Walk less than a 40 block loop in San Francisco from Japantown to Pacific Heights and you’ll take in a city of remarkable contrasts — Japanese anime, legendary rock and roll, blues, funk and jazz; Korean goguma lattes, a Mad Hatter-ish tea party, sushi that swims by on tiny boats, French bistro steak frites; Lolita fashions, Marc Jacobs purses, modern furnishings, Asian antiques, and quirky bits and bobs to feather your nest or doctor your style. Apartment buildings tower like Sequoias and luxurious Victorian and contemporary mansions top the hills — all claiming spectacular views — as East meets West in the City by the Bay.
The best place to explore Japanese anime in San Francisco is Kinokuniya Bookstore in Japantown. Browsing through the store, we discovered artists, writers and musicians who bring this fascinating Japanese art form to life, including the the work of composer Yoko Kanno.
On a break from Tokyo’s Waseda University in the 1980’s, Yoko Kanno came to the United States and traveled across country on a Greyhound bus. She was in search of a deeper understanding of American jazz and funk, and throughout her journey connected with musicians playing on street corners. The knowledge gained during that trip would have a profound effect on her development as one of the preeminent composers of anime movie and television series soundtracks. Her jazz fusion soundtrack for the space cowboy series Cowboy Bebop was a radical departure for Japanese anime, and Cowboy Bebop and its music quickly gained worldwide recognition. For this week’s Listen Up we’ve chosen a youTube video of Yoko Kanno’s song Call Me, Call Me from Cowboy Bebop performed by American singer and guitarist Steve Conte, with anime directed by Jon Yamaoka.
“There are still many places I would like to go. I feel there are still many undiscovered beats and rhythms which will sway the hearts of people. I want to find those sounds and play them. Finding a rhythm that makes me or anybody else feel like it’s totally OK to be alive, finding that sound is probably what I would like to do from now on as a musician.” Yoko Kanno
This quote is an excerpt from a rare 2014 interview with Yoko Kanno by Akihiro Tomita. You’ll find the complete interview on the Red Bull Music Academy website.
Ex-pat American author Barry Lancet lives in Tokyo, Japan and received the Barry Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel in 2013 for his thriller Japantown. Set in San Francisco’s Japantown, Asian antiques dealer and reluctant private investigator Jim Brodie is called upon to solve a near perfect murder that has taken place in the area’s Japan Center Mall. Using his extensive knowledge of the city and Japanese culture, Brodie tries to unravel a web of intrigue, deceit and deception that stretches from San Francisco to Japan and threatens his own life as well as his daughter’s. The New York Times Book Review called Japantown “a sophisticated international thriller” and the book has been optioned by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions.
A Zippertravel one day tour where East meets West
If you’ve driven into San Francisco, begin your Zippertravel East meets West walking tour by parking your car in the Japan Center parking lot. The rates are relatively inexpensive and you can leave your car there all day without having to think about feeding a parking meter. The Japan Center is a series of older mall buildings full of restaurants and shops that form the nucleus of today’s Japantown. Inside the Center, start the morning at May’s Coffee Shop which serves tai yaki — sweet pancakes in the shape of fish — an easy and delicious to-go breakfast. The pagoda designed by Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniquchi in the Peace Plaza and the bronze origami fountains by Ruth Asawa give the mundane Center architecture a more defined sense of place. Wander through the various shops, but be sure to leave plenty of time to visit Kinokuniya Bookstore. Their two-story shop is full of books of and about Japanese anime, fashion, and art, and they have an intriguing selection of unusual international magazines. Outside the mall you’ll find San Francisco’s best mochi — pillowy-soft rice cake desserts — at Benkyodo Co, one of San Francisco’s original Japantown businesses, founded in 1906. Across Post Street, YakiniQ Cafe is the home of the traditional Korean goguma latte – a non-coffee latte that is made instead with real sweet potato. The café is a favorite spot for students to read and gather to play board games. Also on Post Street, the New People building houses the Viz Cinema, home of San Francisco’s Japanese Film Festival, a tea salon, and several interesting apparel shops: Maruq, Sou Sou, and Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. The stores offer fashion lines you may not see outside of Japan. Before you leave Japantown, stop into Isobune Sushi, and have fun selecting a snack from the sushi boats that sail by the counter on a conveyor belt.
LOWER PACIFIC HEIGHTS/PACIFIC HEIGHTS
Exiting Japantown, walk west on Geary Street toward the Fillmore District, passing mosaic and painted street murals on your way to The Fillmore, where Bill Graham presented such rock legends as Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and the Who. Across the street is the home of blues, jazz, funk, and hip hop, the Boom Boom Room. Next door, stop into Zinc Details, a 5,000 square floor store full of modern furnishings and accessories that has been a San Francisco go-to shop for more than 20 years.
Walk north on Fillmore Street to California, then head west just past Divisadero and you’ll find extraordinary French and Viennese pastries at b. patisserie. Have a seat in the window of their appealing modern café and savor their light and buttery signature kouign-amann while people watching. Return to Divisadero and head north to Clay Street. Heading east on Clay, you’ll find the grand staircase entrance to Alta Plaza Park. You may recognize the staircase from the car chase in the Barbra Streisand movie What’s Up Doc. Ascend the stairs to enter this beautiful small green park with breathtaking views of San Francisco. Relax on a bench or suspend yourself on a swing in the playground and let the city catch you. Walk through the park to Jackson Street and view the exquisite homes and mansions that have made Pacific Heights famous. Head east to Fillmore Street where you’ll find fun and interesting stores, particularly Alice and Olivia (women’s clothing) and Nest (voted one of the top 50 Independent stores in the world for home accessories). End the day with a meal at either Florio, a French-Italian brasserie with a dark bistro interior, an Italian neighborhood favorite Jackson Fillmore Trattoria, or La Mediterranee, a cozy Middle Eastern restaurant that offers Armenian and Lebanese food prepared from family recipes. After dinner, a 10 minute stroll south on Fillmore Street to Geary Street will return you to the Japan Center.