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.