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Friday Slide Show: Japan Center Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

7 February 2020

In the days when the 35mm SLR roamed the earth, we would now and then take the bus to Japan Center to hit the camera shops. It was like surfing Adorama or B&H but using your feet instead of a trackpad or mouse.

We seem to dimly recall one big one named Osaka-Ya. Big yellow sign, the whole front of the long, deep, brightly-lit store open to the mall. You just had to go in.

The five-acre site, which opened in March 1968 in Japantown, features shops, restaurants and a movie theater as well as a hotel.

But it also includes the Peace Plaza public space where the San Francisco Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered concrete stupa, rises into the sky. It was donated to the city by San Francisco's sister city Osaka, which was the site of heavy bombing at the end of World War II.

The Peace Plaza is also the site of a four-panel bronze monument commemorating Japanese history in America, a story that is not without relevance to the present.

Japan Center is not much respected for its spare architectural style, created by Minoru Yamasaki. But the minimalism sets the stage for the lively experience inside.

Calligraphy, Japanese dolls, Pokemon, Japanese-language books and Japanese art galleries are among the delights to be found here. And the restaurants exude authenticity with suchi and takoyaki, although we found one place serving pasta.

That's what we personally enjoy about the place. Sure, it's a mall (or two) but there is a variety of shops you don't see in the big malls, which seem to feature nothing but boutiques of athletic shoes, jerseys, caps, T-shirts and fast food.

So it was fun to revisit the place with a couple of friends who were on a shopping mission for a tea set.

But it was a little sad, too. With no camera stores any more, there was no photo gear to play with, none at all. Except, well, our own.

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