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March 27, 2015


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, 2015.

One of only three Japantowns remaining in the United States (the others are located in San Jose and Los Angeles), 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 first and 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. Earlier versions of it near Chinatown and the South of Market area along Jessie and Stevenson streets were erased in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The 48th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, always one of California's most splendid celebrations, draws more than 150,000 people to a dazzling display of Japanese culture and tradition. Most of the events and activities are free and headquartered at the Japan Center, Post and Buchanan streets.

The grand parade will be on April 19, 2015 starting from the Civic Center area and ending in Japantown. John V. Roos, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, is the 2015 Cherry Blossom Festival grand marshal. Roos was the U.S. ambassador to Japan from August 2009-August 2013. His service in Tokyo coincided with the devastating 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in March, 2011 and he led American efforts on the ground to support Japan’s response to this disaster. Following the crisis, Roos led the creation of Tomodachi Initiative, a public-private initiative that has raised more than $30 million and established 40 exchange programs.

Each year the festival is joined by hundreds of performers from both Japan and California to give visitors a taste of Japanese culture. The festival features a food area, arts and crafts, and cultural stage performances at five venues. This year’s festival includes new attractions such as the Hello Kitty Truck, which will be popular with chibi-chan (little children), and a new area called Sakura 360 on the first weekend of the festival which will highlight modern Japanese trends such as anime and cosplay, or “costume play,” a sort of elaborate dress up game for adults involving role playing in non-stage venues.

Public transit options include the 38 or 38L Geary, 2 Clement or 3 Jackson Muni buses from downtown San Francisco; for information visit There are two indoor parking garages in the Japan Center. Entrances are located on Geary between Laguna and Webster, Post between Webster and Laguna and also on Fillmore between Geary and Post.

Even if one should happen to miss this double weekend Japanese confection, there is no reason to despair. Still ahead are the Nihonmachi Street Fair, Aug. 1-2, 2015, and Japan Film Festival, Aug. 8-16, 2015.

Photo by --Mark-- / CC BY-NC-SA