Japantown - San Jose, California - Historic Enclave for All Things Japanese


Only three authentic Japantowns remain in the United States - one each in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose. The Japantown located here is over 119 years old. Its original late-19th century buildings were made of wood, erected next to the city's Chinatown and populated by single men who had emigrated from Japan to toil in the nearby fruit orchards.

By 1902, San Jose's "Nihonmachi'' had grown to several thousand seasonal workers. A community of Japanese businesses evolved to cater to their needs, from restaurants and grocery stores specializing in Japanese food items to barber shops and tailors accustomed to Japanese styles. Clubs known as kenjinkai were formed to bring together immigrants who shared the same home prefectures in Japan.

Between from 1907 and 1921, some Japanese women and children managed enter the country legally and join their men. Shop houses became common, with families living above or behind their commercial properties. But Japantown remained heavily male-dominated right up to World War II, when almost all of its 53 businesses had to close and Santa Clara County's 3,000 Japanese-American residents were interned at Heart Mountain.

By 1947, 100 families and 40 businesses managed to re-colonize Japantown. A strong sense of community pervaded the district, which grew once again to prominence. Today the area features not only restaurants, specialty stores, martial arts studios, and gift shops reflective of its cultural past, but also a variety of professional services, lawyers, doctors, dentists, non-profit organizations, schools, and churches that testify to its permanent place in San Jose society.

A regular attraction in Japantown is the weekly Farmers' Market. It is held each Sunday morning from 8:30am to noon, rain or shine, on Jackson Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. As an independent Certified Farmers Market, it offers fresh vegetables, baked goods, flowers, fruit, and nuts, as well as an assortment of non-agricultural products, such as jewelry and health products.

One of the community organizations here is the JCCsj, which works in partnership with the City of San Jose on events and capital improvement projects, such as an annual festival and the placement of historical markers. Already five years old, the Japantown festival, in particular, draws large crowds of visitors who are eager to experience the neighborhood's unique arts and crafts, foods, music, dance and cultural traditions. There are displays of ikebana flower arrangements and miniature bonsai trees, too.

All year round, some sixteen different Japanese restaurants are open for business in Japantown, offering a variety of tastes from Hawaiian-style Japanese cuisine to traditional shops for sushi, shabu-shabu (stew), okonomiyaki (pancakes), ramen (noodles), and teppanyaki (grilled meat). There are also Korean, Chinese, Mexican, German and Cuban cuisines represented by restaurants here, along with several standard American food chains.

Japantown is located in the Jackson and Taylor neighborhood at 565 North 6th Street, San Jose, California 95112. The nearest VTA light rail station is Japantown/Ayer. Just walk north from the station to Jackson Street and turn right. By car off Highway 280 North or Highway 101 South, take the Guadalupe Parkway exit to Taylor Street, then go east to Fifth Street and turn right to Jackson.

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