Before you even reach Fifth Street in San Jose's Japantown, the sweet, mysterious sounds of chidori folk music echo over loudspeakers, drawing visitors to a local Buddhist temple.
Visit this month, and you'll see musicians and dancers in kimonos celebrate Obon, a summer festival held in honor of ancestors who have passed away. Preserving cultural traditions like Obon while attracting new visitors has become a focus of this fast-growing neighborhood.
Just ask Brett Yasukawa, a fourth-generation Japanese American and rising-star chef who left Sausalito's Sushi Ran last year to open his own Japantown hot spot, Restaurant Yasu. "I have heart in this area," he says. "There's old blood here still―that's what I believe really makes the neighborhood great. I can see this community growing and changing with the times."
Shuei-Do Manju Shop. WHAT: Rows of Japanese treats filled with white and red bean paste. WHEN: Tue-Sun. WHERE: 217 E. Jackson St.; 408/294-4148.
Kogura Company. WHAT: Jam-packed with all things Japanese, this family-owned business will help you find Zen. Browse through such treasures as teapots, lacquerware, dishware, and dolls in glass cases. WHEN: Daily. WHERE: 231 E. Jackson St.; 408/294-3184.
Japanese American Museum of San Jose. WHAT: Learn about the history of Bay Area Japanese Americans, including their internment during World War II. Replicas of barracks and guard towers help visitors reflect on this passage in our history. WHEN: Tue-Sun (also open Sat during Obon festival). HOW MUCH: Free. WHERE: 535 N. Fifth St.; 408/294-3138.
Restaurant Yasu. WHAT: Chef Brett Yasukawa's masterpieces include grilled tri-tip with vegetables and daikon relish. WHEN: Dinner Mon-Sat. HOW MUCH: $$. WHERE: 211 E. Jackson St.; 408/291-0684.
San Jose Obon Festival. WHAT: Feel the rhythm of San Jose Taiko and traditional Japanese music at this annual event hosted by the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. Kids dressed in happi coats and kimonos are irresistible, as is the smell of chicken teriyaki on the grill. WHEN: Jul 9-10. HOW MUCH: Free. WHERE: Along Fifth St. in front of the temple; 408/293-9292.
INFO: The heart of San Jose's Japantown is Fifth and Jackson Streets. www.japantownsanjose.org or 408/298-4303