Your guide to celebrating San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

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March 5, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About the Cherry Blossom Festival

With the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival just around the corner, now is the ideal time to visit San Francisco’s historic Japantown. Festival dates are April 11-12 and April 18-19, 2020.

One of only three Japantowns remaining in the United States, San Francisco’s Nihonmachi is the cultural headquarters for some 12,000 residents of Japanese descent. It’s like taking a trip to Japan without a passport.

The oldest of its kind in the continental United States, today’s Japantown is concentrated in San Francisco’s Western Addition, within and along Pine, Geary, Gough and Fillmore streets.

The annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, always one of California's most splendid celebrations, draws more than 200,000 people to a dazzling display of Japanese culture and tradition. Most of the events and activities are free and headquartered at the Japan Center, which is celebrating its 52nd year, at Post and Buchanan streets.

Cherry Blossom Festival

The grand parade will be on April 19, 2020, starting from Civic Center and ending in Japantown. Each year, the festival draws hundreds of performers from both Japan and California to give visitors a taste of Japanese culture. The festival features a cultural food area, arts and crafts, and cultural stage performances at five venues.

Lost in Translation?

Visitors to Japantown may become confused by activities promoted in “Nihonmachi.” Here are 15 words that we think will help you enjoy your Japantown visit more:

  • Anime – An abbreviation of "animation," which embraces Japanese hand-drawn or computer animation. Much of this movement manifests itself in local street culture and the annual JPOP Summit in July.
  • Bonsai – This Japanese art from yields miniature trees that can ove for more than 100 years. Katsura Garden (1581 Webster St.) is known for its selection of bonsai.
  • Chanoyu – The word literally means “hot water for tea,” but has been referred to as the “Japanese tea ceremony” for decades. There is a replica of a traditional tea room in the Asian Art Museum and, of course, the tea house located in the heart of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
  • Ikebana – The Japanese art of flower arranging.
  • Karaoke – Amateur sing-a-long.
  • Nihonmachi Nihon translates to Japan and machi is town.
  • Mikoshi - A portable Shinto shrine, in which a deity or god may reside. It is borne by an exuberant group of volunteers who raise and lower the shrine. The arrival of the mikoshi is the climatic moment of the parade.
  • Mochi – A rice confection made by hand.
  • Origami – The art of paperfolding. Paper Tree, located at the Japan Center, is a magnet for origami fans, offering classes and unusual paper stock.
  • Osento – A Japanese communal bath. The Kabuki Springs & Spa is one of the few to be found in the U.S.
  • Ramen – East meets East in this dish. This Japanese noodle soup includes Chinese-style wheat noodles basking in a meat- or fish-based broth.
  • Sakura Matsuri – Japanese for Cherry Blossom Festival.
  • Taiko – Taiko drumming is integral to the parade and festivities on both weekends. The word refers to the percussion instruments themselves, the most memorable of which are roughly the size of a large wine barrel!
  • Udon – A thick wheat flour noodle used in Japanese cuisine.

Where is Japantown?

Japantown is bordered by Geary Boulevard to the south, between Laguna Street and Fillmore Street. Look for the bright red banners adorned with cherry blossoms and the Peace Pagoda which rises from the central plaza of the Japan Center.


Transit Tips

Public transit options include the 38 or 38R Geary, 2 Clement or 3 Jackson Muni buses from downtown San Francisco. There are two indoor parking garages at the Japan Center. Entrances are located on Geary Blvd. between Laguna and Webster streets, at Post St. between Webster and Laguna streets, and also on Fillmore St. between Geary Blvd. and Post St. Parking can be very limited on festival weekends.

Tour Tips

Free guided tours of Japantown are offered by City Guides. “Japantown, Urban Renewal and the Fillmore District” tours begin at Buchanan and Sutter streets, near 1747 Buchanan St. Delving into the history of displacement during WWII, urban renewal and the birth of the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District, the tour is offered year-round. There’s also a great DIY tour: the Japantown History Walk. The self-guided walk covers approximately 10 blocks and consists of 16 interpretive signs offering insights into the community’s history. Set aside time to visit the National Japanese American Historical Society, which has two permanent locations, at the Japantown Peace Gallery (1684 Post St.) and the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center (Bldg. 640, 640 Old Mason St., Presidio of San Francisco).

Photo by David Yu / CC BY-NC-ND


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