San Francisco: Japantown 2003

“11:AM. I have walked up to Japantown which is a sad, lifeless square of concrete bordered by Japanese restaurants and souvenir stores. Went into Soko hardware which has a lot of saws and planes and some cheap porcelain. Overall it reminds me of the Kyoto Handicraft Center.”

“The shops and restaurants in the Japan Center building itself are much nicer. On a Tuesday morning it fails to convey the illusion that one is in Japan because there are far too few people. But the smells come close, especially the bakery which smells just like Tom and Huck in Oita Station. Well I’m on the doorstep of Kinokuniya–my reason for coming. It’s wonderful to hear Japanese again.”

The neighborhood around the Hotel Metropolis, in fact all down Market Street is littered with homeless men. They approach you for money as you pass and the sheer number of them intimidates me, especially after the stories of the attack last week. Are there really more street people than when JQS and I were in in 1999? Or am I just nervous because I read about them? Or have I finally learned to feel insecure travelling by myself in America?

At 9:30, I walk purposefully toward the San Francisco Shopping Centre, where I take refuge in the marble floored, gilt halls of commerce for the wealthy. Or is it guilt halls? The first time I came, this mall didn’t appeal to me at all. I hadn’t come to San Francisco to shop in the same American stores that we have in Dallas and Austin, even if it does have snazzy curved escalators.

photo: San Francisco Shopping Centre

After a latte, I walk to Japantown. Amazingly, I didn’t buy any books, trinkets, ceramics, paper, sake, or Japanese sweets. I realized that I didn’t need any more of any of these things, since I have so much from Japan that I’ve never used still packed away. In fact, the only thing I did buy was the postcard and a so-so sushi/tempura bento. After a glass of plum wine, I sit for awhile in the Japan Center, listening to the people around me speak Japanese.

At 18:00 I wander over to the Moscone Center to see if I can find AJM among the 14,000 other programmers. I don’t. Sit in Yerba Buena Gardens taking photos and walk aimlessly through the Sony stores in the Metreon watching the trailer for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle endlessly loop.

photo: Sony Metreon

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