The story of San Jose’s Japantown should be familiar to anyone who knows the history of Silicon Valley. Abundant farm work drew Japanese workers to Santa Clara Valley. As more and more families arrived, they began to establish their own community where they could live a life that was uniquely Japanese American and free from racial discrimination. While Japantown has undergone many changes and transformations over the years, it remains at its core a celebration of Japanese American life and culture. As one of only three historic Japantowns remaining in the United States, this 126-year-old destination is a must-see.
Cukui is a clothing store that began as a collaboration between Orly Locquiao and Sammy Rodriguez. In 2008, it officially launched as a store that doubles as a gallery space. The name comes partly from the Hawaiian candlenut, kukui, which symbolizes enlightenment, peace, and protection, and partly from “el cucuy,” a creature from Mexican American culture who eats children who misbehave at bedtime. The name is appropriate for a brand that blends together Chicano and Pacific Islander cultures with tattoos and graffiti to create a clothing line that is changing the street art scene.
In a tiny, yellow space decorated with palm trees and monkeys, Banana Crepe serves a variety of sweet and savory crepes, coffee drinks, and cold treats. Despite their name, they are actually better known for their Hawaiian ice. The generous portions are served in takeout boxes, filled to the brim with fine, cloud-like ice. Toppings include vanilla ice cream and sweetened condensed milk, adding a creamy texture. Make sure to stop by an ATM ahead of time, as Banana Crepe accepts only cash.
Okayama Japanese Restaurant was opened in 1967 and has been a Japantown staple ever since. This authentic sushi bar serves all the traditional Japanese fare, including sushi, bento boxes, gyoza, and miso. They also have a sushi menu that features rolls based on Star Wars characters, such as Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker. Expect to experience a relaxed atmosphere and a beautiful presentation of food.
Empire Seven Studios is an art gallery opened in 2008 by Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer Ahn. They took a space that was falling apart and renovated it to create a place for the people of San Jose to experience beautiful art. The exhibits change quickly, with a new one opening on the second Friday of every month. Empire Seven Studios wants to see art expand out from their space to the surrounding neighborhoods, exposing the underground art scene, which they are accomplishing by creating murals throughout the city.
Roy’s Station Coffee and Teas is much more than just a coffee shop. The building has stood in the same location since 1935. It was originally a gas station run by Roy Murotsun, a Japanese man who moved to San Jose after World War II. In 1990, the gas station became too expensive to keep up, and it sat vacant until 2009 when Roy’s children and grandchildren began a new business venture and opened the cafe. Roy’s serves coffee from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz and pastries made in Milpitas.