Where the gators go: Japantown edition


Emily Cardenas

Various cat books written in Japanese are shown on a shelf in Japantown’s Kinokuniya bookstore. (Emily Cardenas / Golden Gate Xpress)

Emily Cardenas

The smell of takoyaki, a Japanese ball-shaped savory cake, fills the air as you walk past a K-Pop Beauty store in the West Mall of Japantown. The aroma tickles one’s nostrils as you make your way down the hallway of shops—where you can buy anime merchandise, incense, kawaii (or cute in Japanese) trinkets, Japanese skincare and even costume katanas. 

“Japantown is a really good central for East Asian merchandise and products,” Chris Shang, an artist selling art in the mall, said. “Japantown is like a mall dedicated to Japanese commerce and there’s a lot of popular things here that we can’t find in other places.”

Visitors can explore more and more shops as they go further inside the West Mall of the Japan Center. One of the shops that stands out to visitors is the Kinokuniya bookstore which  offers a variety of literature, from cooking to doodling, in both Japanese and in English. Ever wanted to learn how to cook traditional Japanese dishes? There’s a book for you there. Enjoy manga? Just go downstairs and be greeted with familiar characters like Naruto and Goku; downstairs is everything anime and manga-related. 

If visitors are lucky, they might just catch local artists selling their work—prints, pins, stickers, etc.—in the West Mall of the Japan Center. Artists set up tables around the staircase between the Kinokuniya bookstore and Maido fine stationery shop where colorful art pieces fill the area, showcasing different artists styles of familiar anime characters like Sailor Moon and other fictional characters such as Isabelle and K.K Slider from Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series. 

“Once a month, there’s this art mart and [visitors] get to like see artist culture [where] artists can share things that they love,” Jayce Wu, another artist selling at the art mart, said. “I don’t know of anywhere else that you can find that in San Francisco, there’s always landmarks you can go to but Japantown [since] everything changes all the time, I think it’s a great experience.”