Finding Japan in D.C.

This weekend’s Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. plays host to thousands of tourists looking to get a taste of Japan. But former Traveler intern Amy McKeever offers a selection of Japan-inspired locales that are available in the city year round.

Japanindc_3 If the idea of dropping a grand on airfare has been keeping you from taking that trip to Tokyo, then April is your lucky month. Each spring, a little bit of Tokyo blooms in Washington, D.C., during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Over a million visitors descend upon D.C. to marvel at thousands of pink blossoms lining the embankment of the Tidal Basin, take in live music from local artists, and watch the parade. But the most popular event of the festival is the sakura matsuri, Japanese street festival. Pennsylvania Avenue transforms into Tokyo where visitors can sing karaoke, read manga and, of course, eat deliciously authentic Japanese dishes.

But if you look hard enough, it’s possible to make your own Tokyo in D.C. any time of year—nearly as good as the real thing.

Daruma: Tucked away in a little shopping center in Bethesda, Maryland, Daruma is a gourmand’s delight. Stop by and stock up on frozen dumplings, Kirin beer or your favorite brand of wasabi. If the shopping whets your appetite, order a meal at the back counter—my Japanese teacher swears by their miso ramen. You might even run into diplomats from the Japanese Embassy.

Sushi Taro: This well-known restaurant in Dupont Circle is where the Japanese journalists based in D.C. order their meals during late nights. This family-owned joint offers some of the best sushi in town and, more importantly, it offers a broad menu of other Japanese specialties. After all, even the Japanese don’t eat sushi every single day.

Japan Information and Culture Center:

An arm of the Japanese Embassy, the JICC is known for hosting intriguing exhibits and Japanese films once or twice a month. In April, be sure to check out the 53 Stations of Yokaido Road, an exhibit honoring a famous ukiyo-e series of woodblock prints. On April 16, catch the film “Always—Sunset on Third Street 2.” Maybe you’ll even get to meet a Japanese celebrity—Ken Watanabe, of The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha fame, has been known to show up at some JICC events.

The 9:30 Club: One of Japan’s best-known cultural exports is J-Pop, or Japanese pop music. Every so often when Japanese acts tour the U.S., they stop in at local intimate music venue 9:30 Club. On April 3, catch the Boredoms, a Japanese indie band that has made a career out of tribal drumming, screaming, and other sounds.

Nightcap: The perfect way to close out a day of Japanese culture is with some sake and karaoke. Although it is not the traditional way to drink it, the sake cocktails at Benihana

in Georgetown are creative and celebrated by Japanese expats. Try a Black Ninja or a Chocolate Cake Saketini. Then head over to Café Japone

in Dupont Circle for some serious karaoke. It might not be the most authentic experience—friends tell me it’s a more Americanized version of karaoke—but they do have some Japanese records on hand for the adventurous singers.

For more ideas about how to turn D.C. into your own mini Tokyo, check out the Japan-America Society of Washington D.C. website.

Photo: Aaron Webb via Flickr


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  1. benihana
    April 7, 2008, 9:49 pm

    Finding Japan in D.C.

    Bookmarked your post over at Blog!