Japantown San Jose is a vibrant and historic neighborhood located in the heart of San Jose just a few blocks north of San Jose’s City Hall. Truly, no visit to the South Bay Area is complete without at least spending a few moments in Japantown!
With its rich cultural heritage and diverse storefronts housing mom-and-pop shops and other local businesses, Japantown is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of Japanese culture and cuisine!
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best things to do in Japantown San Jose, from exploring its historic landmarks to trying out some of the most delicious food and drink offerings. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a longtime resident, there’s always something new to discover in Japantown San Jose.
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A Brief History Of Japantowns In The USA
Japantowns in the USA have an interesting history that dates back to the late 19th century. The first Japantown was established in San Francisco in the 1860s, as Japanese immigrants began to settle in the area. Over time, Japantowns began to emerge in other major cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago (though some of these were short-lived).
These communities were formed as a way for Japanese immigrants to maintain their cultural identity and support one another in a new, unfamiliar, and often hostile environment. Japantowns were also places where Japanese Americans could gather and celebrate their heritage through festivals, cultural events, and religious ceremonies.
However, the Japanese American community faced significant challenges during World War II, when thousands of Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. Many Japantowns were left empty as a result, and some were never able to fully recover.
Despite these challenges, a few Japantowns have continued to thrive — the ones in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose! Crazy to imagine, but Japantown San Jose is one of the last three authentic Japantowns in the United States.
These days, these communities continue to be vibrant cultural centers that celebrate Japanese history, art, and cuisine, and serve as important reminders of the resilience and strength of the Japanese American community.
Where Is Japantown San Jose?
Japantown is located five blocks north of San Jose’s City Hall. The center of Japantown is North Fifth and Jackson Streets, but its boundaries reach from First to Seventh Streets, Empire Street to the south and Hedding Avenue to the north.
If you don’t have a car, you can get here via public transportation. Japantown is closest to the Japantown/Ayer VTA Lightrail Station.
Best Things To Do In Japantown San Jose
Visit the Japanese American Museum of San Jose
One of the most important cultural institutions in San Jose Japantown is the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. This museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Japanese American community in the San Jose area.
Visitors to the museum can explore a variety of exhibits and displays that showcase the rich and diverse history of Japanese Americans in the area, from the early immigrant experience to the challenges faced during World War II and beyond.
One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is the permanent collection of artifacts and photographs that document the lives and experiences of Japanese Americans in the San Jose area.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 12pm – 4 pm. Admission for adults is $8 and there are discounts for students, seniors, etc.
Explore the Japantown Farmers Market
Held every Sunday from 8:00am to 12:00pm during the warmer months, the Japantown farmers market offers a wide variety of fresh produce, artisanal foods, and handmade crafts. It’s a great place to shop for locally-grown and produced goods, as well as to support local farmers and businesses!
The Japantown Farmer’s Market is located at Gordon Biersch Brewery.
Dine at one of the many Japanese restaurants
Japantown San Jose is home to several excellent Japanese restaurants, including Kazoo, Hukilau, Kaita Restaurant, Gombei, and Minato. You can enjoy delicious sushi, ramen, and other Japanese specialties while taking in the atmosphere of the neighborhood!
Shuei-Do Manju Shop
They bake fresh manju daily and everything is made by hand, the old-fashioned way. Some of my favorite offerings include the kinako (soybean powder) mochi, butter mochi, and the chi chi dango (the flavors rotate so you never know what you can get til you get in line!).
Pro Tip: You’re going to want to get here as soon as they open because it’s quite a popular place! On weekends, chances are there’s already a line forming even before they open!
Grab Coffee at Roy’s Station
If you’ve arrived to Jtown early without having started your morning off with coffee, head to Roy’s Station! Roy’s Station is an independent and solar-powered coffee shop that serves Santa Cruz’s Verve espresso and coffee drinks.
Not a coffee drinker? They also proudly serve Satori loose-leaf teas. All from a converted Mobil gas station!
There are seats indoors and outdoors, so I’d recommend grabbing a refreshment and enjoying some of that SJ sunlight from the outdoor patio for a few moments before continuing your stroll through the neighborhood.
Thrift Shopping At Classic Loot
Classic Loot offers awesome women’s clothing, purses, pins, jewelry, and goodies you can’t find anywhere else. They offer both handmade goodies as well as highly-curated secondhand items — all of which are adorable as heck!
If you’ve got stuff to sell, you’ll be happy to know they’re a buy/sell/trade shop!
Get Shave Ice At Pau Hana Shave Ice Co.
Missing the taste of Hawaii? Well, thank gosh SJ’s Japantown has its very own shave ice joint!
This family-owned business specializes in Hawaiian-style shave ice, which is made by shaving a block of ice into a fine, fluffy texture and then topped with flavored syrups and other toppings.
If you’re thinking “how good can shave ice on the mainland be?” — let me tell you. The shaved ice texture is very similar to that of Hawaii — expect a fruity, soft, and creamy concoction topped with the freshest mochi around!
