That Paris is never-ending was already said by Enrique Vila-Matas in his same entitled novel “Never Any End to Paris”. And the ability of this great city to continuously reveal surprise is evident when we discover its Japantown right in the city centre, next to the Paris Opera House.
Actually, Paris’ Little Tokyo occupies the heart of the second district, one of the most chic and undiscovered in the city, which is built around the Rue Sainte-Anne street up to the Rue de la Banque street on one side and the Palais Royal gardens on the South.
To understand the presence of Japanese and Korean community in this area it is important to briefly review the lively History of the Rue Sainte-Anne, a sort of independent and advanced area of the capital. Already in 1822, at number 53, Nicolas street, the first open to the public wine celler was opened, as previously wine was only served in bars and cabarets. In the late 1960’s, the gay scene took over the street opening stores like Le Sept (at number 7) and Colony (at number 13), although it was Le Bronx (11) that actually lasted as the first venue to refuse entry to women and to create a backroom for intimate meetings. In the late 1970’s, the gay community moved to the Marais, using the newly discovered and large spaces created for the Centre Georges Pompidou. Japanese people then opened their first restaurants profiting of the presence of big venues at great rates and started to concentrate in the neighborhood. Today we can find restaurants specializing in sushi, ramen, traditional Japanese tea shop or Eastern fast food restaurants as well as Japan related travel agencies, cheese shops, clothing stores, food, tableware, decoration, places where to get a good massage, a nice haircut, academies to learn Japanese or the art of ikebana…
Unlike Chinatown in San Francisco or Japantown in Los Angeles, don’t expected the presence of oriental architecture buildings or a massive presence of Asians, everything is melted and integrated into the classic Parisian landscape and the mix of cultures is even higher than in other districts of the city where diversity would seem more evident.
So a nice Saturday or Sunday morning (everything will be open), we are able to walk and enjoy this strange atmosphere full of calm so characteristic of the Japanese people. We love spending time at the Ace Mart, one of the best equipped grocery stores, and treat ourselves with some good yakisoba or ice cream to keep wandering around.
We continue along the Rue Saint-Augustin with a mandatory stop a Book Off, two twin shops, one specialized in secondhand books in all languages and the other one specializing in Manga DVD and all kinds of Japanese graphic art and drawing… And of course benefiting from the sale season!
Given the extensive range of cuisine offer that we find this time we go for the most traditional option and we drop by Aki, right on the premises occupied by Le Bronx in the sixties. Lively and packed, as always, we choose a table since locals monopolized the bar.
For starters we share some Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and Edamame, savory green beans cooked al dente and eaten leaving the skin. Of course, the Asahi beer is mandatory!
We carry on with an Okonomiyaki, a dish originally from the Osaka region consisting of a pancake made with egg and vegetables cooked in hot plate. Some call it Japanese pizza because it supports all kinds of ingredients.
A walk around the Quartir Japonais worth its salt indudes a stop at Marugen, in the Rue des Petits-Champs street, to take a look at all the novelties, otherwise it’s not a utter visit. There you will able to find absolutely everything and if not, Hiro will look it up for you.
While we are at spending a fun time, we take some pictures in the Purikuras. It is the only Japanese photo booth throughout Paris and we can assure you that the photos taken do not work out for the passport… You can add bubbles, clouds, colors, frames or comic bubbles to write nonsense inside…
We usually take a look at the outcome of the photos at the Zen Zoo, which also just opened another venue where to take their wonderful teas at home. Located in a lovely corner, this beautiful venue takes out their tables on the street during summer evenings for a quiet sip of your hot or cold drinks. You will find it in the corner of the streets Rue Chabanais and Rue Cherubini.
It is difficult to choose but, today we go for iced black and lime flavored teas, with its corresponding tapioca seeds inside…
We come back home with the feeling of having spent a great morning in Paris without being in Paris. Perhaps we take a rest to and go back for dinner and enjoy a good sake at the karaoke bar in the Rue de la Michodière…
Xavi Vega, General Manager at Banke Hotel Paris