Japantown

Kabuki Springs & Spa. This place is a little like life itself: It's had its ups and downs. Since its acquisition by hotel group Joie de Vivre, it's in an up period. It's been refreshed, which is how you'll feel when you emerge from a communal or private bath, maybe coupled with a massage. Communal baths cost $22 weekdays, $25 weekends. Women take the plunge Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays; the men Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays. Tuesdays are co-ed (bathing suits required). I tried the private bath/shiatsu massage Bliss package for $155. This is the spa place for nonspa (and nonrich) people. Massage and private bath packages begin at $120. 1750 Geary Blvd.; (415) 922-6000, http://www.kabukisprings.com.

— CH

YakiniQ Café. It's in Japantown, true, but the fare here finds its influence in many countries. Doesn't matter what country it's from, though, if it hits the spot on a cold and dreary day. Say yes to the sweet potato latte ($3.50). It's like drinking pumpkin pie. Or grab a sandwich (banh mi, perhaps, or caprese served on baguettes, $8.95, including salad), macaroons, shaved ice (more Asian than Hawaiian $5). It's like a gastronomic world tour without leaving Japantown. 1640 Post St.; (415) 441-9291.

— CH

Daiso Japan. If you're a fan of 99 cent stores, welcome to Daiso Japan, a slight step above both in price (most items $1.50) and merchandise. Because, really, who doesn't need an earbud spool? A pig soap dish? A contact lens case shaped like a tube of lipstick but with openings at each end for the lenses? (Turns out I didn't — this one doesn't work well unless you're wearing soft, slightly bendable lenses.) Browsing is free if you can resist. 22 Peace Plaza, No. 400; (415) 359-9397. If that doesn't make you smile, the Sanrio store may. The tending-toward-pink array of merchandise featuring Hello Kitty has made a fortune for Sanrio, has made fans out of millions children and adults, and has made some folks want to run screaming in the other direction. Well, meow. Also free if you avoid putting your paw in pocket, pulling out wallet. No. 315 Peace Plaza West Mall; (415) 614-2700. Need something more manly? You could try Soko Hardware, which has the tools you need for any project and also an array of Japanese home décor items whose grace contrasts with the testosterone of the tools. 1698 Post St.; (415) 931-5510. For quirky and fun, there's New People, which says K-pop has nothing on J-pop. (Take that, Psy!) Besides an underground cinema, the light, bright center has quirky stores and merchandise to match, some Goth, some triumphs of modern design, all interesting. 1746 Post St.; (415) 525-8630.

— CH

Nichibei Kai Cultural Center tea house. If you're in San Francisco on April 13 or 14, you can attend the spring tea ceremony and discover this treasure of culture and construction. The framework for the two tea rooms, one large for groups and one small, was built in Kyoto, Japan, brought to San Francisco and completed in the mid-'80s. The entrance to the small tea room is a story unto itself: It's purposely small so that a samurai, for whom the tea ceremony was originally developed, would have to leave his sword outside. The beautiful cedar, cultivated to have few knots, is planed, not sanded, and the intricate joinery speaks of old-world craftsmanship. The décor, which is subtle, changes with the season. 1759 Sutter St.; (415) 921-1782.

— CH

Paper Tree. If you aren't a fan of origami before you enter Paper Tree, you will be after, especially if you run into Linda Mihara, international origami artist. She'll share more about her work when she's not helping customers in search of origami, papers, books and other art supplies. A small area displays the creations of Mihara as well as Robert Lang, Brian Chan and Bernie Peyton, whose artistry is a complex mix of geometry and genius. It's a rich experience, and browsing is free. 1743 Buchanan Mall; (415) 921-7100, http://www.paper-tree.com

— CH

Benkyodo Co. This is Japantown's version of the corner coffee shop — friendly and warm with regulars who talk weather and politics — except that its pastries are not the day-old Danish you might find at Mel's but fresh and delicious Japanese mochi. Apple manju and pink habutai (mochi with lima bean) were among my favorites. It's a good, if slightly sinful, breakfast — to go if you must. $1.10-$1.25, cash only. 1747 Buchanan Mall; (415) 922-1244, http://www.benkyodocompany.com

— CH

travel@latimes.com


For the record, 5 p.m. Feb. 28: This article refers to Levi Strauss heir Peter Haus. His name is actually Peter Haas.