What sets Pau Hana Shave Ice Co. apart is its commitment to using high-quality, natural ingredients in its syrups and toppings. You can choose from a variety of flavors, including classic flavors like strawberry and blue raspberry, as well as more tropical options like lychee and passionfruit.
Support The Local Gift Shops And Specialty Stores
Shop at one of the many specialty stores while you’re here! Japantown San Jose is home to several specialty stores that offer unique and hard-to-find items.
You can shop for Japanese snacks and candies at Nijiya Market, browse for Jpop culture gifts at Moment JTown, or find the perfect traditional Japanese gift at Nikkei Traditions and Gifts Kogura (where you’ll find matcha sets, stationery, and lucky cats galore!).
Night Market at Gordon Biersch Brewing
One of the most popular weekly events in San Jose Japantown is the Night Market at Gordon Biersch Brewing, which takes place on Thursdays every summer. This outdoor market features a variety of food trucks, live music performances, and local artisans selling their crafts!
Visitors can sample a wide range of delicious foods (different options every week), from Japanese street food like takoyaki and yakitori to Korean barbecue and Hawaiian poke bowls. There are also plenty of sweet treats to indulge in, including shave ice, mochi, and freshly baked pastries!
In addition to the food, the Night Market at Gordon Biersch Brewing also features live music performances from local musicians and bands, creating a festive and lively atmosphere that is perfect for a summer evening out.
For those looking to do some shopping, there are also a variety of local artisans selling their handmade goods, including jewelry, clothing, and home decor. After eating, be sure to spend some time browsing the stalls to find unique and one-of-a-kind items to take home as souvenirs!
Get Lunch Plates And Poke At Santo Market
Santo Market is a local institution in San Jose’s Japantown and has been a fixture in the community for over 70 years. This family-owned market has become a beloved destination for locals and visitors alike, known for its wide selection of Japanese and Asian groceries, fresh produce, and prepared foods.
One of the things that makes Santo Market unique is its commitment to providing high-quality, authentic Japanese products. From fresh poke bowls and sashimi to traditional Japanese snacks and candies, Santo Market offers a taste of Japan that is hard to find elsewhere in the Bay Area.
In addition to its grocery offerings, Santo Market is also known for its hot food deli, which serves up a variety of Japanese and Hawaiian lunch plates. You can enjoy everything from teriyaki chicken and laulau plate lunches to spam musubi and poke bowls, all made fresh to order!
For many in the Japantown community, Santo Market is more than just a grocery store – it’s a beloved institution that has played an important role in shaping the identity and character of the neighborhood!
Pro Tip: To get your hands on their highly coveted strawberry mochi, you need to arrive when they open. Otherwise, they sell out within 20-30 minutes! At the time of writing, the mochi is available on Tuesdays and Saturdays,
Attend the Obon Festival
This annual festival is held in July and celebrates the Japanese Buddhist tradition of honoring ancestors. The festival features food, music, dancing, and other cultural activities that showcase the rich history and traditions of Japantown San Jose.
Be sure to visit Japantown’s site to keep up to date on the latest festival dates.
Sing your heart out at 7 Bamboo Lounge
Looking for something fun to do at night in Japantown San Jose? Why not try karaoke?
7 Bamboo is one of the oldest and most nostalgic karaoke lounges in the Bay Area — since the 1970’s! If you want a night full of great vibes, then you must pop in for an hour or two!
They offer karaoke every night of the week they’re open, so you can sing to your heart’s content! You can sing karaoke on stage for free, and there’s a good song selection to choose from too.
Worried about being judged? Don’t be! The crowd is very encouraging because, at the end of the day, everyone is there to have fun!
As this is a small venue, space can fill up rather quickly. Arrive early for first-come first-served seating.
Attend a cultural event
In addition to the Obon Festival, which is held every summer to honor ancestors and loved ones who have passed away, there are many other events that draw visitors from near and far.
One such event is the Nikkei Matsuri Festival, which takes place in the spring and celebrates the Japanese American community’s contributions to the city of San Jose. This festival features traditional Japanese music and dance performances, as well as food vendors, arts and crafts, and cultural exhibits.
Another popular event is the Aki Matsuri, which is held in the fall and celebrates the harvest season. This festival also features traditional Japanese music and dance performances, as well as food vendors, handicraft vendors, and cultural exhibits.
Throughout the year, there are also many other events and activities that take place in San Jose Japantown, including art exhibits, film screenings, and cultural workshops. Be sure to visit Japantown’s site to stay up to date on the latest festival dates.
Got more time in the San Jose area? Check out our complete guide to the South Bay and discover all the fun things there are to do here!
Where To Stay In San Jose, CA
- Hayes Mansion San Jose, Curio Collection by Hilton
- AC Hotel by Marriott San Jose Downtown
- Aloft San Jose Cupertino
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