Japantowns are intact in the United States, all of which are on the West Coast. One of those is San Jose’s Japantown, north of downtown. The Issei, or first gen, arrived in the 1890s to farm in today’s Silicon Valley.
A smart place to start, before you head into the compact 12-or-so block area, is at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, which also leads walking tours of the area.
Experience Ikoi no ba, peaceful places to gather, at Issei Memorial Building for shamisen music lessons; or for Taiko, Japanese drums, it’s off to San Jose Taiko. Sit back and watch a performance. Or option B, participate in a class. The more than a century-old Wesley United Methodist Church draws people for Alan Masaoka’s gorgeous stained glass. It’s also the spot to order the sought after two-stacked mochi, or Okasan, traditional for Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year. Each is topped with dai-dai, a Japanese citrus fruit. Should you miss out on the pre-order, brush up on the many types of sweet Manju at Shuei-Do.
Map Courtesy of California Japantowns
For something savory (and Chinese and architecturally significant) is a stalwart Wing’s Chinese Restaurant, opened in the 1920s.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Fuller
Japanese crafts of kimonos, textiles, buckwheat hull pillows and kakefuton comforters are within Nichi Bei Bussan. Equally alluring to the merch inside is the colorful mural on the building painted by artist Nosego. Mainstreamers, please proceed directly to one of the karaoke bars like 7 Bamboo.
Photo Courtesy of Japantown San Jose
Photo Courtesy of Nichi Bei Bussan