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5 Best Spots In San Francisco Japantown

(Photo credit: Simon & Schuster)

Barry Lancet's debut novel, JAPANTOWN, was recently published by Simon & Schuster, a CBS Company, and has been optioned by J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Bros. You can always find him on Facebook and Twitter, or learn more about Lancet, Japan, and JAPANTOWN on his website. Below he offers us five of his favorite stopovers in Japantown.

Much of what Japan has to offer is found in the small vistas: the exquisite details of a restaurant's décor, a corner garden, the studious attention of a sushi chef, the handmade excellence of traditional craftworks. The same can be said for San Francisco's Japantown. Rather than taking in the whole, which seems to flourish and fade with each change in the economic winds, step into its shops and restaurants and be transported to a different world. Here are five local treasures.

Kabuki Springs
(Photo credit: Kabuki Springs & Spa/ Franks Frankeney)

Daikoku by Shiki
1737 Post Street #C
San Francisco, CA 94115
M–Sat, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Walk through these doors and get a hint of Japanese sophistication. Here you'll find handcrafted ceramics from the classic pottery centers of Japan, including the austere unglazed Bizen ware (Bizen-yaki) in shades of browns and reds. The shop also sells lacquer ware plates and bento boxes. An array of chopsticks in all colors and shades brighten the shelves, while small teakettles and saké carafes abound. These are some of the everyday touches of elegance woven into Japanese daily life. The shop is a portal: should you ever make the journey across the Pacific, you can explore these traditional crafts at the source. You never have to go beyond Japantown. You may never need to. But if you do, the experience is waiting. In the meantime, Daikoku by Shiki is a great entry point.

Daiso Japan San Francisco
(Photo credit: Daiso Japan)

Japan Center
22 Peace Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94115
M-Th, Sun, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. F-Sat 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

At the opposite end of the scale from Daikoku by Shiki is Daiso. This is a Japanese version of the Dollar Store. Daiso displays the fruit of the industrial revolution in slimmed down form with a difference. The goods gracing these shelves are touched with Japanese design and yet sell for an affordable $1.50 apiece (with some exceptions). Daiso's selection is vast and intriguing. You'll find Japanese stationery, kitchenware, bathing items, toys, snacks, and plenty more, including countless entries in the ever-popular Japanese cute (kawaii) mode. Even if you don't buy, it's fun to browse and see what might show up on the next isle. Shopping tip: Grab one of the long Japanese shower cloths that allow you to wash your back with ease. The coarser ones scratch your back at the same time.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

San Wang Restaurant
1680 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Open daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Okay, this isn't Japanese. But it's in Japantown and it's good. I've been going for years. San Wang's is a restaurant run by ethnic Chinese from Korea. In Japantown. Are you following this? Chinese food from the old Hermit Kingdom evolved differently than it did elsewhere. I usually go with four or more people, and often with the Korean buddy who originally showed me the ropes. We have two standards. The Four Delicacies Cold Platter, which includes jellyfish, sea cucumber, and more; and hand-pulled noodles with plum sauce, comfort food known as jajamen (San Wang was making these long before the dish caught on). This modest-looking eatery has gathered some impressive praise. One San Francisco food critic labeled it the best Chinese restaurant in the city, and another called it a great place to eat, period.

Kinokuniya Bookstore
(Photo credit: Kinokuniya Bookstore)

Kinokuniya Bookstore
Japan Center – Kinokuniya Mall
1581 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Open daily, 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m.

A large chain bookseller in Japan, Kinokuniya carries the cachet of an independent bookshop in the States. The store stocks a wide range of English books on Japan and other Asian countries. The shelves spill over with a bountiful selection of contemporary Asian fiction, and plenty of classics too. General nonfiction includes books on travel, history, the big war, martial arts, samurai, Japanese society, Zen and much more. Illustrated offerings cover art, cooking, saké, gardens, art, architecture, anime, design and such traditional Japanese practices as the tea ceremony. Kinokuniya has an extensive backlist, which is manna for book lovers of any persuasion. Browse at your leisure and see what attracts your attention.

Kabuki Springs
(Photo credit: Kabuki Springs & Spa/ Franks Frankeney)

Kabuki Springs Spa
1750 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Open daily, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.

Anyone who has lived in Japan knows not to miss the Japanese onsen, or hot springs spas. The best ones are pieces of heaven on earth. Guests soak in sparkling clean hot pools, sometimes outdoors, sometimes lavish indoor creations of stone and tile and elegant Japanese detailing. So popular are these getaways that many Japanese make yearly pilgrimages to their favorite spot. Kabuki Springs Spa brings a touch of the Japanese onsen experience to San Francisco. Two women I know waxed so poetic over their visit to this place, I felt compelled to include it even though I have yet to go there myself. Here you'll find hot and cold baths, a dry sauna, a steam room, showers, and many bathing amenities, Western and Japanese. Cellphones must be extinguished. A $25 entry fee allows you to linger for as long as you'd like. Bring a book or some magazines and luxuriate in a pristine urban oasis. Any good trip should close with a final chance to relax and I don't see why one to Japantown should be any different.

Barry Lancet's debut novel, JAPANTOWN, was recently published by Simon & Schuster, a CBS Company, and has been optioned by J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Bros. You can always find him on Facebook and Twitter, or learn more about him, Japan, and JAPANTOWN on his website.

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