Hitomi arrived in S.F. in the morning. I met her later in the evening, after I got my work done.
It takes about 30-40 minutes and about $5 to make it into the city. Once you're in, driving around is a real treat, as roads turn from arterials to local streets, climb or descend very steeply, drivers vie for parking, taxis stop to pick up or let out people, pedestrians dart out between cars, etc. Especially if you don't know the street naming (most streets are named not numbered), you end up zig-zagging around.
Luckily finding Hitomi's Amsterdam Hostel wasn't too difficult, once I followed the right street. But my zig-zag route took me through parts of the red light district. (Seattle doesn't really have a proper district, I think, more like a scattering of strip clubs, sex shops, massage parlors, and porn theaters from the waterfront to Capitol Hill.) Since it sits next to the old Chinatown, some of the shops are Asian-run and have signs up in Chinese, Japanese and other Asian languages. One funny thing that Hitomi caught on our way out was that "Massage" was posted with the characters "ma sa di" not "ma sa ji".
Having been to many cities in the U.S. and Canada with Chinatowns, I've always noticed they are located next to the red light districts. This is no doubt due to cheaper real-estate costs. But it is also interesting that Asian immigrants are also an integral part of the sex trade.
And really the sex trade ties in with the tourist trade. The "masadi" sign was written either to attract Japanese tourists or possibly just to fit in with the Asian theme. I felt the streets was very busy, especially for a weekday night.
We headed over to Japantown, which to be honest is less of a town and more of a series of shopping malls. The Japantown area is about 2 miles west of Chinatown. The restaurants have plastic food displays and are really the kinds of stores you'd often see in Japan, though the place had a rundown appearance. It was a little sad to see the mall mostly deserted around 8:30PM. I eventually grew hungry enough to pick a place mostly at random and ate some okonomiyaki and cold spinach. I was kind of hoping to find some higher-end places, there was Benihana (which is not really Japanese), but most restaurants weren't so formal. (Across the street from the mall I recalled, however, some more formal dining.)
At around 9:30PM, the place was shutting down.
Hitomi and I found a vending machine. About 8 or so selections of drink with taped up prices (think white paper and scotch tape), wasn't in great shape. Now compare this to the 30 or so drinks and sophistication of a machine in Japan. This really epitomized the difference between S.F. Japantown compared to an actual mall in Japan.
However, Hitomi seemed thoroughly impressed. It was indeed inexpensive, and Japanese, though I expect like everywhere most Japanese have gone from working shops to working regular white collar jobs. She was happy and comforted to see that there was a place where lots of Japanese shops were concentrated in one area, unlike most Japanese shops which are scattered about, and there is no physical indication of community.